Checking to my hotel “the Farmer’s Daughter” June 9th at 10:30pm, the front desk is empty. A voice from a group of people nearby asks, Can I help you?
I’m here to check in, I announce, towing my briefcase.
A bearded man in overalls answers back – For the Price is Right? You’re here for the class on the Price is Right?
I notice a circle of 17 people sitting around him – class is in session.
Stunned, if takes a moment for me to process and accept my near future – why, yes, yes I am!
Well take a seat, and I’ll check you in afterwards, he drawls.
This hotel was recently remodelled; bold paint colors, denim patterns, spare furniture suiting the country-style theme. The brochure shows slickster twentysomethings lounging around with electric guitars in bold concrete patios. I see a gaggle of heavyset middle ‘mericans hoping to properly price a flatware showcase on television.
These folks are being treated to an excruciatingly detailed lecture of the behaviors of game show contestants – by a bearded aesthmatic man in hotel uniform overalls who amuses himself and can’t resist a constant stream of petty asides. It’s entertaining homestyle adult homeschooling – amateur media education, the behind the scenes glimpse into gameshow politics from a self-appointed insider. Ted, he works at the hotel, he tells me afterwards. He volunteers to do this, I think he enjoys his part in the Price is Right pageant.
Here are the notes I took during the hour-long class, typing on my Treo 600:
You can go wait in line now (11:20pm). Or get some sleep and get in line around 3am. You’ve got to be at the studio at 6am, at 8am, and again at 10am. Definitely shave and shower before 10, because that’s when they care what you look like.
Don’t even try to bring a “pony sheet” with prices and information written on it.
A self-reflexive question: what’s the fee for the class?
you must submit to be photographed and stuck in the shrine of winners in the lobby
the desk phone rings, our teacher runs to answer. The contestants chat:
y’all have tickets?
Yeah, but they’re not priority.
There’s already 20 people waiting
This is the last taping of the summer, that’s why there’s a lot of people waiting.
Contestants speak of a woman who came from Pennsylvania.
A Last Poets’ song comes to mind “…that old woman / She’s been saving her money all year / for a trip to the Electric Circus / Where she died the very next day” (song: “Black People What Y’All Gon Do”)
But this woman from PA won a whole showroom. And it didn’t matter – she was rich. It was sport.
These hopefuls here are like a certain kind of gambler. They’ve made a trip to get on a show to maybe get selected to win some goods. They’ve come in family groups, and they’ve formed a kind of ersatz union here. Everyone is competition
This is a participatory side of the entertainment business. Anyone from anytown can wait in line and take their turn wrestling in the televised consumer price index competition.
You can’t win a lot, says a young attractive dye-job
A woman with a tube bringing oxygen into her nose leans over: you can win 30, 40 thousand if you play it right.
Well, the blonde reconsiders, maybe if you win a showroom.
Someone mentions selling winnings on EBay, someone else asks about tax considerations.
You’ll have a 4 and a half minute interview, to see who ends up on contestant’s row. The interviewer assesses three primary issues:
Are you going to win?
Do you have that spark that people at home watching you will feel “chuffed?”
Are you going to hurt Bob? A full 20% of the women on the show lose it and go for him. Some sturdy woman got ahold of him a few years back, hugged him so hard and broke 4 of his ribs.
Bob hasn’t eaten meat in 50 years. He’s probably around 83. He’s this big around, [holds up a finger] and has bones like a chicken.
“without him the dam stops” sic
“pretty much,” someone from the audience
Everyone here, has something unique. Try and let the interviewer see that.
Cameras, pagers, phones banned. If they go off, the show’s master tape is ruled void. People who have won things on the show only win them if the show airs.
Ted the Price is Right teacher was shocked later when I told him I hadn’t planned on learning that material, since I wasn’t going to be attending the show. One of the group piped up and said there might be an extra ticket. I went out to visit the line. I saw a wider range of people than I expected – white, black, young, old, attractive, indifferent. I thought about the fantastic human bonding experience I would have sharing the sidewalk with these folks, before the agony of hoping to end up guessing retail values.
I went home to my hotel, passing my classmates carrying plastic chairs to the sidewalk. They’d heard the teacher say they could wait until 3:30am to get in line, but they didn’t want to take a chance.