A game show winner’s cautionary tale – Part 2

Kristi, on ‘the MASTER’ in 2006.

Last week, game show winner Kristi Milley was telling us about her rollercoaster ride on 2006’s the MASTER. She’d won $41,100 on the show in August, only to see it get cancelled after its first episode! She wasn’t in the episode that did go to air, so she’d resigned herself to not receiving her winnings. BUT THEN the network played all the remaining, unaired episodes of the show in December 2006…

All the unaired episodes, that is, EXCEPT for Kristi’s one. Once again, any hopes she had of receiving her winnings were dashed.

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SH: And you thought that was that the end of your the MASTER story? Seeing the network broadcast every episode of the show except yours?

KM: That’s exactly it. Occasionally I would see the show repeated on TV, but I just filed it away as a fun experience.

Bye bye.

SH: But then….?

KM: But then by chance, in early 2020, my great aunt (who’s 88) just happened to be watching daytime TV… and there I was, answering questions! She called my nan who phoned me, the whole family chain, to ask why I didn’t let her know I was going to be on TV. I cried and phoned everyone I knew, to work out what my next steps were… to get the $$$.

SH: Back in 2006, did you sign a standard agreement before the show? And did you get a copy of the agreement? Was one offered to you at the time?

KM: I feel like I signed something, but if I ever had a copy of the agreement, it has long since been turfed. I remember clearly being told that if the show didn’t air, we would get the money. I tried very hard to contact Channel 7 myself but got fobbed off, so I had to get a lawyer to act on my behalf.

SH: Was the network reluctant to pay you? 

KM: The network ignored me. It took a bit of work for the lawyer to get Seven to even acknowledge that I needed to be paid. So, I lost a chunk of my winnings as legal fees, which would have been nice to avoid. I have a suspicion that all the episodes only ever aired on 7Two (in 2020, where Kristi’s great aunt saw it) for the first time, and they didn’t know that mine hadn’t aired before. In the end, they paid, but I don’t think they even checked the episode… as I only got paid $41,000 instead of (the amount I won) $41,100.

SH: So what did you do with your winnings, when you finally, FINALLY got your hands on them?

KM: In the end, waiting 15 years for my prize winnings was a blessing. If I’d been paid as a 21-year-old, it would’ve all gone on a holiday. Being paid in my mid-30s gave me the deposit for my first home. A decade as a student completing my PhD had not given me any savings! So, during Melbourne’s second lockdown in late 2020, I purchased my first home. It’s made an amazing difference to my life.

KM: That’s fantastic, Kristi – congratulations! Were there any lessons you learned from your experience you could pass on to any aspiring quiz show contestants?

KM: I think I’ve learnt more on reflection, watching my episode back, than on the day itself. I think I was lucky I had a background in theatre; it helped me feel more comfortable in a new, stressful environment. Watching myself, I just saw I was someone that gave every question a shot. A lot of the time, the answer is sitting somewhere in your brain; it’s just trusting enough to say it out loud. I also didn’t have a fast reaction time and I think that is something I could have worked on before the recording. Lastly, chance played a big part in my win. Understanding that and just going for it was important.

SH: Your appearance on the MASTER was 15 years ago now. Did you go on any other quiz shows or game shows after that? Do you still have the quizzing bug?

KM: I did also appear on Deal or No Deal. I haven’t really applied for any shows since. I’m just biding my time until they bring back Wheel of Fortune and Sale of the Century!

SH: Kristi, thanks so much again for talking to me today – I’ve really enjoyed hearing your story, and I know that a lot of our visitors will too!

KM: Thanks for the invite. It was nice to reflect on my experience.

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So there you have it – very much a case of “Good Things Come To Those Who Wait”.* I’d like to thank Kristi so much again for sharing her story, with all its ups and downs. And I’m so glad it had such a happy ending for her… even if it did take a decade and a half to arrive!

 

 

 

* … and also To Those Who Get A Good Lawyer And Don’t Take ‘No’ For An Answer.

A game show winner’s cautionary tale – Part 1

Hello! As I’ve frequently pointed out here, it’s a game show truism that “If your episode doesn’t air, you don’t get your winnings”. This is standard game show practice, and it’s usually written into contestant agreements, to officially remind people not to count their chickens before they’ve hatched.

Today’s interview really brings this home. I’m very pleased to be speaking today to Kristi Milley – a winning contestant on 2006’s the MASTER, who knows about this particular aspect of game shows only too well…

SH: Kristi! Thank you so much for talking to me today for HowToWinGameShows.com. By way of background, what was your life like before going you appeared on the show? Had you been interested in quizzing and game shows for a long time? And what, in particular, inspired you to try out for the MASTER?

KM: I was in my second year of Uni and loved my weekly pub trivia with friends. I was the quintessential poor student and I think trying out for the MASTER was part of a get- rich-quick scheme! I also went on Deal or No Deal the same year. I got to hold a briefcase but didn’t win anything.

SH: Can you talk us through the audition / interview process for the show?

KM: It’s such a long time ago now, all the details are fuzzy. I remember having to fill out a long personal bio, maybe have my photo taken and complete a paper-based general knowledge questionnaire. Then a few weeks later, I was contacted to say I had made it to the next round.

SH: Your special subject was The Human Body (which makes sense, since you were a medical science student at the time); did you do any specific training for going on the show?

KM: I winged everything! I didn’t even think to prep for the show. How silly is that?

