Former Contestants From Popular Game Shows Are Opening Up About Their Experiences On Set, And That's Show Biz, Baby
"We had to keep reshooting our 'genuine' reactions."
We asked members of the BuzzFeed Community who have competed on game shows to tell us all about their time on set. We also came across a question on Reddit, posed by u/olymp1a, that asked, "People who have been on TV game shows, what are some behind-the-scenes secrets that regular viewers don’t know about?" Both forums were filled with fascinating behind-the-scenes stories that taught me so much about these iconic shows. Here are some of the most interesting anecdotes.
Note: These stories have not been verified. People who submitted stories are supposedly speaking from their own experiences.
1. "My brother entered my family in a Disney+ family-style trivia game show as a joke. Two Skype interviews later, the joke became very real, and we were flown out to California on essentially the eve of the pandemic (March 11, 2020). The entire production was a nightmare. The producers had no idea what they were doing, the games didn’t really make any sense, and the questions were extremely hard. They made my family sound like pretentious, rich assholes, which couldn't be further from the truth. They made us each spend over $1,000 in 'outfit options' because we were told to provide our own clothes. I called one of the producers crying a week before we left because she told me to go shopping again, and as a broke college student, I genuinely couldn’t afford it."
"The show was supposed to be a bracket style, and since we won the first episode, we were going to have to go back and keep winning in order to win the grand prize, which was three days at a Disney park. Because of the pandemic, they kept pushing it back, then canceled it this past May. I’m so happy it was canceled. I spent the last year dreading having to film on a set where I felt uncomfortable and the producers treated us horribly. The best thing to come out of the experience was meeting the family we competed against. Their adult kids are about the same age as my brother and me, and since filming the first episode, we’ve talked to them every single day."
2. "I was in the audience at a Food Network taping, and Iron Chef America really is a 60-minute competition. That's not fudged. The judging, on the other hand, takes forever."
3. "My husband and I were on Ellen’s Game of Games! It was during COVID-19, so we were flown out and quarantined in a hotel that only hosted the other contestants. They filmed the entire season in two weeks. You film your first game, and if you win and continue on, you finish filming the finale on another day, and they piece together the episode during editing. They gave us money for food every day, and we were COVID-tested all the time. Her staff was the BEST. They are just the coolest people. They made us feel like movie stars."
"We were actually even given our own trailers to hang out in on filming days. Ellen herself was also lovely. She chatted with us before and after filming. It was a very surreal experience!"
4. "I was a Jeopardy contestant in 2004 toward the end of Ken Jennings’ $2 million run. The day of my taping, there was a brief ceremony after the third game to officially award Ken a giant novelty check for his first million dollars. We broke for lunch, and Ken was ahead of me in line in the studio canteen. He was over the limit of his lunch voucher, so he put an item back. I blurted out, 'DUDE, you won a million dollars. Get the baked Lay's.' He didn’t have any cash on him, so the cashier combined our two vouchers, and Ken Jennings owes me 10 cents to this day."
"He ran the board during our game. I managed to answer 13 questions, whiffed on a Daily Double, and came in second. I spent my $2,000 winnings at Ikea, furnishing my new apartment. Alex didn't mingle during tapings, but before each game, he posed with contestants at the podium for a photo. I still have mine, along with the Jeopardy branded glass frame the show gave us."
5. "I'm a film carpenter, and I worked on Big Brother. The 'house' is actually inside of a huge warehouse. I found it kind of creepy that they silently lead contestants to the game room with a black bag over their head. Also, because of the camera alleys, anyone working on the show can just wander behind the walls and watch the contestants in any room. I will never understand why people apply to be on that show. It looks stressful AF!"
