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…

 

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 12

Our discussion last week of whether David was resigned to being pigeonholed as ‘The Quiz Guy’ got me thinking…

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SH: At the time, what other quiz shows were on? Other than Sale of the Century?

DP: I think around that time Channel 10 tried to revive Pick A Box with Mike Walsh as the host.

SH: Oh really?

DP: And I remember going to the audition. And a producer getting us to do what we needed to do for the audition, but also telling us that the network had just axed the show. “So,” he said, “it was most likely that we weren’t going to be used, but we would do the audition anyway…” So that was one show that looked (briefly!) like it might’ve been an opportunity. Tony Barber hosted the local version of Jeopardy!, but it was a very short run. So it really wasn’t until quiz shows morphed into a kind of reality-style concept, which is what Millionaire and Weakest Link and every iteration since has adopted.

SH: So when did they ask you to write questions for Sale of the Century?

DP: Okay, so I won in late ‘86. I travelled in ‘87. I did lots of little jobs. I worked on a couple of TV pilots; I had some friends who pitched a pilot for a quiz show. It was a really terrible concept. It was like Sale of the Century, except the contestants had to wear a silly hat. Because that was their character (!) There’s just this blur of little jobs I did like that… I didn’t need the money, so I was happy to work on various pilot ideas.

But then in 1989, I got a call from the ABC to be the adjudicator and a question writer for a show called The Oz Game, which was hosted by John Derum. It was a six o’clock stripped show, Monday to Friday. And it was three teams with two family members; typically a parent and a child. Most of the questions were about Australiana. The winners got things like Akubra hats and Australian-style stuff that wasn’t very expensive. And when I look back at that, I shudder at my ignorance. I remember we did a celebrity episode; one of the contestants was a woman I vaguely knew by appearance; she played a nurse on a soapie. And one of the questions was “What is the longest bone in the human body?” And my card said “Thighbone”, and she answered “femur”, and I marked her wrong.

SH: Oh.

DP: She arked up, and I was mortified. I was so glad I got to basically serve an apprenticeship in that role. But that was a major gaffe that stuck in my mind. It made me realize that there was a lot – a hell of a lot – I didn’t know. And I guess that’s the frustrating thing about all this work I’ve done on various shows over the years…. The more I do know, you’re always just expanding the boundary of your own ignorance. That area- outside-the-things-you-know just seems to get bigger. I mean, on one hand, yes, I know capitals and stuff; I’ve got most of that under my belt. But there’s still so much sport. Sport is just never-ending. Sport is just continually expanding in its range and breadth and depth and it’s just so hard to keep up. And I think even say 40 years ago, there was just far less of everything. If you were a Learned Man back in the Renaissance, then you could have pretty well had a grasp of everything.

SH: Right. Because there was only so much that you could know.

DP: Yeah. So now it’s just not getting easier. So anyway, so I did that job on The Oz Game for three months. I then worked on another ABC show; the local version of University Challenge. And that was another great testament to ignorance on the part not just of myself, but of everybody involved. And we wrote questions and the production team went round to various universities to get students to go on the show. But when we recorded the episodes there was so much dead air. We’d overestimated – to a tragic degree – the knowledge level of the contestants.

SH: Oh dear.

DP: So, it was horrible.

SH: Lots of embarrassing silences where everyone stared blankly at each other?

DP: Yeah. We’d gone way too academic.

SH: For university students?

DP: They really didn’t know much. And there’d been no kind of instruction. Nobody’d had the wit to plan ahead and think, “Well, just how smart are these people going to be?” The assumption had been that they’d be like the UK contestants. But the UK is obviously drawing from such a bigger pool that they can have a lot of brilliant people. And we didn’t. It just wasn’t good television. That was also in 1989, I think. And at the end of ‘90, my sister rang me, and said “David, do you know your Sale of the Century World Record has been beaten?” This was news to me, but my sister happened to know someone who knew someone who knew this contestant Kate Buckingham who had just beaten my record in terms of dollar amount, so she replaced me in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Detail of David’s entry in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’.

And that same day, I got a call from (Sale of the Century production company) Grundy’s. And I thought “Oh, this is nice – they’re going to give me the heads up about my record before it goes to air.” But it was nothing to do with that. They were offering me the job of adjudicator!