SH: Can you talk a bit about the studio experience itself? What did you notice about other contestants and the way they handled it?

KM: I had a really great experience on the day itself. I was only 21 at the time and remember feeling very young compared to the other contestants. I’d never had my make-up done professionally before, and I had to bring a couple of outfit options, which was all very exciting.

All the other contestants were very friendly, and I didn’t get the sense that any of them regularly tried out for game shows. We were all like deer in the headlights when we started to record. The host Mark Beretta really made us feel comfortable and kept up the small talk between takes to help relax the contestants. A few of the other contestants had a friend or family member in the audience, which made them feel more at ease. As it was a brand new format, we were all on a level playing field. My episode was also the very first to be recorded in the series. So, I don’t think contestants really had the opportunity to have a strategy. This had an impact in the Special Subject round, where you lost points for incorrect answers… but we didn’t really get a chance to think how big an impact that would have. I essentially won the show because one of the contestants performed very poorly with his Special Subject and lost all the points he’d built up before that.

SH: Were there any elements of the show itself – the studio audience, the MASTER himself (Martin Flood), the speed of proceedings, the physicality of the set, the brightness of the lights, or even the loudness of the music – that surprised you?

KM: The brightness of the lights was quite intense – I was sweating up a storm! Note to budding game show contestants: don’t wear a woollen cardigan! And having Martin watching the game and commenting added an extra layer of intensity to the experience.

SH: In the heat of battle, during the actual playing of your game, what moments – either good or bad – stick in your mind?

KM: 15 years later, I still remember the questions I answered incorrectly that I should have known. The other thing that’s never left me is my terrible banter with Martin between questions in the final segment.

SH: Oh, I think you’re being a bit hard on yourself there. After all, you did win your episode, and a cool $41,100!

SH: … But then, in August 2006, a few weeks after your record, the MASTER premiered on the Seven Network, only to be axed after just one episode! (And unfortunately, that episode was not the one you were in). How did you feel when you heard the show had been cancelled?

KM: Gutted – what 21-year-old doesn’t have plans for their winnings? I was heading to the UK not long after filming, for a placement with my undergraduate studies, and the winnings were going to help pay for my flights and accommodation.

SH: BUT then four months later (during the non-ratings period), the network decided to air the six remaining episodes of the show…. or did they? I’m guessing you tuned in to watch the remaining episodes in December 2006?

KM: The way I remember it was they did air the one episode (in August) and then the rest all aired during the non-ratings period, yes. They had said they’d contact us to let us know when our episode would air, but I was never contacted. And (in December) they aired every episode… bar mine! So, I figured that was it – my pilot episode didn’t make the cut. 

SH: And you thought that was that the end of your the MASTER story? Seeing the network broadcast every episode except yours?

KM: That’s exactly it. Occasionally I would see the show repeated on TV, but I just filed it away as a fun experience.

SH: But then….?

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But then… Kristi’s story continues! It’s far from over, and there are more twists and turns ahead. So join us back here next Tuesday, when all will be revealed…..

HTWGS movie review – ‘Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much’.

So, first things first… did you watch it?

If you haven’t seen this documentary yet, you still have time! There WILL be spoilers in this review, so before you scroll down to read it, here’s your last chance to see what I’ll be talking about…

You can watch the full (72-minute) movie online, either HERE, 

HERE, 

HERE,

or HERE.Okay. So don’t say I haven’t warned you.

Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much tells the story of maths teacher Theodore “Ted” Slausen; a lifelong The Price Is Right fan, who has attended a whopping 37 recordings of the show! Ted’s not just a superfan, though; he’s also an incredibly keen analyst of the show, watching it religiously, and creating and maintaining vast databases of all the prizes and their respective dollar values. And he’s been doing this for decades. 

The idea first occurred to Ted when he watched 4 episodes from 1973 and noticed they contained four fridges which were all the same price. This planted a seed in his analytical mind: it told him there were patterns on the show that could be predicted…

So Ted started logging all the prizes on the show – and their values – building what would become an ENORMOUS database. He made his own rudimentary TPIR computer game, which included all the games – and prizes – from the show, and he spent a lot of time playing his own home version of the game with friends.

When he turned 18, he went to recordings of the show six times but never got picked to “Come on down”. Ted ended up going to 23 tapings of the show without ever being called down… but then, on his 24th visit, he made it onto the stage as a contestant, played the games, and won a few prizes. And, it would appear that was where Ted’s TPIR journey would end…

There are more twists and turns ahead, though. This film is a portrait of Ted’s lifelong obsession with the show, and he’s not done yet…

As you know, I’ve always advocated getting to know a show intimately, if you’re planning to go on it. David Poltorak holds the same view, as does Martin Flood. If you’re an aspiring contestant who’s taking the show seriously, you’ve got to know all its ins and outs. As Christopher Walken says in the movie Mousehunt, if you want to catch a mouse… “You have to think…”

“…. LIKE A MOUSE!”

But I digress. About two-thirds of the way through Perfect Bid, after Ted’s one and only appearance as a contestant on the show, his TPIR journey seems to have ended…

But, as we know, the show’s format encourages the audience to yell out what they think the prizes are worth…. an element that seems tailor-made for Ted. The rest of the film outlines his subsequent visits to recordings, and the numerous occasions when contestants took Ted’s (yelled) advice and won big prizes! There is scandal, there are conspiracy theories, and we hear from the show’s current host Drew Carey, who feared that all of this could spell the end of The Price Is Right altogether! That’s why, when he’s congratulating Terry Kniess (whose perfect showcase bid resulted from following Ted’s advice), Drew is so unenthusiastic.

