My Experience as a Contestant on a TV Game Show
What's The Good Word?
TV Game Shows
When you think of TV Game Shows what comes to mind? "Jeopardy"? "Let's Make a Deal"? "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" "What's My Line?" "The Price Is Right"? "What's the Good Word?"
If you don't recognize "What's the Good Word?" you may be forgiven. This was a game show that ran on CTV (Canadian Television Network) from 1972 to 1976, a rather brief period in the life of a game show. It was filmed in an understated studio in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, British Columbia on BCTV and broadcast throughout the CTV network across Canada. There was no Internet in that day, so it is unlikely anyone in Iceland or Lower Slobovia ever caught it.
My 15 Minutes Of Fame As A Game Show Contestant
In 1968 at a Swedish pop art gala, pop artist Andy Warhol is supposed to have said, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes".
The people we know as "celebrities" have gone on to extend their 15 minutes into months, years, maybe decades. And then there are those reality TV stars who have had an opportunity to have millions of people watching them, worldwide, for a couple of weeks. And finally, there are those of us who spent our shining, magical 15 minutes on a TV game show -- worse, a Canadian TV game show that never got 'syndicated' and that was seemingly purged from the CTV archives the moment it faded from existence back in 1976.
Yes, my husband and I had a very brief flirtation with fame and fortune back in some forgotten year between 1972 and 1976 on a couple of tapings of "What's the Good Word?" Yes, Alyza and Angelika, Grandpa and Grandma were almost in the same league as 'My Little Ponies' and Justin Bieber. Almost.
Typical Abode For People With Dreams
Have you ever considered being on a TV Game Show?
We Had Dreams
In the early 1970s my husband and I lived a humble life, with two small children, in an apartment in the city of Vancouver, BC. Like young couples everywhere, then and now, we scrambled to make ends meet. We ate home-cooked meals-- remember 101 Ways to Prepare Hamburger?-- and each of us had one or more jobs. We had dreams of living in our own home.
At this particular juncture in our life, I worked nights at the downtown Vancouver Post Office, sorting city mail 'walks'. My husband, Ed, was a young stockbroker. He had inherited a number of "dead" accounts, meaning the accounts of older clients who were no longer actively interested in investing had been shifted from the more ambitious, edge-clinging account reps. to the new guy (Ed and other greenhorns). Some of these inherited clients had had their 'accounts' sheared down to the last of their "nest eggs" by the time Ed arrived on the scene.
Every day he got up and went off to work very early (I think the markets somewhere in the world opened at 6 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, so he had to be at work then). The children and I did our little domestic routine and went off to a park for an hour or so in the afternoon, and then home to nap, during which time I watched "Coronation Street" and whatever followed it before fixing supper.
Because Ed went off to work so early, he also came home early. My brilliant young husband would start firing the "correct" answers to the questions on the 3:30 pm Game Show that was on when he arrived home. I was amazed. He knew all the answers. If we were contestants on this show we would walk away with all the prizes!
Yes, you guessed it. I got on the phone and signed us up as contestants. We were invited for an interview with one of the directors.
Contestants Are Interviewed
We were invited to meet with one of the show's directors at the studio in Burnaby and we excitedly made our way out there. We were asked if we watched the show, of course, and a few other like-questions and then given a short spiel on the importance of showing a great deal of excitement and energy during the show. I was asked how I would respond to getting a right answer. How would I react if I got a wrong answer? Examples were given of appropriate gestures conveying excitement: arm-flapping, an abbreviated piercing shriek of joy, an expression of shock and disappointment.
Ed and I are ... well... Canadian. And both of us are pretty introverted. We both had some Drama experience, and hammed it up for the director, but deep down we knew that we would be as likely to yell out "yee-haw" in front of a TV camera as we would be apt to swan dive off the Lion's Gate Bridge... not likely at all. In any case, he seemed to buy in to our assurances that we occasionally lose all dignity and jump up and down screaming and clapping.
The Grand Prize!
On With the Show-- This Is It...
When the day of the taping arrived we were told to have three distinct outfits since if we won Game one and Game two, we would go on to a third game. So, we wore one of our TV outfits and carried the other two on hangers into the change rooms.
