When I was 12, I made a bucket list that I wrote on a scrap of Hello Kitty paper, which I kept tucked in my diary for years. On it was:
- Learn how to surf.
- Get good at ballet.
- Live in France.
- Find a solution to fluorescent lighting. (Yeah…not sure why this was important but I remember writing it and absolutely hating fluorescent lighting.)
But at the top of the list was:
- Go on The Price Is Right. Play Plinko. WIN.
I know this isn’t entirely universal, but I’ve heard similar stories echoed by millennials — that during our early, pre-teen years, many of us formed a bond with The Price Is Right. It’s an odd match — that ’90s kids distracted by the internet and Nickelodeon would willingly watch a game show hosted by a gray-haired Bob Barker wherein even older people would bid on oak dinette sets? Weird.
But much of the attraction to TPIR had to do with privilege: If you were watching this show, it meant you weren’t at school and everyone else was. (Haha, losers.) It was also a commonly accepted thing that should you begin to feel sick at school, you shouldn’t wait to get into the nurse’s office; you’d want to be home before 11 a.m., which was when TPIR aired.
Around the time I got boobs, the specialness of The Price Is Right had worn off. (Because once you have boobs, you suddenly have way better stuff to do, like watch Titanic again.) But for some reason, I never forgot that bucket list. Maybe because out of the five things on it, only one still appealed or had yet to be crossed off — Plinko.
Plinko probably remained because, for me, it’s more a fantasy idea than a goal. I’m a realist. I know the hoops you have to get through to make it to Plinko. First you have to get picked to “come on down.” Then you have to beat out three other contestants in the initial bids. Then you have to hope the game you end up playing is Plinko. Then you need to maximize your possibilities of winning by getting four product prices right.
So no, I had never realistically thought about actually going through all of this. Until I was offered the opportunity to help report on a special Price Is Right episode, celebrating Plinko’s 30th anniversary. Every game on this particular show would be Plinko. Holy shit, yes, sign me the fuck up.
On the day my colleague and I arrive for the show, we’re allowed into the set early to watch rehearsals. And I can’t lie: By now I am losing it. I am at The Price Is Right, and it is awesome. I am physically unable to be a calm, cool, collected individual. I am dumbstruck and grinning and giggling like an asshole.
I prepared myself to be slightly disappointed by what I had imagined as a kid versus what I would see as a grown-up. The audience area is small, and the set is dressed in shockingly bright colors — electric blues, yellows, and oranges. There’s none of that hazy, soap opera-y light I remembered seeing. And of course no Bob Barker. Nevertheless, the moment I see that Plinko board, I become stoked. Seeing it up close, with only a handful of people around — it was like being near a celebrity. It’s just so iconic. And later on, when the audience files in, this space becomes a room of happiness. It is suddenly a place filled with potential. It’s the American Dream.
What I had not prepared myself for was the moment when a producer asks me, “Do you want to play?” They were still running rehearsals and needed someone to stand in. Did I want to play? OK, obviously: yes. But I immediately understand the repercussions of accepting this offer. Yes, this will probably be the one and only time in my life I’ll have the opportunity to play Plinko. But this will also rule out the extremely small possibility of it happening for real. Imagine landing that chip in the $10,000 slot only to have it mean NOTHING. OK, thanks for your help, back to your seat, you’re poor now again. I might die.
I nervously head up to the stage where I stand next to a fake Drew Carey (a guy with a headset) who goes through the whole rigmarole: “What’s your name? Where are you from?” I am sweating. I don’t even know what I’m doing. The weirdness of it all is palpable but I’m just trying to make sure I’m not making a weird face because what does it feel like to make a normal face oh God I can’t remember ahhhh!!! I can hardly remember any of it. But thanks to video footage, I have record of it all, and here’s what happens…
As usual, I get my free chip. I then go on to guess the correct digits on the price of a heart-shaped waffle iron, an LED fountain (WTF?), a fondue pot, and a cotton candy machine. I get all four correct. Armed with my five chips, I head up the purple carpeted stairs. Being at the top of that Plinko board is confusing. The only indication of the location of the slots is black lettering at the bottom of the board staring up at you. And it takes you a second to figure out which angle to look down to get a good idea of where you’re aiming. I hold my chip against the board and aim straight down the center. (Admittedly, I have read about the probability and science behind Plinko. You want to aim that chip right down the center. None of this off to the side business — your chances decrease there. But still, it’s a crapshoot.) I send my four other chips down similarly.
I do not land in the $10,000 slot.
But I don’t make out so bad, either. I take home $3,000 and a computer (for this special episode, some slots replaced money with prizes). Of course, I don’t actually get to take these things home.
I shrug my shoulders as I descend the stairs and allow a brunette Vanna White-type to collect my chips.
She tells me, “Hey! You didn’t get the $10K, but you didn’t do so bad.”
And I tell her, “Yeah, I suppose I still have something to live for.”