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!

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