Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Fifteen Seconds of Fame

"I hope Chris gets voted off next," says Judy from North Hollywood as she sneers into the camera. "He was real nice to me before the show, but then he voted me off the first chance he got."

Judy, you see, is a trifle bitter, and I can't deny that she has good reason which I'll get to in a minute.

On the syndicated version of "Weakest Link" hosted by George Gray, six contestants work as a team, answering general knowledge questions to build up the "bank". They vote the "weakest link" off after each round, with the eventual survivor taking home all the money. In addition to Judy and myself, the rest of the team is:

Michael, 22, Charlotte, North Carolina, package sorter for a major courier company.

Nikki, 25, San Diego, tarot card reader.

Alaraby, 30, New Orleans, riverboat captain.

Herbert, 35, Los Angeles, truck driver.

Prior to the taping, the six of us were permitted to mingle with one another and there were no rules against forming alliances and developing game-plans. Michael, Judy, and I got together and tried to figure out a way to manipulate things to our advantage. We all sort of agreed that it would be wrong to just decide up front who to vote off and in what order. Seemed too much like cheating. What the three of us finally decided that we could live with would be to simply not vote for each other, and let the chips fall where they may beyond that.

Naturally, right out of the gate in round one, I realize that there's a glitch in the system that we weren't counting on. Judy, it turns out, has the intellectual wattage of a three-year old's Barbie flashlight. I'm not going to pile on here and go through every single one of her stunningly ill-advised answers, but here's a sampling:

Host: What rock and roller from New Jersey was known as The Boss?
Judy: Elvis Presley

I'm not sure what part of this answer I find more disturbing, not knowing that Bruce Springsteen is The Boss or thinking that Elvis was from New Jersey.

Host: In what Broadway musical does a cat named Grizabella sing a song entitled "Memory"? 
Judy: My Fair Lady.

Um, Judy? I think the word "CAT" may have been a clue here.

I manage to nail all my questions including, "What brand of athletic shoe features a swoosh?" Nice to start out with a few no-brainers.

So the voting takes place and, despite our agreement, I just can't rationalize keeping Judy around so I vote for her. The rest of the panel, however, votes for Nikki, keeping Judy alive for round two. The look she gives me between rounds would paralyze small woodland creatures.

The panel, sans Nikki, regroups and prepares for round two. Let me take a minute here to reveal some highly confidential behind-the-scenes Weakest Link production secrets. First of all, there is a LOT of time between rounds as they work the script, reset the stage, and tape the "departee's" farewell address. You don't just zip from round to round. Secondly, the game is not as fast-paced as it seems when you watch it on TV. As a viewer, it's fun to try to answer every single question asked, so the game seems to zoom along at a breakneck tempo. But when you're competing, you actually have more time than you think between your questions and it does help ease the nerves. Once the camera got rolling, I wasn't nervous at all.

Okay, so round two begins, and I get a couple more pretty easy ones. Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks appear in what Star Wars sequel? Return of the Jedi. What maker of Scotch tape was originally named the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company? 3M. Judy, however, continues to get impaled with pitchforks of pop-trivia while engulfed in the fire and brimstone of game show hell:

Host: What pop duo had their Grammy taken away when they were exposed as lip-synchers?

All together now: "MILLI VANILLI!"

Judy: The Everly Brothers

Host: According to Andy Warhol, every person will achieve how many minutes of fame?
Judy: Fifteen seconds.

Fifteen SECONDS minutes of fame, Judy? Really?

Meanwhile, Herbert the Truck Driver is on a roll. Through the first two rounds, he hasn't missed a single question. Alaraby is hit-or-miss, and my buddy Michael is holding his own.

Time to boot off another teammate, and Michael starts by voting for Judy. He's apparently willing to follow my lead and hopefully his loyalty will hold up. Herbert and I also vote for Judy, but Alaraby has selected Michael. When it's Judy's turn to reveal her vote, she exacts her revenge. She's voted for me. But, ha ha, it's too late, and the police woman from North Hollywood is put out of her misery.

Round three commences and Herbert and I run the table on our questions. Michael does okay, but Alaraby falters a bit. The voting, however, provides a moment of drama and tension for the team in general and for me in particular. Michael and I both vote for Alaraby, thus reinforcing my faith in him, and I'm now convinced that he and I are partners for the long haul. Herbert and Alaraby both vote for me, however, creating a 2-2 tie.

