My EXCLUSIVE interview with game show producer Steve Marshall – Part 1

This is a picture of Steve. But when you meet him in real life, he’s in colour.

Hello and welcome to my first really big interview for 2022. I’m really excited about this one. Steve Marshall is a veteran game show producers who’s racked up thousands of hours of game show TV across some of the biggest and most recognizable shows in the industry. Steve’s a lovely bloke, and we first met way back in – But no, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll just leave you with the interview and all will be revealed. And now dear reader, read on…

================================SH: Steve Marshall, hello, thank you so much for speaking to me today.

SM: Stephen Hall it’s a pleasure, absolute pleasure. As always.

SH: I’m trying to think of the last time you and I actually spoke. I do remember that after my time on Temptation, in 2005, you had a radio show… And did you put me in touch with Nathan Foley?

SM: I’m grateful you brought that up. I was trying to remember who it was. Because I’d been speaking to Jon Olb, the TV director. And he told me you’d won Temptation. I said, “Did he win The Lot? That’s fantastic.” I said to our producer. “We’ve got to get him on the radio show soon,” because I think that episode had just gone to air. We watched it and found out you’d had a bit of luck in your final episode, in that you had a pick of the board and you picked Nathan Foley. He was one of the kids in Hi-5? Is that correct?

SH: That’s right.

SM: And he spun around and gave you the $25, which helped you get over the line. (You can see this moment here, around the 13:30 mark) So when we got you on the radio show, our producer cleverly got Nathan Foley on the line as well. So you got the opportunity to thank him… despite the fact that he had nothing whatsoever to do with it!

SH: That’s right.

SM: But you know, although I say you were lucky to pull that $25…. In all my years of experience, nobody ever won Sale of the Century / Temptation, ever, by being lucky. I mean, if you win seven nights in a row, there’s a lot more to it than luck. Hang on, let’s turn the interview around a bit; did it change your life?

SH: Yes, sir, absolutely! It massively changed my life! And to think, I frittered it all away on a house. (LAUGHS) But the ongoing effects of that event still keep echoing through, right up to this day. Absolutely. It changed everything. I was going out with my wife, but shortly after that, I proposed and she said yes. And then we had our daughter. And so, it was just a great – and very action-packed and joyous – year that year.

SM: I can imagine – what a start to everything!

SH: Yes, it was fantastic. But it was some six years before that – in 1999 – that you and I first met.

SM: That’s right.

SH: We were both working on a show for Fox8 (on cable TV here in Australia) called Sunday Roast, which has since disappeared without a trace.

SM: It’s funny you say that, because I’ve done the sad thing, I’ve tried to hunt it down. I thought for sure there’d be some snippets on YouTube or something, but I think they probably just now live on a digi betacam tape on somebody’s bookshelf somewhere. Just to explain, that was in the early days of Foxtel here in Australia and Jason Stephens – who was in the original D-Generation’s Late Show – started this little production company. And with another guy who was a very good lawyer and negotiator, not necessarily a great producer, he put together a comedy panel show which they sold to Foxtel called Sunday Roast… and you and I crossed paths on that. And it was a fun show to do. There were two teams competing, and we had Pete Rowsthorn as the host and Steve Bedwell and Shane Bourne were the team captains. So, as I always say (and people sometimes forget this) if you want to make a funny show, it helps to have funny people involved. And that was a real good show. I really enjoyed Sunday Roast.

SH: In some ways, it was ahead of its time. It’s a format that’s become so familiar to us now with Spicks and Specks, and Never Mind The Buzzcocks and all those sorts of shows. There are a million English ones and they’re doing really well. I think that was pretty early days for that type of comedy.

SM: Yeah. I remember at the time being a big fan of the English comedian Jeff Green. I’d seen him on a couple of those English panel shows; They Think It’s All Over, and so on. He was coming out for the Melbourne Comedy Festival and I thought, “Gee wouldn’t be great to get Jeff Green on the show?” We managed to track him down. And he did the show! He was – and he still is – one of the great comedians of the world, Jeff.

SH: For sure. Now, I remember that your wife Tania also worked on Sunday Roast, and am I right in thinking that you two originally met at work? Was it on Sale of the Century?