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Next week, we’ll get all the juicy behind-the-scenes details of David’s new role, as he gives us an insider’s perspective on the sometimes surprisingly rocky road of ‘Australia’s Richest Quiz’… 

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 11

The Australian team at the ’87 ‘Worlds’: (L-R) Cary Young, David Poltorak, (co-host) Alyce Platt, Geoff Saunders, (host) Tony Barber, David Bock, Virginia Noel

One very fond memory I have of Sale of the Century throughout its long run is its various tournaments, where previous big winners were invited back to compete against each other…

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SH: You were in a few of those Sale of the Century ‘Champions of Champions’ tournaments. How many did you do?

DP: Look, it’s a blur. I did one in early ‘87, so that was just a couple of months after I’d been on the first time. In retrospect, that was far too soon. I just wasn’t mentally prepared, although I almost won; it came down to a tie-breaker between (fellow Sale of the Century champion) Cary Young and myself. And he got it. From what I can remember, the person in the ‘Who am I?’ tiebreaker question was born in 1868… which is often all that Cary needs, if there were not many famous people born that year. I think the next clue might have been “born on the Darling Downs” or something like that. Or maybe “born Arthur Hoey Davis”? Does that name ring a bell?

SH: No, it doesn’t. The only person I can think of is AB Facey, who wrote A Fortunate Life

DP: Well, it’s in that ballpark. It’s Steele Rudd. But that was a wake-up call to me; to compete at this level, you really must know every famous person’s year of birth. Because Cary did! Or he knew enough of them to knock everyone else out of the way on his way through to a win. And although not all Fame Games were people, or started with the year of their birth…. most of them did. So he had an innate advantage. I remember from that point, I started compiling index cards of famous people.

SH: Yep.

DP: Starting with composers and painters, and presidents and kings and queens and Prime Ministers and movie stars and things like that. And this is before I had a computer! I just remember having a big pile of these cards. And then when I did get a computer (about a year later), I started typing in all this information about famous people. I’ve still got the file and I still update it if someone famous dies.

SH: If you’re doing this now, is it as ammunition for future quizzing, or is it just something that interests you?

DP: It’s a bit of both. I think it’s part of always being curious and wanting to know stuff. And it was also a realisation that if they ask me on to subsequent championships… “Well, this seems to be the level I’m at now; I’ve really got to know a lot more than I do.” And the thing is, you just never know what’s ahead of you, whether there will be other opportunities. I just wanted to be prepared. And I’ve got a lot of free time because I’m not working much these days, and it’s something that’s never been a chore for me.

SH: You said you went on your first ‘Champion of champions’ games too soon; not long after your big win. I did exactly the same thing. And I think I was overconfident; I thought “I’m on top of the world, and how hard can it be?” But my opponents were really, really, really good – much better than me. Which is entirely predictable, in hindsight.

DP: And who were some of your opponents?

SH: I had Rob O’Neill, who was a Temptation Grand Champion. And I was also up against Rob ‘The Coach’ Fulton who was the first Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? millionaire.

DP: Okay. He was there as a Millionaire winner?

SH: That’s right. But I only made it through one heat. And then I got knocked out in the second heat. I think I was a bit too big for my boots there; flushed with my recent success, I think. After that, I didn’t go back again. But this takes me back to something you said earlier; you were saying that after your big win, you didn’t necessarily want to be just “The Quiz Guy”…

DP: Yeah. Because one of the things that kept coming up with people I encountered was that they viewed me as The Quiz Guy, which was an understandable perception. But I was only too aware that so much of it is luck, and the fact that you might have won one show is no guarantee of anything, or of any subsequent success. I didn’t really think there’d be that many quiz opportunities… But I thought ‘I’ve got to compartmentalise some time for that avenue’.

One of the things I found quite unenjoyable about my win was the attention I got from people whose attention I didn’t necessarily desire. For instance, there was a woman from an insurance company who really had her claws in me. She was determined that I was going to invest in annuities with her insurance company. And we had, I don’t know how many cups of coffee and she took me back to the head office to meet her managing director or something, and they really wanted me to put that money into annuities. And I was just getting the big hard sell on what I should be doing with that jackpot. The whole thing never felt right to me. And in retrospect, it would have been a really dumb thing to do. I mean, annuities are a sort of pension-age product.

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So, if David doesn’t necessarily want to be seen as The Quiz Guy, but people are seeing him as The Quiz Guy anyway, and he’s very good at being The Quiz Guy, and he’s doing all the homework that a Quiz Guy does… where does that leave him?