6. "I've been on MasterChef. The judges have a ton of stylists following them around, so they look the same between takes. Also, all the timers were fake. They usually recorded all the countdowns and sentences announcing how much time was left at the beginning or at the end of taping, sometimes even while we were cooking. They recorded them when the lighting was OK. Also, nothing is a surprise. You get to practice your dish for a week or more before the episode. There are no 'surprise ingredients.' They also train you in presentation. Sometimes your dish gets moved around the plate by the personnel for lighting reasons or whatever."
7. "I was a contestant on $25,000 Pyramid with Dick Clark in 1987. What an experience! Great staff and great celebrity partners! I won $11,000 and a trip to Hawaii! I even kept in touch with Dick and his wife after the show because, coincidentally, a neighbor of mine who was suffering from ill health was a former secretary for Dick. It was an experience I'll never forget!"
8. "I was a contestant on the game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? on PBS when I was in junior high. To qualify for the show, my social studies teacher handed out a geography test consisting of 100 questions provided by the show that my class had to take. The students with the highest results were then interviewed by the casting team – they were impressed that I knew Eritrea had became a newly independent country at the time. On the day of filming, I got to leave school early and headed to the TV studio with my mother. There were two episodes being filmed that day, and I was scheduled for the second filming, which meant waiting in the green room for several hours before it was my turn."
"Though my episode was filmed in front of a live studio audience of children that appeared younger than me, the first two rounds were actually filmed on a separate day than the final round. I remember the stage director gesturing that I should smile bigger when I got to my podium on set, and I remember the host Greg Lee was speaking so close to my face that he needed a breath mint. By the time I was done, it was around 7 p.m. and found my mother sitting patiently by herself in an auditorium at the studio. One of the prizes I won was a Carmen Sandiego backpack, which I proudly wore the next school year, though it quickly fell apart under the weight of many textbooks."
9. "I was on The Price Is Right, and they let the other girl in the Showcase Showdown rebid after the audience booed her original bid. When it aired, they cut her original bid and showed only her second, winning bid. I lost."
10. "I was on Wheel of Fortune for College Week back in 2008. You don't realize it while you're just watching from home, but the order you stand in really does matter. You draw numbers backstage to decide if you will be standing on one of the edge positions or in the middle. I ended up in the middle, which is actually the worst place to be. The middle person is usually spinning the wheel the most and constantly guessing. You would think that would be good, but the other contestants to my left and right had all of that extra time to study the clue, and if I ever missed a letter, they would jump in and solve the puzzle. Long story short, you don't want to be the person in the middle!"
11. "I was on Cash Cab. You can't just hail a cab in New York and find the Cash Cab that way. There is a vetting process, but you don't know you are going to be on the show, so the reaction is genuine. Also, there is a lot of awkward silent time while Ben Bailey is listening to the producer in his ear. There is a cameraman riding shotgun unseen on TV. The money he gives is prop money for TV. They mail you a check after the show airs. Ben was genuinely a nice guy."
12. "I was on Wheel of Fortune in 2015. For the audition, there were about 80 of us in a hotel convention room in downtown Brooklyn. We played a few rounds of the game, and the casting directors would tell us to project our voices and how to answer properly. Then, there was a written test with puzzles like you'd see in the bonus round. We took a quick break, and when we came back, they narrowed the group down to 18. About three weeks later, I got a letter in the mail saying I had been selected to be on the show! I flew out on a Thursday, taped Friday, and returned home Saturday. They tape 6 shows a day, 40 days a year. Vanna White was SO nice. She came out in her jogging pants and a T-shirt to say hello to everyone and reminded us to buy vowels."
"The day of taping, we were bussed from the hotel to Sony Pictures Studios at 6 a.m. There were 18 contestants plus two LA-based alternates in case anyone needed to drop out last minute. The entire morning was spent touring the studio, going over rules, practicing with the buzzer and the wheel, and going over our intros. EVERYTHING was explained — every category and every game show law. Then, they split us into groups of three, and we went to set to start taping. The lady I lost to was FREAKING AMAZING at the game. While playing, I won a trip to London and Paris, and spun a 'bankrupt,' so I experienced a full range of emotions from the wheel. They were super accommodating when it came to my trip and made sure I could work around my schedule to go. You do have to pay taxes on the prizes, so I refer to it as my '85%-off trip.' My then-boyfriend and I decided to add Ireland to our itinerary, and they even paid for our flights to London and home from Ireland, even though the trip I won was just to go to London and Paris. Overall, it was a really positive experience!"
