When I was in college, I worked part time, as a technician, at the university computer store. At the time, there was a school-wide upgrade initiative, so many afternoons I would take my tool bag and head to a professor’s office to upgrade a PC from a 10MB hard drive to a 60MB hard drive.
That is not a typo. The PCs were being upgraded from 10MB to 60MB.
Each new hard drive took about twenty minutes to install, and then it had to go through a 2.5 hour initialization process. So the routine went like this:
- Go to professor office #1, install drive and start initialization
- Go to professor office #2, install drive and start initialization
- Go to professor office #3, install drive and start initialization
- Find something to do for an hour until hard drive #1 was finished
- Return to each office in order and finish the install
Of course I was being paid for the whole 4-5 hours… the free hour in the middle was just a little bonus.
One day in the spring of 1990, as I was enjoying my free hour I walked into the University Center. I saw my friend Eileen (queen of the Student Activities Council) standing with a clipboard at the entrance to the pizza shop. She looked right at me and said, “oh, Steve, you should totally do this!”
“Do what?” I replied. She turned her clipboard around so I could see what was on it, and as she did she said, “MTV people are in that room interviewing contestants for a new game show, you should totally try out.”
So in I went. I filled out a short form and took a ten-question music quiz. I guess I got them all correct because the next thing I knew they had me up on a makeshift stage playing a paper version of the game show. I left not knowing at all how I had done, but three weeks later I got a letter from MTV. They wanted me in NY the first week of July to be a contestant on Turn It Up!
When the time came, I took a couple days off from my summer job, drove to NY on a Thursday night. I stayed with a friend on Long Island, and the next morning we took the train into Manhattan. She went off to her summer job on Sixth Avenue and I went to the studio.
If you’ve never been on a TV set, let me tell you something; what you see on TV does not show what a studio actually looks like. They are a mess with wires and all kinds of other stuff lying around. Lights and camera angles make everything look pretty, but an actual studio is shockingly nasty. This studio was no different.
The show was built on a Jeopardy-esque, music trivia theme, but they may have taken it a bit too far. For example, the contestant podiums had keyboards on them (the musical, not the computer kind) and we were required to do a sort of air band jamming on them, as the show cut to and from commercial. Embarrassing? You bet!
So there I am in this dumpy studio facing off against Connecticut Charlie, and Long Island Heidi. I of course am the nerdy guy from Rochester with a tremendous head of hair and a poorly chosen argyle cardigan sweater. Yeah, I know, ok; it was 1990, but the 80s were still fresh on our minds.
Round one gets underway and I get off to a slow start. I miss two questions about rock-n-roll fashion, one on M.C. Hammer and another about Depeche Mode. The other two contestants just seem to be quicker on the buzzer. I feel like an idiot.
I get on the board with twenty points by knowing that Joe Elliot is in Def Leppard, but round one ends with:
- Charlie = 80
- Heidi = 40
- Steve = 20
It was beginning to look like I might be pretty bad at game shows. As we went to commercial, they let us know that in the final round, if one contestant got all four questions right, they would win a 1990 Ford Mustang. That would be good, right?
Round two started out just like round one, with Charlie and Heidi immediately answering 10 point questions and getting on the board, but on the third question I swoop in and get one right about Peter Gabriel. Two questions later I nail a Mike & The Mechanics question for 30 points and I’m back in the hunt.
I get two of the next three questions right and pull into the lead, and then solidify it by correctly answering a Kinks question. I get one more right about David Bowie and at the end of round two:
- Charlie = 110
- Heidi = 70
- Steve = 150
Only the top two advance to the final round, so at this point we bid farewell to Long Island Heidi.
The final round was something they called “Add A Track,” where the on-stage band would start playing a song with only one instrument, and every few seconds they would add another instrument into the mix. The two contestants (me and Charlie) would try and figure out what the song was faster than the other guy.