This is a well-made documentary, with lots of archival TV footage, and they clearly did it all on a shoestring budget. But on a technical note… I don’t know if it was my headphones or the settings on my computer when I watched this, but the background musical score sounded very intrusive to me. The producers have used upbeat, 1920s-style big band music (often featuring vocals) throughout a lot of the film, and to my ear, it really got in the way. Again, I don’t know if it was the sound mix or a problem at my end, but I found it incredibly distracting every time the background music annoyingly became foreground music. And on the subject of music… There’s a section of the film where (the show’s host) Bob Barker retires, as does its producer Roger Dobkowitz, and it’s incredibly schmaltzy, with a syrupy, overblown, sentimental song (again with intrusive vocals) called Christmas Time is Here. Um, why? As far as I can tell, Bob didn’t leave at Christmas, and neither did Roger.

In the final analysis, I found it all a bit sad. Ted never benefitted from the wins of anyone he helped… so what does he have to show for his decades of The Price Is Right obsession? Well, from that one time he got on the show, he came away with $1100 prize money, a recliner chair (worth $599), a coffee maker ($160), a photo laminator ($50), a dumbbell set ($35), 2 sets of jogging clothes ($18), and a peck on the cheek from – and an autographed picture of – the spokesmodel named Holly.

Perfect Bid is an interesting – and pretty quick – watch for game show aficionados and fans (like us), but I can’t help feeling that Ted’s story is ultimately unsatisfying; his journey as a contestant ended a long time ago, his winnings were unremarkable, and none of the people he’s helped since then have shared any of their winnings with him.

The documentary is certainly a mighty testament to the power of doing your game show homework, but I can’t help asking… what did Ted do all that homework FOR? For the love of the game, I suppose. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t necessarily make for a riveting tale.

As such, I’m giving Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much…

2 game show buzzers out of 4.

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Have YOU watched Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much? (You can do that HERE, HERE, HERE, or HERE.) If you have, what did YOU think of it? Please let me know in the comments below!

What I’ve planned for next week, and how you can get involved.

Hello!

I hope you enjoyed my epic interview with David Poltorak. I know I did!

As promised, this week I’m doing Something Completely Different (and next week too). Recently, someone who follows me on Twitter made me aware of a 2017 documentary about Theodore “Ted” Slauson; a man who’s been in the audience at tapings of The Price Is Right a whopping 37 times, and who has a unique story to tell. As you know, I’ve spoken many times here on the blog about doing your homework; about diligently studying the show you’re about to appear on. Well, Ted took this idea to INCREDIBLE extremes, as you can see right HERE in the trailer for the film, which is called Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much….

I’ve just watched the film in its entirety, and next week I’ll be bringing you my exclusive HTWGS review of it.

In the meantime, if the trailer above has whet your appetite, you can watch the full (72-minute) movie online, either HERE, 

HERE,

HERE,

or HERE.

If you can find a spare hour and 12 minutes between now and next Tuesday, I’d strongly recommend watching Perfect Bid. And if you DO get a chance to watch it, you’ll be able to compare notes with my review when I post it here next Tuesday. I’ll be interested to see how your reaction compares to mine!

Until then, then!

 

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 18: The Conclusion!

David Poltorak, present day. (Well, a few weeks ago, actually.)

It’s been quite the ride chatting to David over these past 17 weeks, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it! We’ve discussed his early love of quiz shows, his screenwriting career, his World-Record-setting quiz show win in 1986, his many years as a question writer and adjudicator, and his return to the studio floor as a contestant in Beat The Chasers in 2020

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SH: Now that brings us up to the present day, and you’ve recently returned to standup comedy… all these years after your baptism of fire on Star Search. Why is that? And how’s it going?

DP: I started doing it again in 2015 because at that stage, I was still working on Millionaire Hot Seat, but that was a part-time job and I wasn’t enjoying it. So I was glad I got the sack from there, ultimately. And I thought “I need something to do with my time,” and I started coming out with funny lines that started popping into my head. And I remember thinking “Oh, that’d be a good line in stand up”.

SH: Right.

DP: Back shortly after my Star Search experience, I did a couple of open mics at The Comedy Store in Sydney, which were really brutal, brutal experiences. And I put it out of my mind; I thought “I just don’t hate myself enough to do that on a regular basis!” It was just too horrible for words, you know? That’s it, done that. And I didn’t watch comedy or listen to comedy; it just wasn’t an area that interested me. But now, all these years later it’s suddenly just clicked… and also, I’d had years of frustration writing scripts, and nothing had happened. I just thought “This is really stupid. Either I’m just not clever enough or I don’t have the application or my ideas aren’t good enough or I’m not meeting the right people; I’m just banging my head against the wall… But I still like writing.”

And so, I thought I’d give it a go. And so, I did it. And again, it was very nervewracking. I did an open mic, I got some good laughs, but it made me realize it was going to be a lot harder to get better at it than I imagined. I’ve seen it in the years since 2015, I’ve seen time and time again, people who don’t necessarily have good material, but just through dint of perseverance, getting up and being on stage, they’ve got the confidence and they’ve got the charm that you’re no longer nervous in their presence. And so they’re actually quite skillful. And if they have good material, too… boy, watch out! And the ones that do have that sort of performance – that skill and ease – and good material, well, they do best of all.