13. "For Jeopardy, they tape five episodes a day, two days a week. Twelve contestants show up for the taping day: the returning champion from the previous week, enough challengers to fill in the first four episodes, another challenger for the Friday episode, and two 'alternates' in case something happens. The alternates tend to be locals from the LA area in case they have to come back later. Before the final taping, if the two alternates haven’t gotten to appear, one of them is randomly chosen to be the second challenger on the Friday show. The one who isn’t chosen is invited to come back for a future taping."
"During the tapings, the rest of the 'week’s' contestants sit in the front few rows to the right of the studio audience. In the middle of the day (after the third taping), remaining contestants are sequestered and treated to lunch at the studio commissary. If you’re done playing, you’re expected to leave."
14. "I was a winner on The Price Is Right. After the show, you’re taken into a small room where you do paperwork. Some of the items that I won onscreen (iPads, movie tickets, and snacks for a year) were instead awarded as the cash equivalent. I had no say in the matter. Also, contrary to popular belief, a contestant does not have the option to request money instead of specific prizes. The only choice you have is to outright decline any of the prizes."
"Also, winners of CBS game shows are not permitted to be contestants on CBS game shows for 10 years. Former winners from The Price Is Right may still attend a taping, but a big diagonal line is drawn through their name on their name tag."
15. "I was on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and it's all scripted. The filming took half a day for only 30 minutes of television. When you win the intro round, you are taken to get your makeup on, and then they instruct you on how to act when you celebrate. The reason the audience is so completely useless (and why so many press obviously incorrect answers) is because about 30% of the audience is friends or family of the other seven contestants who are waiting for their turn. We spent two days in the studio, and if the initial contestant loses, the others get their chance. If one contestant goes far and takes a lot of time, no one else gets a chance, so the audience gives wrong answers on purpose."
16. "My teacher was on Wheel of Fortune in Australia, and he won a lifetime supply of WD-40. It turns out that the average can of WD-40 lasts 20 years, so a lifetime supply is four cans."
17. "When my wife was a kid, she won a lifetime supply of Butterfinger candy bars. It was two cases. Not the cardboard flats you can buy at bulk stores, but two factory crates (several hundred candy bars). When she first got them, she said she felt ripped off because while it was a lot, she was only a kid and thought there was no way it was a 'lifetime supply.' She made it through half of the first case before she started giving them away to anyone who would take them. By the end of the second case, she was throwing them away. Now, as an adult, several decades later, she still won’t eat Butterfingers. So, I guess it really was all the Butterfingers she would ever need for the rest of her life."
18. "I auditioned for The X Factor. Before you audition for the celebrity judges, you are seen by some off-camera judges. So every terrible and horrible singer you see on the show has already been told they are better than the many talented ones who weren't deemed 'TV worthy.'"
19. "My wife got a tattoo on a tattoo competition show. They gave her headphones to wear while she was being tattooed, but she wasn’t allowed to actually plug them in and listen to music. It was pure product placement. Other than that, it was a really good experience! Producers worked with her for several weeks leading up to taping and made sure she got a tattoo subject and style that she wanted."
20. "I was on Wheel of Fortune. You have to get there at 5 a.m., and then you draw straws with other contestants to decide when you will film. They film the entire week of episodes in one day. Pat Sajak is incredibly friendly and interacted with us on every break. The wheel is HEAVY!"