Find out next week, Dear Reader, in our subsequent exciting instalment!

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 10

“No explanation necessary.” (Photo: supplied.)

After hearing about all the excitement of David’s incredible win ($132,200 in prizes and a cool $244,000 in cash – in 1986!), my next question was an obvious one…

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SH: What did you do with your winnings? I can tell you about my experience, and what I got wrong… (It’s actually point #6, right HERE.) How about you?

DP: Well, I gave my long-term girlfriend (who I’d had throughout my 20s) about $5,000. And she bought a secondhand car. She was the only person I gave cash to. My mother was living quite comfortably with her second husband. And I think I gave her some leather goods. I gave my father a telescope.

SH: I got a telescope. Love telescopes!

DP: I wouldn’t have known how to have a discussion with anybody in my family about what would be appropriate to give them, to make them feel good; I wouldn’t have known where to start. You know, I remember my mother saying, “Look I’m just very happy that you’ve won and that this all worked.” She was sort of an unemotional person. But she was also very rational. And she didn’t want anything. I gave her a briefcase and some luggage, and she was very grateful for that. She was just happy to have the story, as much as anything.

My father subsequently moved to Tasmania with his second wife, but she died shortly after they moved there. And at the wake at my father’s house after her funeral, he was showing everyone the magazine cover from Express.

(This one).

SH: “My son! I’m proud of him”?

DP: I’m watching this and thinking ‘this just doesn’t compute’. A friend of mine put me onto an accountant, and he put me on to a stockbroker – a very sensible guy – and I basically left it up to him to decide where to put my money. I ended up buying a lot of debentures, and put money into the stock market, which was the start of my portfolio. I bought a unit in Woollahra the next year. I went on the trip I won, with my girlfriend at the time. That was the first-class trip to India. But we went business-class, so we could go on to England afterwards. We broke up in England, and I went on to Europe and I came home three months later. So, I was very sensible with the money. I wasn’t working, I was just living off interest; interest rates were really high. So, the term deposits were basically funding my living.

“My cash jackpot cheque, back when $244,000 was worth something!” (Photo: supplied.)

SH: You’re in your early 30s at this stage?

DP: Yeah.

SH: Not long after this, you went back to Sale the Century for your first ‘Champion of Champions’ tournament. How soon after your big win was that?

DP: I think it was fairly early; maybe early ‘87. And I shouldn’t have done it. Because I just wasn’t in the frame of mind. I didn’t study enough, and I just didn’t enjoy it.

Australian team at the 1987 ‘Worlds’: L – R Cary Young, me, co-host Alyce Platt, Geoff Saunders, host Tony Barber, David Bock, Virginia Noel.

SH: Why’s that?

DP: The ‘fame’ aspect of being on the show… I was very ambivalent about. I liked some aspects of it, but I often felt very uncomfortable. I’d lose my bearings with people, in terms of not knowing whether people knew me because they knew me or knew me because they’d seen me on TV. And I found that a really creepy phenomenon. I was surprised by how many people knew me from TV.

SH: Yeah, it was a big-rating show.

DP: A big-rating show. And it was like anywhere I went; someone was bound to talk about it. And if they didn’t talk about it, I didn’t know whether they were just not mentioning it to be polite. So, I thought ‘Wow, I can see the value in anonymity’… But it was nice when people would come up and say, “Hey, I saw you on TV!” It was great. I mean, that was terrific. But often people would say hi, and sometimes afterwards I’d find out it was someone I actually knew! (And I was thinking, that they’d just seen me on TV…) I was offending people left, right and centre!

But I still thought of myself not as a ‘quiz person’; I still had ambitions as a writer and I didn’t want to become just totally associated with quizzes.

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And yet, David’s subsequent career would prove to have a significantly quiz-centric vibe, starting with several appearances on various Sale of the Century ‘Champion of Champions’ tournaments. This is where he’d be going up against the best of the best, and next week, we chat about all the highs – and lows – of that level of intense competition.

Until then, then!  

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 9

After his amazing Sale of the Century win, David made arrangements to watch his last episode with some friends at a pub in Taylor Square, and it turned into quite the occasion! He had, however, neglected to invite his parents….

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SH: They were living in Sydney? They could have gone?