SM: Yep. Tania was the contestant coordinator. It was her job to find contestants, and run auditions all around the country and pick out the best ones, and throw suggestions of people to be contestants on the show each week. And our paths crossed and you know, we weren’t the first – and certainly won’t be the last – to have an office romance. And unsurprisingly…

SH: Eh, it’ll never last! (LAUGHS) 

SM: It lasted! (LAUGHS)

==================================================================

And we’ll leave it there for this week, on that cheerful note (and hello Tania, if you’re reading this)! See you back here next week, when Steve discusses the world of commercial TV publicity in the mid-80s, and driving across America from L.A to New York…

Until then, then!

ICYMI on HTWGS in 2021

Hello, and again Happy 2022 to you!

Just a quick one today, before I launch into the year’s first official, exclusive new content next week. I thought I might take a look back at some highlights of last year here on the blog, to give you a second chance to catch up on them, in case there’s anything there that might take your fancy, but which you missed at the time.

First up, in February, I let you know about a very clever, very funny new podcast created by a couple of brilliant Melbourne-based comedy writers. It’s called The Pop Test, and each episode tackles a scientific subject in great detail with the help of a couple of celebrity contestants, and a whole lot of smart gags. Andy Matthews and Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall are the brains behind this, and if you haven’t sampled it yet, you really should give it a go!  

In May, our good friend – and occasional guest blogger – Ryan Vickers drew our attention to the second season of The Search For Canada’s Game Shows, all episodes of which are available to watch online. They make fascinating viewing for any game show aficionado. (Hey, that’s you!) 

Then, in June, we discovered a brand new nightly online quiz, in the form of The TikTok10. Australian quiz show question writer Miles Glaspole creates a new 10-question episode every weeknight, in a fun, quick quiz that’s now racked up over 18 MILLION LIKES! Congratulations, Miles! You can see what all the fuss is about right here.  

The second half of 2021 was almost entirely occupied by my epic, 18-PART EXCLUSIVE episode with Australian quiz show legend David Poltorak. It was a wide-ranging and very candid conversation with a man who’s proven himself in front of the cameras, and in a variety of behind-the-scenes roles in the game show industry since he exploded onto the quiz show scene back in the 1980s. If you haven’t read the interview, I’d heartily recommend it. The whole thing kicks off here.

And finally, we rounded out the year with…

  • My latest HTWGS movie review. I took a look at Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much, which tells the incredible story of Theodore ‘Ted’ Slauson, who’s appeared on The Price Is Right a whopping 37 times! You can read my review right here, and the 72-minute movie’s actually available to view online here, here and here
  • And a two-part interview with game show winner Kristi Milley, who told her twisty, turny tale of appearing on the ill-fated 2006 Australian Quiz show the MASTER. There’s certainly a lesson to be learned with that one!

So there are a few highlights of The Year That Just Was, in case you missed them. I look forward to welcoming you back here next week, for my very first big, EXCLUSIVE interview for 2022. It’s with a man who’s worked behind the scenes on many of Australia’s biggest game shows across all the major networks, across four decades! He’s veteran Australian game show producer Steve Marshall, and it’s a far-ranging chat you won’t want to miss.

See you then, then! 

HAPPY NEW YEAR from HTWGS.com!

Thanks, Mr Gumby.

As 2021 draws to a close, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you and your near ones and dear ones all the very, very best for a wonderful 2022. Whatever sort of 2021 you’ve had, I sincerely hope that 2022 is Bigger, Better and Brighter for you!

I’ve got loads of good stuff lined up for the blog in the year ahead, including: 

  • More of my patented HowToWinGameShows reminiscences,
  • More book reviews,
  • and more exclusive interviews with fascinating behind-the-scenes figures from the game show industry (the first one of which will start in just a couple of weeks).

If there’s anything other game show-related material YOU’d like to see me tackle in 2022, please do let me know, either in the comments below or via email: Stephen@HowToWinGameShows.com. I’m always open to suggestions!

Thanks so much, as always, for your support… 

and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Cheers,

Stephen.

Merry Christmas from HTWGS.com!

Hello. As the year that was 2021 winds down, I’d just like to take this opportunity to heartily wish you and yours all the Compliments of the Season. I hope your Christmas is exactly what YOU want it to be. I hope it’s happy, I hope it’s safe, and I hope it contains liberal amounts of laughter and love.

And, of course, silliness.

Thank you so much for your support throughout this year…. and again,

Merry Christmas to you!

Cheers,

Stephen.

 

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.

==================================================================

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.

==================================================================

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….?

==================================================================

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.

==================================================================

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

====================================

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!

==================================================================

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?

==================================================================

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.

==================================================================

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!