We met the other two sets of contestants: a young couple about our age, and a couple of women who were roomies or best friends or maybe a mother and daughter-- two women, in any case. We exchanged some polite words together and watched the introduction to the show with the studio audience.
The prizes for the first contest were introduced at some length by the narrator. Third Prize (for the Contest's big losers) was an assortment of men's cologne products, a popular Asian-themed brand of the time, very spicy and supposedly reminiscent of popular actor Bruce Lee's amazing feats in movies like "Fist of Fury" and "Enter the Dragon". The fellow in the other contesting couple said, and not in a joking voice, "We better not win that!"
Second place winners got to go home with some cultured pearls that had a big presentation emphasizing their magnificence. And the first place winners, in the first 'round' (or day), would haul away a large swanky new microwave oven. I don't think I'd laid eyes on a microwave oven before that day-- and I was impressed and hopeful, not to mention fairly confident that my brilliant young husband would just overwhelm everyone with his significant brain power. Only the first-place winners went on to Game Two. At some point in time some cash got thrown into the winner's pot, along with the high tech. appliances. We were naïve and easily satisfied in the World of TV Game Shows-- the prizes seemed extremely appealing. Secretly, I even thought the men's toiletries were pretty exciting.
3rd Prize- Careful How You Use It!
What's the Good Word?
The game was based on guessing a key word beginning with an introductory clue, and following with a cascade of single word clues until someone got the right answer or the timer went off.
For example, a set might begin with "This can either be a friend to man or an enemy." Clues would then be read while the timer clicked down. Clues for this example set might be: WILD, RED, FLASH, GUN, ANTS, SIDE, TRUCK, HYDRANT, and finally FIGHTER. The good word, of course, is FIRE. (example provided by Wikipedia)
The game show's host was a lovely fellow named John Barton. He had a great baritone voice with a clear enunciation. Nothing in his tempo or tone implied "hurry up" or "how dumb can you be?" He was tall and slim with wavy hair and glasses, and a reassuring smile.
As the game unfolded, it was very clear that I had underestimated the confidence of my brilliant young husband. I had forgotten that when I first met him I was struck by how shy he was, and how he blushed more readily than anyone I had ever known. One-on-one in our livingroom he was able to whip out answers to any clue. Beside me, on camera, he sat with a frozen smile on his face, completely tongue-tied, maybe even terrified.
I had also underestimated the girl-team as opponents. Clearly they had discussed a strategy before-hand, and although I can't remember what it was, it worked! The other couple threw out a couple of wrong answers, I managed to get one or two points, but by and large, the girl-team beat the socks off us.
At the end of the round the drum roll cued the back-stage narration of the prize won by the third-place couple. Across the screen was displayed the bright array of men's cologne, soap, after-shave lotion. The commentator sang out the names of this couple and the beginning syllable of the name of their prize, only to be interrupted by a loud expletive from the prize's winner. A few shocked gasps and titters followed.
John Barton looked stunned, glancing around for direction. Someone yelled "Cut" and the cameras were shut down. The wife of the offending winner persuaded her hot-headed husband to be gracious and looked pleased for the re-take of the prize announcement. Apparently, this had never happened before in the history of the game show. But because it didn't violate the ethics of the program, "the fix" proceeded smoothly. Really, that little piece of spontaneous drama was the most exciting and memorable part of the game show experience for us.
Enjoy this old SCTV Take-Off on A TV Game Show
Pearls of Wisdom
Yes, we won the second-place pearl necklace. And, actually, nobody went home with any prizes that particular day-- all of the prizes were sent out by mail. My brilliant young husband managed to get his voice back when the program ended, and was filled with shame and contrition.
As always happens in marriages (or correct me if I'm wrong please), I took a turn or two at letting him down in other foolish forays overlaid with vain hopes of fame and/or fortune.
Besides the 15 minutes of fame, I'm happy to say that my Auntie in Regina, Saskatchewan was excited to see us on her favourite game show several months later when it was finally shown. She was always my biggest fan.