DP: Well, they were divorced. They could have gone, but they just weren’t pub people. And I’d never done anything with them socially. My father at that stage had a second wife who was basically a Polish mail-order bride who I did not get on with. I mean, the big drama in my life with my father – because I was raised by my father – was leaving home. When I left home, my father was shattered. I left home in 1974 when my father returned to Poland, for his first trip back since coming here in 1950. And I did it then because I feared for my life if I tried to leave while he was here, because he had threatened to kill me if I tried to leave home.

SH: Really?

DP: Yeah, bit of backstory: my dad was a single father, raised my two sisters and I from when we were quite young, no mean feat back then. He was loving and a good provider but he had a violent temper and was very controlling. And when he came home in 1974, and found out I wasn’t there, and that I’d dropped out of uni at the same time… well, it was traumatic for him as well as for me. I remember the first time I saw him after this all happened – he just suddenly seemed much older. It was like my leaving home just knocked the stuffing out of him. And he was bitter and angry. He burned everything of mine that was at home. I had lots of books and all my schoolwork, my university work, you know, model aeroplanes. I had this vision of him making a bonfire and just burning everything. It was kind of like, I was gone.

SH: Jeez.

DP: It was all very sad. We had a very troubled relationship. And so, when the show went to air, I went to my father’s place one night to watch an episode, and I went to my mother’s place one night to watch an episode. And I think I told him at that stage that I was going to watch the last episode in a pub with some friends. And that’s all it was; it wasn’t like some big event. And everybody seemed fine about that. But, you know, I was thoughtless with my father. When I went around to his place, I didn’t even take anything to drink. I mean, he wasn’t a drinker, but I should have taken a bottle of champagne. And I didn’t. And then when I got there, his wife had made a banquet! Like a celebratory banquet…

SH: Just for you.

DP: Just for the fact that I was coming to watch the show with them. And it was like, “Oh, f***.” I didn’t realize what impact this was going to have on them. And I learnt later they were really hurt that I hadn’t bought a bottle of champagne. But I just thought I was going over there for chops!

SH: Right.

DP: And then after the win, I was being rung up by radio stations. The morning after my winning show went to air, I was woken by Alan Jones ringing me! (I hardly got a word in, though; it was just Alan Jones going on about how I demonstrated what you could do if you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, blah, blah, blah…)

SH: While we’re on the subject of publicity after your big win… I also found this magazine cover, from a magazine called Express!

SH: You’re the “star of the century,” apparently! Can you talk us through this?

DP: Well, that was a little arts magazine that the wife of some wealthy businessman had poured money into. And they said, “We’d like to do a story on you.” I said, “Fine, great. You know, let’s, let’s do it.” But this was another source of tension; my new girlfriend was really miffed that they wouldn’t put her on the cover with me. She was very attractive, well I thought so. But they chose this model. And she was just some Norwegian woman who was very dour and hardly spoke any English… or at least she didn’t speak any English to me! But once the camera was on, she just suddenly came alive. It was like, wow, she was made to be photographed.

SH: Yeah.

DP: So, the little bits of publicity that I had, like that magazine cover and newspaper articles, all fed back into the idea in my father’s mind that the fame was going to my head.

“First page of an article I wrote for ‘Good Weekend’, shortly after my win.” (Photo: supplied).

“From a ‘Woman’s Day’ article on quiz show winners.” (Photo: supplied).

SH: Right.

DP: He went from being elated for my win to being depressed about it. It was very odd.

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There’s no doubt that a big win like this is life-changing; not just for the person who wins it, but for their family, too. It’s a fraught and delicate time, mixing family, money and fame… and David and I explore this in a bit more detail as our discussion continues in next week’s instalment.

Until then, then! 

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 8

“This is from a local Eastern suburbs newspaper after my big win.” (Photo: supplied.)

It’s November 1986, and David Poltorak has just set a Guinness World Record, by winning $376,200 worth of cash and prizes on Sale of The Century. Some friends were there to witness his incredible victory, and one of them suggested he book the plush Robert Menzies Suite at Melbourne’s 5-star Windsor Hotel that night…

============================================================== SH: The Robert Menzies Suite?!

DP: Yeah. But he wasn’t in.

SH: Haha!

DP: And we had this wild party that night, with everything being put on other people’s credit cards. (I made good when I got the money). But it felt like money suddenly didn’t matter anymore, which of course is easy to say when you’ve got more than you need. I called my parents to let them know. And they were just overwhelmed and stunned at the news. My father, in typical fashion, thought I was calling to tell him that someone had died.