SH: So are you concentrating more on the stand up now?

DP: Yeah, I’m just happy to do as many gigs as I can. And I’m in a group called 10 Comedians.

SH: In addition to your stand up, you‘ve just finished working on The Weakest Link. Do you see yourself doing more quiz question writing and adjudicating down the track?

DP: Oh, yeah, I’ll happily do it if it comes along. After I got sacked from Millionaire Hot Seat (along with a couple of other people, because we’d all gone to work for Pointless as well), there’d been very little work. I think I was down to 400 bucks a week or something, so getting sacked didn’t really worry me. And also, I didn’t like the hierarchy, the managerial side of their question department; it was really unfriendly to the writers. And so, I’m glad that’s in my past. And so then Pointless came up, then Think Tank. Then Mastermind – we’ve done three series of that – and now, The Weakest Link. There’s talk of another Mastermind series. I‘d be happy with that sort of work coming in now and again – more than happy.

SH: That’s a good way to be.

DP: Yeah. I’m doing an open mic tonight. I did two on Tuesday. I’ve got other gigs now and again… I’m sort of in that semi-pro range, where I’m still doing as much open mic as I can just for experience, and trying out new material. I’m not a headliner. I’m old, you know; I’m typed as ‘The Old Guy’.

SH: Okay.

DP: I’ve got to accept that it’s a young person’s field, so generally people don’t book people of my vintage. I think I work better with an audience aged 30 up rather than 30 down.

SH: Right. Well, on that note David, it just remains for me to say thank you so much for your time today, and for sharing all your stories with us. It’s been really, really interesting. Thank you.

DP: Excellent. I’m glad that you enjoyed it. I look forward to reading it – it’s been a lot of fun!

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I really can’t thank David enough for his time, for all those amazing memories, and for his endlessly cheerful candour! I’ve absolutely loved this opportunity to talk to one of the true greats in the history of Australian quiz shows, and I sincerely hope you’ve found it entertaining and illuminating too.

If you’re a keen comedy-goer here in Australia, check your local gig guides – there’s a good chance that David will be playing somewhere near you soon. (Pandemic permitting, of course.) 

And so we bid a fond farewell to that most impressive screenwriting, record-setting, question-adjudicating, Chaser-beating, cheerful autodidact, Mr David Poltorak.

Join me back here in a fortnight’s time… 

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 17

As we launch into the penultimate instalment of our epic conversation, I wanted to revisit the subject of David’s Top Tips for aspiring game shows contestants… and hey, if his answer ends up taking us on a fascinating detour through the world of mid-eighties Australian TV talent shows, who am I to argue?

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SH: So you won big on Australian TV shows in 1986 and in 2020. What have you learned over that time as a ‘career contestant’, and what would be the three biggest pieces of advice you can offer aspiring contestants?

DP: Swallow your pride.

SH: Oh, yeah. That’s good.

DP: You’ve got to be prepared to take a fall. And that comes back to me going on Beat The Chaser, too. To do well, you have to risk looking like an idiot.

SH: Right.

DP: Did I tell you about my Star Search appearance?

SH: No, you did not. Please do.

DP: Well, in 1985, I had aspirations to be a stand-up comedian, but I’d never done it. But a friend of mine knew the guy who booked the acts on the Channel 10 show Star Search, hosted by Greg Evans.

SH: Yes.

DP: They had categories of performers. And so each week there would be two performers in each category. And the winner of each category would then go into a semi.

SH: Yes.

DP: And one of the ‘categories’ was spokesmodel!

SH: Really? Truly?

DP: Yeah. Actually, one of the winners of that category, Kerrie Friend, did go on to become a TV hostess.

That’s Kerrie on the right. Greg Evans (coincidentally, the aforementioned host of ‘Star Search’) is on the left, and that’s Dexter the robot in the middle. This photo was taken on the set of the dating show, ‘Perfect Match’. At least, I really, really hope it was…

DP: So anyway, I went on Star Search and that was my very first attempt at standup comedy.

SH: Whoa, that’s very brave.

DP: And I was so nervous. I drank a flask of Southern Comfort and I took a Valium. I needed to.

SH: Before going on?!

DP: Before going on. So I was very mellow.

SH: Jeez!

DP: And I didn’t win my category; my category was won by a double act called Broccoli Productions. They were two guys, one of whom read the news, while the other one acted it out, with silly pratfalls.

SH: Okay.

DP: It was very visual, and the audience loved it. I was too cerebral and inexperienced. The audience was polite, though; I got a few titters. But some people were open-mouthed about how bad I was, while other people were quite supportive. Some people said “Good on you,” and others – my father, for instance – were just shaking their heads in disbelief.

But it was a great lesson for me; it taught me that what you do and people’s reactions to it aren’t necessarily connected. The way people reacted said more about them than it did about me. Some were supportive, and some were critical… but they’d all seen the same thing. And so, ultimately it was all water off a duck’s back; it didn’t worry me.

It’s a cliché – “It doesn’t matter what people think about you,” but it’s true. Because it’s just their opinion. You can let it affect you, but that’s your choice.

And the next year when I auditioned for Sale, a couple of people said, “Why are you doing that to yourself?” They thought I was punishing myself or something. They saw it as some weird, masochistic desire for public humiliation.

SH: But you’d had that Star Search experience… which was an audacious thing to do on your part. And so your skin was thick enough?