"Looks like we have a tie," says George the Host. "When the vote is tied, the strongest link in the round gets to cast the deciding vote. And in the last round, the strongest link was . . . "

Oh, God. Deep breath . . .



"Chris, tough decision here," continues George. "You can either eliminate yourself, or you can vote to get rid of Alaraby. What's it gonna be?"

"I think I'll go with Alaraby."

So now it's down to three. Me and my new BFF Michael, and Herbert the Truckin' Genius.

I stumble in the next round when I over-think things and blow an easy question.

Host: What is the seventh month of the Gregorian Calendar?

In a matter of three seconds, the following random thoughts crackle from synapse to synapse in my brain:

This has gotta be a trick question, July is the seventh month but are we currently on the Gregorian Calendar?

Wasn't there a Julian Calendar at one point?

It makes sense that the month of July would be on the Julian Calendar, right?

The prefix for seven is sept-, so September would be the seventh month on SOME calendar.

July and August were added later in history for Julius and Augustus Caesar...

"Therefore, the calendar with July and August would be the Julian Calendar which must be the one we use now. That means the Gregorian Calendar had only ten months, sept means seven..."

Me: September.

Host: No, July.


Meanwhile, Herbert the Friggin' Savant from the Truck Stop of Multitudinous Knowledge is perfect again, but since Michael and I have joined forces in Wonder Twin-like fashion, good ol' Herbie could've discovered a cure for cancer during round four and improved his chances of survival not one iota.

"Players, please reveal your votes."



Buh-bye. The trivia truck has jack-knifed onto the soft shoulder of elimination.

Herbert, to his credit, votes for Michael. By this point in the game it is clear that Herbert and I are the strongest players, and he easily could've voted for me in an attempt to go up against the weaker link Michael in the final round. You know, do to me what I was doing to him. At this stage the alliance between Michael and myself is reasonably transparent, a fact that is certainly not lost on the host Mr. Gray.

"So Chris, tell us why you voted for Herbert."

"Uh, well, it wasn't really a vote, uh, against Herbert as it was a vote FOR Michael. They both, uh, played pretty well . . . "

"So you didn't notice that Herbert got all his questions right, and you weren't just trying to get him off the show to give yourself a better shot at the money?"

"Well, George, this isn't about the money, it's about - ."

"Oh, excuse me . . . " interrupts George. "HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Very sarcastic laughter from the host sends me, Michael, the studio audience, basically everyone in the building with the notable exception of Herbert, into hysterics.

Herbert's parting shots are filled with hostility.

"Of course they were trying to get me out of there. If I'd gotten to the finals I know I would've beaten either one of them."

Ah, but we'll never know, will we Herb?

So now it's the finals, and Michael and I go from bosom buddies to bitter rivals, not unlike the episode when Catwoman drugged and kidnapped Robin and forced him to betray Batman, creating a serious internal conflict for the Caped Crusader. In that case, the drug wore off in the nick of time ("Holy double agent, Batman!") and the Dynamic Duo returned to their crime-fighting partnership. Such was not to be the case with me and Michael the Metaphorical Boy Wonder.

As the strongest link in the last round, I get to decide if I want to go first. I do.

Host: What impressionist painter created series of works entitled "Haystacks" and "Waterlilies?"
Me: Claude Monet. Thank you, $8 print from Walmart hanging in my bathroom.

Michael also nailed his question, knotting the match at one-all. My turn.

Host: What Mars candy product was named for the infant child of President Cleveland?
Me: Baby Ruth.


Michael scores again, and we're deadlocked at two. Time for the last question, unless we have to go to sudden death.

Host: What disco diva had a top ten hit with the song "She Works Hard for the Money?"

During the final round, the Weakest Link rules allow contestants to take as much time as necessary to come up with their response. Now, I'd imagine there must be some unspoken limits, and if some panic-stricken yabbo just stood transfixed at his podium into the wee hours of the morning, sooner or later a couple of goons with no necks and the NBC logo embroidered on their just-a-bit-too-tight black polo shirts would come down, grab the aforementioned yabbo by the sweaty lapels, and say, "Look, Einstein, do ya know da answer or don'tcha? You got t'ree seconds to spit somethin' out or your official response will be AAAAHHHHHH!"