SH: Okay. No, it was much better news than that! Did you have a partner at the time, someone who you could share all this with?

DP: I’d been single for ’86, for most of that year. I’d broken up with a girlfriend the year before that. And I’d had a long-term girlfriend before that. So, I was sort of footloose and fancy-free.

SH: Cool. And so then you’re in limbo because it’s about two weeks between the recording of the show and the show going to air, isn’t it?

DP: It was a month.

SH: Wow. And you’re sworn to secrecy, so how did you handle that limbo period of a month?

DP: Well, they said ‘look, you’ve got media connections; just make sure it doesn’t get into the media. You can tell your friends and family, but just don’t broadcast it beyond that’. But I remember going into my local cafe the next day, and everybody suddenly giving me a rousing round of applause! This was like, eight or nine o’clock the next morning. The word was well and truly out!

SH: Haha! And obviously, you don’t get the cash until the show goes to air. So, in that month, did you go back to work? Did you go window shopping? Did you fantasize about all the stuff you’re going to buy?

DP: Yes, I needed to borrow money from friends for that period because I didn’t feel like doing any actual work. My head was just not in that space; my feet were off the ground! So, I borrowed some money but I assured everybody I was good for it. My big concern was – I just thought ‘I hope Channel Nine doesn’t burn down!’

SH: Yep.

DP: Because if the show doesn’t go to air, you don’t get your winnings. But in that month, the suppliers of all the prizes I won along the way started delivering them. My unit became crammed with boxes of stuff. And one of my prizes, for instance, was Nikon camera gear. Four cameras, including an underwater camera, tripod, slide projector lenses… and there was a coffee machine, I won a luxury watch from the gift shop, I got a lounge suite, which was great. And the cars! I had to make decisions about the cars. I live in King’s Cross (a high density, urban part of Sydney) and I had two cars on the street that I just didn’t need. And I rang my father and said, “Dad, I’ve got a car which I don’t need. Would you like a Camira? And he said “What do I need with another car? I’ve already got my car. Thanks anyway.” So, I advertised it. And contractually, you weren’t allowed to say that you’d won it on a particular show; the public can’t know that you’re offloading something you won on Sale of the Century. So I sold it privately for 10 grand, although it was probably worth 18 or 20 at that stage. Then the next week, I get a call from my dad; “Ah, son, you know that car you offered me? Mine has just been stolen.”

SH: Oh no!

DP: One of the painful things about it was my father’s response in the months after my win. Initially, he was elated. Because I was no longer (his favourite catchphrase) “My son the bum”. Delightful, thank you, dad. But in the days after I won, my dad’s calling me; “Son, this is incredible, I can’t sleep!”

SH: Oh, that’s nice.

DP: Yeah, he was so excited by it all. But then I think the reality set in that it didn’t actually mean anything to him, you know, and he then went the polar opposite and became really embittered. And very, very negative.

SH: Why? Did he think that “you hadn’t worked hard for it”? Or that “you hadn’t earned it,” somehow?

DP: Well, I think he felt that my life had changed. And, although we never sat down to discuss it, I think he felt the difference it made to me would somehow make a difference to him.

SH: Okay.

DP: I was a university dropout. So I had been a disappointment. And I think the fact that I was on TV kind of turned his head a bit. You know, it was…

SH: A big deal.

DP: I did some silly things. I mean, I had a party in a pub for the last episode.

SH: Is that Deborah Conway in the background?

DP: Deborah Conway, Martin Armiger next to her, and out of shot the Japanese pop band Sandii & the Sunsetz, who happened to be in town. I’m wearing the clothes I wore on the final episode. That’s at a pub at Taylor Square. A friend had said “You should have a party in a pub so we can watch it on the big screen.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” So, this friend organized it all. And I really didn’t have any concept of how big it would be. I thought I’ll just have a bunch of friends. It just did not occur to me to invite my parents….

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… which I’m sure you’ll agree is understandable…

but next week, we’ll see the consequences of that decision.

(Spoiler alert: they may not turn out to be entirely 100% positive.)

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 7

When we left off last time, David had won 4 consecutive games and flown home to Sydney, to await the next Sale of The Century recording session, when he’d get his chance to return and attempt to go all the way. In this way, David’s run on Sale of the Century paralleled exactly my run on Temptation (the Sale of the Century reboot).