DP: Yeah, yeah. I really thought that by going on Sale, I had absolutely nothing to lose; I could only gain from it… I didn’t think I’d get as much as I did! But I didn’t think I’d do badly. And I thought, having been through that Star Search trial-by-fire, this was going to be a cakewalk.

SH: Yeah, cool. During my time on Temptation, I noticed some contestants whose reputation – and even their identity – seemed to be bound up in this! Usually, they were middle-aged or older men, who I guess might have been “Mr. Quiz Expert” in their workplace… And I’d see they were humiliated – or even devastated – when they lost. I could see them thinking “Oh no, there goes my status in my social group”. And I felt for them, because they’d decided that they had a lot riding on this, reputationally.

DP: Yeah.

SH: But I digress. And now…

DP: You asked for three pieces of advice. I think I’ve only answered one. But actually, I feel a bit sad for anybody today who’d like to be a quiz show contestant… because the formats are so unfairly loaded towards the show and not the player. The player doesn’t get a chance really to shine. In Beat the Chasers, for example, you’ve got a minute to answer maybe 10 or 12 questions. And if there’s just a couple that you don’t know, you’re done. The great thing about Sale – or any of those other quiz shows in the past – was that you’ve got a lot of questions. And if you were smart, then it wouldn’t matter that you got a couple wrong, because on balance, you’d do well.

It’s a shame that TV has moved away from displaying and recognizing and exalting knowledge, which quiz shows used to do. But I think if you want to do well, you’ve got to put in the work; it isn’t going to fall in your lap. Prepare! When I was on Sale, the first time I had a couple of very lucky answers that were purely from stuff that I’d read or seen in the week or two prior to being on the show. One of my questions was, “Yugoslavia is made up of how many republics?” And I knew the answer because I’d read an article about it in the Good Weekend a couple of weeks earlier. Maybe the question writers got that question from that article.

SH: Yeah, that’s possible, absolutely.

DP: When you’re studying for a quiz, you just want to bring as much knowledge as you can, as close to the surface of the brain as possible. So it’s easily accessible.

I think you’ve got to be curious. You just have to want to know stuff. Yeah, there’s got to be something in your makeup that frustrates you if you don’t know something.

SH: Yes.

DP: I mean, even if I’m not practising for a quiz show, I just look up stuff all the time. You know, somebody says something, and I’m not sure about it, I want to clarify it in my mind; I go and look it up. I’m not practising for a quiz show. It’s just me enjoying knowing things.

Another bit of advice I would add, if you’re a contestant on a show where time is counting down and there’s a clock showing your remaining time, don’t look at it! I did that once on a show, when I was ahead, and the distraction was enough to take me out of the zone. I just lost. Which is why, on Beat the Chasers, I purposely looked down so I couldn’t see how much time I had left.

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Some great tips there! Next week, David and I wrap it all up with a few reflections, a chat about his current return to the world of standup comedy, and a look at what his future holds.

See you then!

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 16

Hello and welcome to the antepenultimate instalment of my epic interview with David Poltorak. When we left off last week, it was mid-2020, and one of the producers of Beat The Chasers was trying to tempt David into signing up for the show…

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DP: I wasn’t sure; I don’t think I said yes straight away. But it wouldn’t have taken me long to say yes. And so, she then sent me links (that everybody would have been given access to) of the UK version of the show. And I just thought, “F*** – this is hard!” But there was one YouTube of one winner on the UK show, who won everything. But she actually got a couple wrong. And I thought, “Well, I knew the ones she got wrong”. I didn’t know all the ones she got right, but on balance, I would have done the same as her. So that instilled me with a certain confidence that it was possible… So I said yes. My fingers were crossed that I would do well, because if I didn’t, it was going to be a really bad look.

SH: Yeah, your reputation!

DP: For what that’s worth. But I convinced myself that if I lost, it wouldn’t necessarily be catastrophic, because it was such a hard format. I thought because of my background, I’m going to have to go up against all four Chasers. I don’t have an option really of going below that. But interestingly, when I got to the studio that day of recording, one of the producers said to all of us, “Look, I know most of you are smart, you’ve been on other shows, you’ve done well, you’re here to win money. But everybody has thought like that, and nobody has won the big money. You might want to temper your ambitions and at least go home with something. We’ve had some people who walked away with low-level prizes, but nobody has taken the most, because the really good ones amongst you have gone for the most … and they’ve all bombed out.”

And so all that day, I had producers and PA’s asking me “What do you think you’ll do? What do you think you’ll do?” And after that little producer talk, I remember thinking “Maybe I shouldn’t be so ambitious. Maybe I should just go for a lower amount because I’d like to leave with something…” And I was on the last record day, and I was one of the last to be done. I guess they’d held me strategically in reserve so they could play with me, in terms of how much they offered me.

SH: Right.

DP: So, when the time came for me to go onto the set, they’re probably thinking, “We don’t have a big winner yet. We want one big winner. This is our only chance; we’d better offer him a lot of money. Because he said he’s only gonna go for three Chasers. And we want him to go for four.” And when they flashed up $150,000 on the screen, I couldn’t believe it. The guy before me, his top offer was just $70,000. And I thought, based on the English show, where they offer up to 100,000 (admittedly, pounds), that they wouldn’t offer anything more than $100,000 on the Australian show. And so, when I saw $150,000… I thought “Ah, they want me to win!”