When I hear the disco diva question, the first name that pops into my head is Donna Summer. But with about ten grand on the line here, I want to think it through. What about Diana Ross? No, she was mostly pre-disco and I don't think it was her anyway. Wait, what about Gloria Gaynor, why do I know that name? Okay, no, she did "I Will Survive." Well, it's now or never, better to just go with my first instinct.

Me: Donna Summer.
Host: Correct!

So it all comes down to Michael's final question. If he gets it, we move on to sudden death, if he misses, I win.

Host: What "Everybody Loves Raymond" co-star was the first winner in the comedy category of "Star Search?"

Long pause. I'm thinking it's a good thing I chose to go first because I don't know this one either.

Michael: I don't know.
Host: The answer is Brad Garrett. That means that Chris is today's strongest link!

Looking back on that experience, there are a few things that have stayed with me. One tidbit, not related to the game itself, is that before the show when we were waiting in the hallway outside the studio I got to meet Heavyweight Champ Lennox Lewis, who was taping "The Tonight Show" across the way. He is by far the largest, scariest human being I've ever encountered in my life. You know how guys are always saying, "Yeah, for five million I'D fight the heavyweight champion"? I wouldn't. No way.

But above all else was the sheer amount of fun that entire day was. The whole taping took about two or three hours, and I enjoyed every second of it. Even had I lost, it would've been a great way to spend an afternoon. Aside from Herbert, who, truth be told, was a bit of a pompous ass and a poor sport (he seemed genuinely pissed off after the show), the other contestants were very nice and a joy to be around. Even Judy. In retrospect, I feel bad about stabbing her in the back such as I did. In the heat of the moment, though, and with the consistently bad answers she was giving, it seemed like the best thing to do. But to be on the safe side, I have since been sure to follow all highway laws whenever I'm driving through Officer Judy's sector of North Hollywood.

To Judy, in case you're reading this, I really did like you. You seemed very nice and I certainly meant nothing personal.

And the Broadway musical featuring a cat named Grizabella?

Well, Judy, it was "Cats".


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Simple Dude said...

Thats a great story. Judy sounds like what I refer to as one of the "7 out of 10" ... meaning 7 out of 10 Americans are so idiotic that I can't even have a conversation with them.

Think that ratio is too high? Walk down the street of any major city and count for yourself.


ReformingGeek said...

That sounds fun, Chris! Congrats.

I'm not so good at trivia but I did know the answers to Judy's questions. ;-)

corticoWhat said...

So, when does it air? I mean this inside knowledge could make me some change in bar bets.

Eva Gallant said...

Great story.. I'm not that good at trivia. I would have been voted out before Judy!

Heff said...

A buddy of mine got picked to be on Jeopardy! once.

He won the first show, but on the second one, the chick next to him had jugs so big he lost his train of thought and the game.

R.W. Wells said...

That's awesome. I've always thought I was pretty good at trivia, but I know I'd choke like a Chuck Palahniuk novel if I ever found myself on one of those game shows.

Mariann Simms said...

I coulda sworn I posted this - guess it didn't take...stupid computer of mine.

So, other than a "congratulations" which is in much cash and stuff did you walk away with?

Rahul said...

One of the best stories and well told stories I've heard in a long time.

Never trust anyone named Judy. Especially Judy Dench. Shady.

Michelle H. said...

Great story. You're just lucky Judy didn't hide behind a dumpster seeking revenge after the show. CATS! I could have gotten that if nothing else.

Expat From Hell said...

Congratulations on a great 15 minutes, Chris. As I am sure some Al Qaeda person once telephoned to his superiors while standing in a Wal-Mart, "I think we can take these guys!" EFH

Suldog said...

Been here before - that is, read this story previously - but that was early on in my acquaintance with you. Now that I've gotten to know you a bit more, it was even more enjoyable picturing you in this (although now I wish you had won scads of cash, invested it wisely, purchased a publishing empire, and was looking for someone from Boston who likes to write about baseball.)

Suldog said...

Of course, you DID win, so maybe you DID invest your winnings wisely, bought a publishing empire, but you just hate me. That's OK, too.

Stacie's Madness said...

that is AWESOME...and Judy was well...not on her game...I suppose.

I'm Jane said...

It's like Survivor...but with trivia and clothing! Cool. said...

At least Judy was smart enough to know she would need to form an alliance and get somebody to help keep her in the game if she was going to have any chance at all.

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