I, too, won 4 consecutive shows when I got on.

I, too, flew home to Sydney to await the continuation of my run. For me, though, the gap between recording sessions was an agonising two weeks, not one, and I’ve discussed all the suspense-is-killing me aspects of that period elsewhere on this blog. I was curious whether David took the same approach to this “downtime” (ha!) as I did…

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SH: So in the week between your two records, did you keep up with your training? Did you watch the show going to air each night, and still do your score sheet? And

did you do any additional research or study during that time?

DP: I don’t know that I would have continued with the scoring, I certainly would have watched the shows. And I certainly would have kept reading. I mean, all I was reading was a one-volume encyclopedia, and The Macquarie Atlas. My aim was just to remind myself of stuff that I had known once, and probably forgotten. I wasn’t expecting to learn much new, because I used to know all the capitals and things like that. I just had to get them closer to the surface of my brain, (if that’s where the memory sits). It was revision as much as anything.

SH: And so in your second record, you had three episodes to win, in order to go all the way. Can you just talk us through those three episodes and how you kept the energy up, and the attack level up? Because the pressure gets higher as the stakes get higher.

DP: Well, for me, the pressure didn’t build; I felt more relaxed, the closer I got to the end.

SH: That’s interesting.

DP: I didn’t actually feel pressured, because after that second episode… I, perhaps in ignorance, just felt that I wasn’t going to be given really tough opponents. And I didn’t necessarily think in terms of ‘Oh, they want me to win,’ I just looked around and made judgments about the people I saw as the contestants that week. And I thought, ‘Well, I could be wrong, but they don’t look that smart, or threatening. They don’t have that fierce vibe about them that tells me I should be worried.’

I just kept up my strategy, if you can call it, that of buying as much as I could. I guess I wanted to be liked by the audience. And I wanted to be the person who bought as much as they could along the way. I can’t remember what my scores were on my fifth and sixth episodes, but certainly for number seven, I thought, ‘Okay, I’m not buying now, I’m just going for a big score; I want to see how much I can get.’ It was purely for my own satisfaction.

SH: That’s an amazing attitude to have when there’s so much on the line. You said yourself, that the motivation for going on this was the money. So, for you not to let that get in your way is quite an incredible thing. You did set some records on that final night; the highest number of questions answered correctly in one episode (35 out of 55), the highest winning score ($200), the most questions answered correctly in the Fast Money round (16).

DP: AND the other record from that night is, that nobody on that show got a question wrong.

SH: Really?

DP: I mean, I got 200. But I think the person that came second got 45, which could often be a winning score.

SH: You won a grand total of $376,200, including $244,000 in cash, and $132,200 in prizes, which was the World Record at the time. Can you describe that moment when you had won, and it was all starting to sink in?

DP: Well, I had some friends in the audience who were some Melbourne locals and one actor from Sydney who was down. She was in The Flying Doctors; Lenore Smith. I don’t know if you remember her.

SH: Yeah. She’s lovely.

DP: Lovely woman. And (Sale‘s host) Tony (Barber) pointed out the fact that Lenore was there because The Flying Doctors was a Channel Nine show, so there was a nice bit of cross-promotion there. And I was aware that when people won, they would often take a moment to thank Grundy’s and the people on the show for making it all possible. But I just forgot all about it! It just wasn’t even on my radar; I was just stunned. Stunned. But what I felt most profoundly was a huge sense of relief. Yeah. Just enormous relief. I just felt this weight had just suddenly lifted off me. I was walking through the set and the streamers are still everywhere and everyone around me was applauding and slapping me on the shoulder and shaking my hand and everywhere I looked, people were just beaming at me. That was just a wonderful sensation. And I remember at the end of the show, Tony said, “Well, David, the drinks are on you tonight!” And I thought ‘Great, I’m going to go out for a drink with Tony Barber!’ So, when the show was over, before I headed back to the office to sign all the forms, I said to the contestant coordinator “Where’s Tony?” She said, “Oh, he’s gone. Why?” I said, “We’re meant to be going for a drink,” because I just had this idea that Tony’s going to be toasting me in a pub!

“From memory, this was taken at some big lunch at the TV station after my win.” But obviously without Tony Barber. (Photo: supplied.)