SH: Yeah, yeah. Good!

DP: I mean, they weren’t handing it to me, but they were saying, “We want you to get this.”

SH: Yeah, just quietly…

DP: So, suddenly any cautious thinking went out the window, and I thought, “I have no option. I have to go for four.”

SH: That’s gutsy! How did you train for going on Beat the Chasers?

DP: I’ve got a couple of versions of Trivial Pursuit, so I just read as many boxes of Trivial Pursuit questions as I could, I’d get my wife to ask me 20 questions over dinner. And I learned a lot of popular culture, because I thought that, as I get older, it’s increasingly my weakest area. Ironically, there was a girl on the show just before me, this cute young lawyer, Mara, and she got a question where I knew the answer was Bruno Mars. And she didn’t know it. That was annoying, because I would have liked that question, obviously.

SH: Yes, of course.

DP: I think there might have been one other question I knew the answer to because of my study. But really, I think the study was to give me the confidence and the self-assurance that I’d done as much as I could do in preparation.

SH: Yeah, which is big – confidence is an enormous part of the equation.

DP: Yeah, it really is. And look, the only reason I won was because on the night I pulled it out of somewhere that Nicole Kidman played Chase Meridian in Batman Forever… a movie I never saw!

SH: You’re very good!

DP: But I must have seen it on IMDb; I must have seen a list of the credits. And it just popped into my head. You know, it was just a miracle.

SH: And just like that, you were $150,000 richer! How was the aftermath of that win, compared to the aftermath of your original Sale of the Century win?

DP: Well, I had an expectation that it wouldn’t be as big, because it was only on for one or two nights, but Channel 7 promoted it as a major prime-time event.

SH: It’s very emotive stuff.

DP: And the morning after I’d done the show, I walked out of my place and past a couple, and the guy turned around and said, “Hey, that’s the guy who was on Beat the Chasers!” I thought, “Holy f***! The first person I’ve seen!” But it turned out that he was the only member of the public who’s said that they saw me on the show.

SH: Okay.

DP: I’ve had no recognition from anyone else, apart from people I know.

SH: Yeah. A very different world from 1986.

DP: It is a different world because so many people I know who saw this show, saw it either on catch up or on YouTube. They didn’t watch it when it went to air.

SH: No, not like in 1986, when a million people regularly gathered around to watch TV at seven o’clock each weeknight!

DP: Yeah. The whole context in which people watch shows has lost that intensity. There are advantages in that you don’t have to be at home at the time it’s broadcast; there’s always some way for you to see it.

SH: I’m not sure audiences enjoy watching clever people display their cleverness anymore.

DP: That’s an interesting point. In terms of the way the culture is moving, that idea of admiring people for displaying their talent at knowledge almost seems old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy now. It’s something that’s gradually declined ever since the days of Pick-A-Box. Pick-A-Box clearly celebrated dry, dull people who just happen to know a lot, and if you got someone like Barry Jones, who had a bit of a personality to go along with it, well, that just made it better.

SH: You’re right. There was a time – and I think its heyday was during Sale of the Century – when people would go “Wow, what a brainiac! I admire brainiacs!” And in that movie Quiz Show, which is set back in the ’50s, they admire intellectuals too. It was a different time.

DP: It’s just not mainstream anymore. There is Mastermind, there was The Einstein Factor as well; but their audiences are not the mainstream audience. And let’s face it, free-to-air broadcast TV is hardly even a mainstream audience these days.

SH: Yeah, I think those days are gone. As you say, commercial free-to-air TV is struggling, so they have to appeal to as many people as possible. I guess it’s the equivalent of clickbait, really.

DP: And now they’re always just short-run shows. The latest (Australian) version of The Weakest Link is just 14 episodes, and they’ve programmed it at nine o’clock. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence from the network.

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Next week, in our penultimate instalment, David and I discuss

More TOP contestant tips,

The rigours of becoming a professional TV spokesmodel and of course

The roles of Southern Comfort and valium in pre-performance preparation…

See you next Tuesday!

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 15

Welcome to Part XV of my exclusive and wide-ranging interview with quiz show legend David Poltorak. And since the name of this blog is HowToWinGameShows.com, I felt it would be extremely remiss of me not to ask David for his tips on…

Well, on how to win game shows.

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DP: In terms of advice I’d give to any contestant… I was always eager to sort the people who were serious from the people who weren’t. You know, people who say “I’m just here because my wife thought I should give it a go”, or “we need new saucepans” or “I’ll be happy to just get a (consolation prize) board game!” You know those folks are just taking up space.

SH: But that’s good to know! That’s a very useful piece of information in itself. 

DP: Yeah. And I’d always be impressed with people who had bothered to learn that year’s Oscar winners or some recent landmark events… at least they were trying. And the other thing – and I guess you can’t really teach this – but that whole thing about anticipating.

SH: When it comes to anticipation, one thing I put into practice while I was on the show, was to always watch the host’s mouth while he’s asking the questions. Really concentrate on his mouth. And then when you buzz in, he’ll say another two or three words of the question. And then you’ve got one second, two seconds, even three seconds… that’s a heap of time. If you’ve been intently watching the host’s mouth, you can get a feel for where the question might be going next. Then you can finish the question in your mind, and then you’ve got those seconds to access the answer.

DP: Yes.

