EXCLUSIVE interview with behind-the-scenes game show legend Michael Whyte – Part IX

Michael Whyte (right) with host Eddie McGuire on the set of 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?'

Michael Whyte (right) with host Eddie McGuire on the set of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’

When we left our conversation last week, Michael was giving that all-important, incendiary advice that begins every game show contestant’s journey; Don’t just sit there watching, saying “I’d be good on that show”… Get up off the couch and apply! We then discussed his role in the production, and he mentioned that when he talks to group of contestants who have got through the selection process….

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MW: I say “Hands up who has going on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as something on their bucket list?” and up go hands… “I always wanted to do it, I am going to have a go at it”. It’s the show where if you know all the answers you can win lots of money. It is also the show where if you guess correctly – pure luck – you can also win a lot of money… and that happens too! That’s not the same on Sale.

SH: No, there are no prizes for guessing there.

MW: No, you have to know the answer. And again, people don’t understand it till they’ve done it, but there’s a lot that goes into it. As I said; hear the question, push the buzzer, get it out of your mouth in a time limit, over and over again. Then add the pressure. Let’s say you did 5 episodes in a day and you came back the next week to do the final 3. Or maybe you started on the Friday episode in the first week so did 1, then you did 5 in the second week’s worth of records – that’s 6 – and then you had to come back another week to do 2 more. That’s 3 weeks it took you to do the whole thing.

SH: That stamina thing is a real issue, and you really have to manage your own doubt and your own energy levels.

MW: Absolutely. Those that win – especially Sale – are the ones that go “I want to win the show. Now, if I win any money, great – but I want to win the show to prove that I can do it, because I think I can do it”. That’s what happened to you. And pretty much that’s what happened to all those people that win that show.

SH: I remember during my run on Temptation – and I don’t know whether you remember this – I wanted to win the show so much that I hardly bought anything in the Gift Shop, and it made the producer a bit miffed. And that’s probably putting it mildly…

MW: Well, I was there during your run and that wasn’t the case. You might’ve had a producer on the floor; I was Executive Producing at that stage. They might have said “Oh, he doesn’t buy anything!” It doesn’t make any difference.

SH: Well, I get their point – in that they wanted closer games and all of that – and having been a producer myself a couple of times, of course you want to make good telly, and you want it to be close… but I wasn’t. And a couple of people had a quiet word saying “come on, buy stuff” and Ed (the host) was half-joking with me, “Come on, you’re so far ahead! Short arms, long pockets” and all of that. But I wasn’t doing anything that wasn’t in the rules, and I just wanted to win convincingly and safely.

MW: No, no, no – that’s fine. That’s not the attraction. I mean, the way the format is set up is simply that the Fame Game question, and the Gift Shops in particular, were designed to level the game out a bit. That’s why, when around came the Gift Shop, if it was a fridge, it was probably the best fridge you could buy. If it was a vacuum cleaner, it was the best you could buy. That’s the point and so if you thought “I need a vacuum cleaner, I will have it!” There’s other people that are going “I am not going to, because I am not going to risk it”.

We had a guy called David Bock. He won the show and he came back a couple of times to play a champion series or something.

SH: I remember Pam Barnes talking about David Bock.

MW: Tony Barber – probably the best quiz host we’ve ever seen – nicknamed him pretty soon; he called him David “spider-in-the-pocket” Bock, and he used it all the time, because David would never buy anything. And when he finally won, part of his prize was a BMW convertible. I said to him, “Have you always wanted a convertible?” And he said “Oh yes.” I said “Are you going to sell it?” He said, “Yes.” “Why are you going to sell it?” “Because my wife needs a…” What do you need? You don’t have any children, it’s just you and your wife. Why don’t you keep it?” And the bottle of champagne that we gave him on that night – you would have got one –

SH: Yes.

MW: – was the first champagne he’d ever tasted.

SH: Really?

MW: Because he always thought champagne was too expensive. I said “make sure you drink it”.

SH: For goodness’ sake, don’t sell it!

MW: He kept the BMW for about 2 months and he was guilt-ridden and he sold it.

SH: Right. That’s his particular personality I guess.

MW: That’s right. He didn’t do it for the money either. The money didn’t really change his life; it just meant that his bank balance was a lot better, and he just carried on with what he was doing.

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And I think there’s a lesson in there that bears repeating…. if you’re on a game show and you feel the producers would like you to adopt a type of game play that you’re not comfortable with… stick to your guns. 

In the lights and stress and atmosphere of being on the set, it’s easy for your decisions to be swayed. If you’ve developed an overall strategy (and it’s within the rules) stick to it. To thine own self be true. Making spur-of-the-moment gameplay decisions that you’re not comfortable with can cost you dearly. Not just in dollars and cents, but in something just as powerful, and far more haunting…

Regret.

And wondering “What Might Have Been….” 

 

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