But I soon realized – and certainly, once I began working in that area – that it’s all just for show. Once the cameras are off, nothing exists. So anyway, my friends and I went back to my dressing room and drank champagne – a nice bottle of Moet – out of plastic cups. After that, it was all out of my hands. The people I was with wanted to celebrate. And I had no money on me! But we went to a bar somewhere and then someone had the bright idea that I should book a suite at the Windsor, which I did. I think it was The Robert Menzies Suite.

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Oooh, fancy! Join us next week, when the corks keep popping and the celebrations just go on and on and on….

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 6

When we left off last time, David had won his first night on Sale of the Century very convincingly, and had just managed to scrape through to win his second… 

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SH: I think you said you needed to win eight nights in a row to get The Lot…?

DP: It depended on how well you’d done on each night, because you had to achieve a certain number of dollars to get to the next level. I did it in seven. And the guy I beat on my first night was on his eighth night, but he would have needed nine to win The Lot.

SH: Because his scores weren’t high enough?

DP: Yes.

SH: So, all of your episodes took place over two records?

DP: Yes.

SH: What was the gap in between them? And how did you go during that gap? What was your mental health like?

DP: Well, on my first record day, I won the Tuesday night show, then the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night shows. I just remember feeling so relieved that I was going home as the carry-over champion. And I remember catching a cab with a guy who’d also been on an episode that day. He was a young sailor, and I just remember talking to him and feeling like I was the winner. And he was the loser. He had no expectations. I was just struck by the number of people I encountered on the show who said things like “Oh, my wife put my name down…” “Oh you know, I just thought I’d give it a go…”

SH: Yes, yes! I remember thinking exactly the same thing! And when I used to work on Deal or No Deal, contestants would often say “Oh, well, I came here with nothing…” They’re advertising to you, that they don’t think they’re going to win! And that’s a great bit of information for you to lock away. They don’t have the killer instinct; they don’t have the confidence and they don’t care if they lose – they pretty much expect to lose!

DP: Yeah. They’d say things like “Oh God, I just, I just hope I pick up something nice in the Gift Shop”. So, I remember I got back home and I hadn’t called anyone at that point. Mobile phones didn’t exist. So, I called family and friends when I got back, and just let everyone know, because everyone was keen to know how I’d gone and, and I just spent that next week just in this kind of weird space where it was all possibility; it was just all within reach. It was all suddenly looking like a really solid prospect. But I just felt ‘Oh god, I hope nothing goes wrong.’ I just wanted it to keep going the way it had.

I’d had my second episode close encounter with death and I felt very confident; I just thought ‘there’s no way I’m going to have as difficult an opponent as that guy that I’d had on my second episode’. I just thought ‘it’s mine to lose, at this point’. And I got a cold! I came down with a cold, and on the morning I had to go back to Melbourne there was fog at one of the airports and so my flight was either cancelled or delayed! So I quickly got myself rebooked on another flight. I made it to the studio in time, but I was drugged up on cold medication. There were no drug tests for contestants at that stage!

And it was weird. I remember during the first week I was there, when the contestants arrived at the studio, as you might recall, we would be met by a producer who’d take us to our dressing rooms, and then take us around the set, so we could become familiar with the surroundings. And I remember we were all in a group on that first day. And there was DARYL standing with a producer. He was the carry-over champ. The producer showing us around said “That’s Daryl – he’s the carry-over champ.” And we were all whispering amongst ourselves; “How much has he won?” “How many nights has he been on?” The producer said “Daryl has been on for seven nights now. He’s looking very strong…” So, I was thinking ‘I’ve got to go up against Daryl; I don’t want to miss out on Daryl, because he’s getting closer to all that money. That’s MY money!’

SH: Take it from him.

DP: So, that next week when I turned up, I was suddenly in the Daryl position. I’m the top dog now, and the new contestants are all whispering about me; “That’s the carry-over champion…”

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A nice position to be in! But David still had three games to win, in order to take home all the prizes and that huge cash jackpot. Next week, we’ll explore the lead up to those three make-or-break games, and I’ll ask David how he handled all that pressure and all that suspense. And I must admit, his answer surprised me…. 

 

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 5

Hello! When David and I left off last week, we were chatting about the dreaded ‘Second Night Syndrome’, which comes into play just as much in quiz shows as it does in other types of live performance…

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SH: Do you think that your experience as a performer (you’ve done stand-up and lots of Theatresports) added an edge to your game?