SH: And that constant pep talk to yourself; to always be saying to yourself “I know the next one. I know the next one”… rather than not getting one and going “Oh yeah, of course I should have known that… Now, where were we?” If you do that, you’re gone. You always have to go “Okay, let that one go. I know the next one. I know the next one.” I think it was Matt Parkinson who said to me, “It’s like someone’s throwing lots of tennis balls at you. And some of them you’ll catch, some of them you won’t… but just let those ones go, don’t give them a second thought. Just focus on the next one that’s coming at you.”

DP: Yeah. It’s true; it is a mind game. And Sale was so different to Millionaire; the skills needed to do well on Sale were so different to those needed for Millionaire. For Sale, you needed to be quick, you needed quick recall, you couldn’t allow yourself to get flustered, you had to have a broad general knowledge. Whereas with Millionaire… apart from broad general knowledge, none of that other stuff comes into play. But your luck is a much bigger factor in Millionaire because you’ve only got 12 questions. But so many smart people on Millionaire would just get done in by the question about last year’s winner of The French Open, for example.

SH: Yeah. Well, that’s your ‘Ask The Audience’ question. I’ve interviewed two WWTBAM Millionaire winners here – Martin Flood and Rob “The Coach” Fulton and there are certain strategies around when to use those lifelines…

DP: Ah, Martin Flood. When I went on Beat the Chasers, the contestants would stand up at the back of the bleachers, and when they were announced, they’d run downstairs onto the set and meet (the host) Andrew (O’Keefe). And when I was there waiting to be introduced, Martin Flood came over. He was coaching one of the contestants.

SH: Martin wasn’t on the show?

DP: I expected him to be on the show; he was asked, but he decided not to do it. But he was coaching this particular person. I don’t know how you coach… but I guess you can lend your experience…

SH: Now, speaking of Beat the Chasers… you went on it 34 years after you first won Sale of the Century! They were looking for lots of former quiz winners to go on the show. And one thing that struck me about that is that you’ve got quite a lot to lose; there’s a lot of pride at stake. I shied away from going back on Temptation a second time, and since doing Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster I’ve shied away from anything like that. And yet you had the cojones to go on Beat The Chasers, and of all the former champions who appeared on it, you did the best. So why did you decide to go on it? And what if it didn’t go that well? Can you just talk us through the process?

DP: Well, I got a call from the producer, Andrea Williams, who I’ve known for years, and she said, “Polty, are your quizzing days over?” I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “There’s this new quiz show Beat the Chasers and we’re looking for people who’ve been on other shows… and you’ve jumped to mind.”

And all those things just popped into my head; that chest-tightening feeling. There’s excitement, but at the same time pressure straightaway. But you’ve got to just make it a binary thing; you either say yes or no. If you say no, you may regret it because you see other people get the money, possibly. And part of me thought “Look, I’m nearing the end of my working life…” So there was a greed factor. And I had no confidence I was necessarily going to win, because I know the way these shows are structured these days. At least in Sale‘s day, you could lose but you still left with the board game and a stickpin!

SH: That’s true.

DP: Nowadays on a show, unless you take away the big money, you go home with nothing.

SH: You’re providing really great content for them, and you get nothing in return.

DP: You might get lunch and a bottle of water.

SH: A bottle of water? Yum!

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WILL David accept the challenge of competing on Beat The Chasers?*

WILL he rise to the occasion, and do brilliantly?**

WILL he go home with The Big Money?***

For the answers to all these questions, dear reader, just scroll down to the asterisks below. But for the more detailed answers to all these questions, be sure to join us next Tuesday afternoon, right here at HowToWinGameShows.com!

* Yes.

** Also yes.

*** Again, also yes.

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 14

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” This quote is usually attributed to John Lennon.

But it also seems to be ringing true for David Poltorak, as his plans of a screenwriting career continue to be interrupted by his role as Sale of the Century question writer and adjudicator…

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DP: Each year, the show’s run would be extended… the numbers were gradually trending down, but they’d pick up occasionally, you know. They’d throw in a special, and they’d go up again, briefly. But we got all the way to the end of 2001.

SH: And during this time, when you’re doing your behind-the-scenes work, was it a full-time job? Was it nine to five?

DP: Oh, absolutely. That was the thing; it so quickly became all-consuming. As I said, I had to write 180 questions a week. I was madly scouring newspapers and magazines for anything contemporary that was happening in the news. But most of the stuff was coming from either dictionaries or Britannica. There were 12 A-Z volumes of Britannica. So, each week, I’d open say Volume One of Britannica. And I’d start at the front, find my first question there. Then I’d go to the back, and working from the back, get my next question there, work my way to the middle. So, I got 24 questions a week from Britannica. I got another 10 from the Guinness Book of World Records. I had another book called Rock and Pop Day by Day, which was just a sort of calendar of musical events, births, deaths and record releases since the 50s. So that was a source of another possibly 10 questions. I had a Halliwell’s Film Guide, I’d get at least five questions from there. At the end of ‘91 – my first year on Sale – I got my first laptop; an Apple black and white laptop. So I’d take that to the studio with me and I’d spend the day in my downtime, looking for questions out of World Book Dictionary, which I found is a very user-friendly dictionary. It was written for the normal person in America. So, the language tended to be very simple. It wasn’t highfalutin, like the Oxford dictionary or even the Macquarie dictionary, which tended to be a little bit verbose in its definitions.

SH: And you were writing 180 questions a week. How many question writers were there?