The first song gets started, and after three instruments I guess “Turn It On Again” by Genesis. I am wrong. They continue to play and as soon as they do, they kick in with the tell-tale keyboard riff from Van Halen’s “Jump.”
Charlie gets the 25 points, and I lose the possibility of winning the Mustang. Grrrr.
Song two fires up and I am understandably gun shy. As soon as I hear the identifying notes I ring in, but Charlie is faster, and he scores 50 points by correctly identifying The B-52s “Love Shack.” I suck.
Song three spools up and I correctly identify Bryan Adams’ “In The Heat Of The Night.” In one swift move I even the score with Charlie in the final round.
With 75 points each and an additional 100 on the line for the last song, it has come down to who can make the final correct identification. Oh the pressure!
Fifteen seconds in, I ring the bell and exuberantly proclaim that the song is Steve Winwood’s “Roll With It.” I am correct, I get the 100 points, I win the game!
Although I missed the Mustang by two questions, I did end up going home with a 27” TV (trust me, that was big at the time), an electric guitar,and a pair of speakers. Of course you don’t actually go home with anything. You fill out a bunch of paperwork and about six months later your stuff arrives.
The show aired about a month later and a bunch of my high school friends gathered at my friend Jeff’s house at 7:30 to watch it, since the Nazarian home was still a cable-free zone. It was embarrassing to see myself up there, but since I was a winner, it wasn’t too bad.
Then, we all went out bar hopping (yes, we were all 21 by then). I was not aware that the show was run again at 11:00 pm, so as we walked into an establishment at 11:05, there I was on the TV above the bar. My friend Jeff is the kind of guy who can seize any opportunity, so he immediately walked up to the bartender, pointed at the TV and asked “hey buddy, if a guy on the TV, right now, walked into the bar, wouldn’t he be entitled to a free pitcher of beer?” The bartender didn’t know what to say and simply replied, “um, I guess?!?”
Jeff then presented me, the bartender agreed that I was the same guy… free beer.
After that things went quiet. I went back to college for my senior year, my prizes were eventually delivered, and I didn’t talk about the game show much at all, but there was a tape hiding somewhere at my parent’s house.
Fast-forward nine years. Emily and I had been married for a couple of months, and one evening in casual conversation I mention the game show. She says, “too bad there isn’t a recording, I’d love to see it.” So I foolishly get the tape from my parents and we push it into the VCR.
Well, nine years of perspective have turned the experience into, without question, THE MOST EMBARRASSING THIRTY MINUTES OF MY LIFE.
Emily sat on the couch in our living room, and was laughing so hard she almost stopped breathing. I had to leave the room.
If you know my wife, then you know she is not prone to hearty laughter. I had never seen her laugh so hard before and I have not seen it since. When it was all over she wiped the tears from her cheeks, turned to me and said, “I am so glad I didn’t see that before we got married. I think I might have changed my mind.” She then proceeded to laugh spontaneously, on and off, for the next several hours.
So, as you sit and watch Wheel of Fortune, The Price Is Right or Jeopardy, and you think to yourself… “hey, I could be on that game show, I’m pretty smart, I think that would be fun.” Let me caution you, it probably isn’t worth it.
Society tells us that we should all want certain things: money, fame, beauty, a fancy car, and the list goes on and on. Going on a game show offers the opportunity of a little bit of fame and fortune to the average guy, but I can tell you now, the best thing I got out of my experience was this story, and now that you’ve read it, you have exactly the same thing I do.
If you get the chance to go on a game show, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, but if you do it won’t change anything. You’ll still be the same person, living the same life, experiencing the same blessings and struggles. You’ll just be able to show your friends that you can go on TV, make an ass of yourself for 30 minutes, and bring home some prizes, but that’s about all.
No single event like a lottery ticket or game show is going to change your life, only you can make meaningful changes in your life. If you want to start by answering some questions on TV, go for it. If you do, please send me a copy of the tape, I’m sure my wife will enjoy it.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved. (Confessions Of A Game Show Contestant)