Game shows are a travesty to mankind. Every single one of them. I should know, because I was on one for exactly four minutes and thirty-two seconds; enough time for the producers to eagerly pump me up as a blue collar working man to the rest of the audience, just so they could eagerly watch me fall flat on my face. It’s entertaining to pull the rug out from under a guy’s feet and watch him come crashing back down to Earth. When he lands, you can point and laugh, and tell yourself, “Yeah, he’s still one of us.” Comforting, isn’t it?
That’s how all those game shows are, though. The commercials try to make them out like it’s Plain Jane’s chance at the big time, the American Dream; tune in to find out if she’s the one to finally punch that golden ticket – that whole bit. And sure, we might tune in, but not to see if she makes it. The TV is on so we can watch her fatal flaw reveal itself in our living rooms as she commits to making that one mistake. We tune in to make sure the universe is still right and that no one is ever really a winner.
You’ve probably seen my episode, too. They’ve replayed it a couple of times, and who knows – some say I’m destined to be put on one of those “Most Outrageous Game Show Moments” type montages, because so classic was my moment, right? Of course, the game show to which I refer wasn’t actually on the air for all that long – just enough to make a big splash of notoriety and cause a storm of controversy before getting cancelled for the next big flop. I’m sure the show will be back on TV in a couple of years or so, when Hollywood runs out of ideas to recycle. They’ll probably spin it, too; make it fresh, get real creative and call it “The NEW I Cannot Tell a Lie!”
In truth, “I Cannot Tell a Lie” was an affront to human decency, but good luck telling that to the networks. They’re too concerned with bleeping out words like shit and God before sparing less offensive words like damn and crap. Even the opening of the show was awful – a giant paper animation of George Washington’s head made out of dollar bills waddling across the screen trying to gobble up a bunch of cherries like he had Pac-Man fever. Can you believe that’s how they’d treat the Father of our Nation? Makes you glad we never had a mother, right?
Anyway, the concept of the game is simple. The contestant goes up on stage and answers a bunch of questions that they’ve already answered while hooked up to a lie detector the day before. If you keep telling the truth, you work your way up the cash ladder. If you lie on TV, red lights and a siren start going off like you’ve been busted doing something terrible, and you lose it all. Imagine! $50,000 dollars up for grabs and all you have to do is be honest. Except it’s in front of a live studio audience and broadcast in real time across the nation.
The first few questions are always cake, of course.
Do you know your mother’s maiden name?
Can you remember who your first kiss was?
The idea is that the more money you have at stake, the more difficult it is to be honest.
Do you hate your mother-in-law?
Everyone in the audience titters at the questions, the contestant on stage sweats, and the relatives off-stage blush. Great television, right? And when the hard hitting questions come up, the people watching at home all have the same reaction: You will not dodge this bullet.
My wife had submitted my name in an email for the competition as a joke, she said, but she wasn’t kidding around when she wrote in all the stuff about how I’d been laid off pretty recently and we were kind of having a lousy time of things. I didn’t stop her, because who thinks anything’s going to come of those things? Nobody buys a lotto ticket believing their numbers are going to hit – they do it just because they hope it will. We didn’t think we’d hear anything back, but we were shocked as all get-out when a producer called the house two weeks later and told us we were flying to Burbank. We’d been married for two years, but we never really got to have a honeymoon. Suddenly, a guy dials our number, we’ve got a paid-for vacation, and on top of that, a crack at getting $50,000!
“Imagine what we could do with that kind of money,” my wife had said on the plane-ride over, and I did, too. I imagined fifty thousand things.
Day one in Burbank, the contestant has to give the producers the info they’re looking for. The next night is when they shoot the episode in front of a crowd and air it out to the rest of the world. It takes them about a day to decide which questions out of all the ones they ask in the screening process will be the ones asked again on TV. When we arrived at the hotel, we barely had time to breathe before somebody picked me up for the pre-show screening questions. They gave my wife a hundred-dollar gift card, told her to have fun exploring Hollywood, and took me to a backroom in an old TV studio where I had to fill out a ton of forms before being hooked up to a machine designed to read my heartrate.
It was the stuff you didn’t see on TV, but it played out like something you would have seen in the actual game show. I thought it was going to be some scary interrogation out of a cop-flick. Instead, it was a bunch of guys sitting around asking questions, and because it was a polygraph, they’d sometimes repeat an answer you gave them to make it like it was a yes or no question. It wasn’t so bad if you didn’t mind having to repeat yourself.
Copyright © 2018. Fifteen Minutes by Christopher L. Malone