DP: There was one other guy who was writing the ‘Fast Money’s and the ‘Fame Game’s. Initially, that was Graeme Rickerby, then another former winner on the show, Brian Fitzpatrick.

SH: So just two people writing all the questions for the show?

DP: Yeah. And then, each week, we had to check each other’s questions.

SH: Sure.

DP: So, I’d be on the plane (from Sydney to Melbourne), going through the questions, making notes, and then we’d have a production meeting for a couple of hours for each record day. And then I’d bring up any issues that were there; there might be doubles, there might be badly written questions that needed to be retyped. We had a gang of girls who just used to type cards all day because everything was done on IBM golf balls, nothing was computerized. I mean, the questions were delivered to me by courier, they were printed out down in Melbourne, they came up to me in Sydney by courier, so I was reading question cards on the plane going back down to Melbourne.

SH: There were no other options back then.

DP: Yeah.

SH: When you were in that job, were there moments where you thought, “Ah, I wish I’d known this when I was a contestant”? Is there anything that you-as-a-question-writer would’ve liked to have told you-as-a-contestant?

DP: Well, this is a bit silly, but I remember one bit of flippant advice I used to give people was, if they ask “What European capital city…” just jump in early and say “Paris!”

SH: Okay. And that works?

DP: Well, it worked for me once on a championship, and it is arguably the most famous capital city in Europe, so when in doubt…

SH: Indeed!

DP: On one of the episodes I was on, there were at least four consecutive answers that started with D. And I thought ‘the question writer is writing from a dictionary, but they’re not even shuffling the questions around’!

SH: Right.

DP: It might have been coincidence, but I thought I had a little insight into her process. It’s the pressure of having to churn out so many questions.

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Next week, David reveals his very best tips for aspiring game show contestants, and we’ll find out exactly what tempted him back in front of the cameras for his very successful tilt on last year’s Beat The Chasers!

See you then.

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 13

When we left off last week, David had just received a call from the people at Grundy’s (the production company who made Sale of the Century), offering him the job of adjudicator on the show! ==========================

DP: … And I was just really chuffed! I’d never imagined that this was going to happen, I didn’t think I’d get this job! And so they flew me down to Melbourne, where the story was that (host) Tony Barber was about to have a hip replacement. So they were going to record a bunch of extra episodes so they’d have enough to broadcast while Tony was recuperating. They’d be an extra month ahead, and these episodes would all go to air at the start of ‘91. I was watching Fran Powell; she was the show’s current adjudicator. She was the last adjudicator to appear on air, but by this stage she was offscreen. Times had changed, and actually seeing the adjudicator made for dull TV.

At the start of ‘91, I went to Melbourne to do the job when Tony came back. And then three months later, there was a contract dispute or something, and the word went around that Tony Barber was leaving the show. And everybody was just gloom and doom. Everybody just thought “Well, that’s it. Sale‘s done. Tony was the show, or that’s what everyone thought… and presumably, it was what Tony thought! The show was due to be off anyway for two weeks, for the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, so the network and Grundy’s basically had two weeks to find a new host.

SH: Wow.

Out with the old… (Tony Barber & Alyce Platt)

DP: They tried all manner of combinations and finally settled on Glenn Ridge and Jo Bailey, who replaced the lovely Alyce Platt, who unfortunately was collateral damage.

… and in with the new. (Glenn Ridge & Jo Bailey)

DP: I mean, you can’t change the host without changing the hostess, can you? Anyway, a lot of us working on the show were in the deepest funk. We thought there’s no way the show can survive with these two. Don’t get me wrong; Glenn Ridge is a lovely guy and an innately smart person, but he conveyed no sense of having any idea what the questions were about, and he also had a lot of difficulties reading big words. 

SH: Really?

DP: Yeah.

SH: And big words or little, as host he needs to read lots of questions really quickly and articulately. And he had no experience doing that? How on earth – 

DP: A lot of practice – a hell of a lot of practice. I mean, there were words we learned very early on we could not put in questions… “Mesopotamia” was a key one. “Which river in Messpo… which river in Meps… I’ll try that again… which river in Mes… I’ll try that again.”

SH: Oh dear.

DP: The record days stretched out… I can remember talking to Pete Smith, the voice man. And he said, “Dave, this is it. You know, it’s over, it’s over.” He just could not see the show lasting the rest of the year. And at that stage, I thought “I’ll do this job for a year, because it’ll be an interesting experience”.

SH: Sure.

DP: Because I really wanted to get stuck into more scriptwriting. So when I started the job as the adjudicator, I was thinking of it as just a short-term thing. But the show kept going, longer than anybody expected it would! Glenn Ridge got better, and we all got better at learning what to give him and what not to give him. He was a very charming, nice guy, and obviously the audience liked him. And as a comparison, in Tony Barber’s day, I only ever saw him speak to contestants when the cameras were on. When the cameras weren’t on, he wasn’t there. He had this knack for disappearing as soon as we weren’t recording, whereas in recording breaks Glenn would go and chat to the contestants, very down-to-earth, unassuming. Was Glenn Ridge the host for your episodes?

SH: Yeah, I went on twice. In 1994 and in ’99. Yes, Glenn made his way over and shook our hands and introduced himself before the show started, which I thought was pretty classy.

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Sale of the Century eventually finished in 2001 after 4,610 episodes, completing an incredible 21-year run! Four years later in 2005, it was rebranded and revived as Temptation, and went on to run for another 555 episodes.

But that, my friends, is another story…