DP: It definitely did. I definitely thought that. Not only had I done Theatresports, but I’d also just been in an ABC series of Theatresports. So yeah, I’d been in front of cameras, I’d been in front of an audience, I’d had to do some pretty silly things. Yes, that whole thing of the-rabbit-in-the-headlights wasn’t part of my concern when I was on the show.

SH: That’s a real pattern with a lot of winners I’ve talked to. A lot of people have had experience in front of an audience, whether it’s Matt Parkinson or Russell Cheek, people who are no strangers to being looked at and to being performers.

DP: I also think that’s why school teachers often do well on quiz shows.

SH: Yes.

DP: They’re confronted by a hostile crowd every day!

SH: You bet! So, when you got onto your first episode, where did it fall in the record day? Was it the first show, the second show…?

DP: When I went down on my first record day, I was on the Tuesday show.

SH: So on your record day, you had the advantage of watching the Monday night show play out… and then you got picked for the Tuesday show. And so you powered through Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night and Friday night… winning convincingly on every night? 

DP: Except on the second night, because on that one, there was a guy there who was smugness personified; a big moustache, one elbow on the desk just lightly leaning one hand on the buzzer… you know, ‘Mr Casual’. And he was also very good. And we’d both bought from the Gift Shop, because I had this attitude that people who don’t buy from the Gift Shop A) look stingy, and B) can trap themselves. Obviously, you want to be strategic, but I think there’s a psychological advantage you get from looking magnanimous or being risk-taking that frees you up a bit. And I just thought it was good for the viewers; I didn’t like watching people who didn’t buy. I decided that when the opportunity was available – without putting myself at too much risk – I would buy, and so I bought everything I could.

SH: That’s interesting. 

DP: The only time I didn’t buy was on the last night, when I was going for the big score. I just wanted to see how big a score I could get. And I missed out on a really great central Australian prize!

SH: That’s interesting. I was the opposite of you; I never bought anything.

DP: Oh, okay. 

SH: … Because I just really wanted to grind my lead into their faces! 

DP: (LAUGHTER) Oh well, each to their own! 

SH: But I wasn’t winning by staggering margins like you were. So I just played it extra cautious and Ed (the host) would often say “Come on! You’ve got to buy something!” and even the producer came down to the studio floor and said “Are you going to buy anything?”

DP: Right, right. Well, you’re not breaking any rules. There was a guy called David Bock who was brilliant – I think he was a chemical engineer – and he never bought anything and he won a few championships and Tony called him David “spider-in-the-pocket” Bock. So you’re Stephen “box-jellyfish-in-the-pocket” Hall! 

SH: Yes, that’s me…

DP: So anyway, in this second episode we both thought things from the Gift Shop and this guy had bought something when he was ahead of me. And then he’d stormed ahead of me in the second or third round and Tony’s saying “Oh, David – beware of Second Night Syndrome.” And we go all the way through and I miraculously catch up to him in the Fast Money and I end up 4 points ahead. And the final question is “The novel Go Tell It On The Mountain was written by James… who?” And we both just sat there… 

SH: Yes, I couldn’t tell you.

DP: … Because if I buzzed in and was wrong, (I’d lose 5 points and) he was going to win. And if he buzzed in and he was right (he’d win 5 points and) he was going to win. But neither of us knew the answer and I was $4 ahead… and so I won.

SH: Wow.

DP: And the answer was “(James) Baldwin”. 

SH: I wouldn’t have got that. Gee, that’s too close for comfort, isn’t it?

DP: And I thought “I have not had such a close game in all the months I’ve been playing this. It’s not going to get any harder.” I just thought “it’s mine, this is mine – I’ve won.” Winning that second game made me feel I’d won the whole lot.

SH: What a great way of framing it! That’s a really valuable thing for your mindset, going forward.

DP: Yeah. I found out later from Michelle (the contestant co-ordinator) that after the show, this guy was stomping up and down at the back of the studio audience saying “I shouldn’t have bought the dining suite! I shouldn’t have bought the dining suite!”

SH: No he shouldn’t. But for your sake, he should have!

DP: It’s the same thing with the show Beat The Chasers; half a second – one question – can make all the difference.

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Next week, we continue through David’s amazing run on Sale, which culminated in that incredible score of 200 points, and that massive jackpot of cash and prizes worth $376,200! See you then!