22. "I was on the first US version of The Chase in 2014. The computers kept breaking down, so my episode took over four hours to shoot. It was exhausting, and I nearly passed out from standing under the lights that long. The host, Brooke Burns, on the other hand, was awesome. She hung out with us frequently during breaks and even remembered me when I appeared on a different show she hosted last year!"
23. "I was on The Price Is Right just before COVID-19 shut everything down. The process of attending a show takes about eight hours. Once you arrive, you have to wait in these long lines where someone actually interviews each and every person to decide who'll be on the show. They take you over in groups of about 30 and go down the line asking questions. After that, you’re shuffled into the studio, which is A LOT smaller than it seems on TV. From there, you just anxiously wait to hear your name called. You truly don’t know if you’re going to be a contestant until they call your name to come on down, so all reactions are very real."
"During commercial breaks, Drew Carey turns into an incredibly crude but hilarious entertainer for the audience. They actually give you $300 for getting your name called, so anyone who gets called down ends up winning something. I got to go to their 'winners room' after the show. It was a nice little room with food and drinks, and you just fill out all the tax information on your prizes. It was a great experience and not too different from what you’d expect from just watching the show."
24. "I once appeared on and won The Weakest Link. It takes, like, six hours to film one episode. There are so many starts, stops, and podium removals when people are voted off, and it’s actually really tiring. Anne Robinson doesn’t make small talk with any contestants, but she did congratulate me on winning. She stood there drinking her Evian while we drank bottles of ASDA Smart Price water from a straw so we didn’t dribble down ourselves."
25. "A girlfriend of mine was on Bridal Bootcamp (a short-lived reality show) and won. I was a bridesmaid and they brought the camera crew to EVERYTHING, but we had to reshoot our 'genuine' emotions time and time again. The kicker? She won her 'dream' wedding at an expensive hotel with all the works, but game show winnings are taxed at 33%. The IRS bill was twice as much as the original budget for this couple in their mid-20s. Not the best way to start out, but they're still together with two beautiful kids."
26. "I was a contestant on Catch 21 hosted by Alfonso Ribeiro. We were called in way before taping and spent much of that time playing practice rounds of the game to make sure we all knew how it worked. They wanted us to be enthusiastic and loud with our answers and encouraged us to be cutthroat with the other contestants. They asked us to bring three outfits and our own makeup, and would change our shirts if they were too similar or clashed with another competitor's. Before taping, a lawyer came in to speak to us about the contracts we had to sign and specifically pointed out the 'Richard Hatch Clause,' stating that we knew we had to pay taxes on any winnings over $600."
"We were also told that they didn't have to pay us if our episode never aired. It was fun and interesting, and while I didn't win the grand prize, I was the final contestant and won $6,000 (which got me out of credit card debt)!"
27. "I had a friend who worked in production for Big Brother Canada who got a group of us tickets to a live eviction. The live eviction is not actually live and took probably a good two to three hours to film. None of what we saw from the contestants was re-filmed, but there were definitely moments that we had to redo if we didn't cheer/clap loud enough after commercial breaks. Also, you don't 'buy' or pick your seats. The production staff moves you around wherever they want to. When I went to a party afterwards with some of the crew, they were complaining about an 'intern' who was really bad at setting up the 'hot row,' which is the row in the very front/center and most likely to appear on camera. Apparently he was choosing people based on what they wore and not how they physically looked. It felt a little insulting that we weren't moved into a more visible row after learning that, LOL."
28. "I watched the taping of a game show that lasted six episodes called Ejector Seat. The premise was that each contestant moved backwards along a conveyor belt in a seat. Their belt stopped when they got a question right. When they reached the end, they were tipped backwards and 'ejected.' NOTHING WORKED. The buzzers stopped working, the belt either wouldn't stop or wouldn't start, and the seats wouldn't tip. The first time recording stopped, the host talked to the audience. The second time, he asked if anyone wanted selfies. The third time, he stormed off."
29. "I was on The Chase, and it was actually a really fun experience. There was nothing shocking, unfair, or gossip-worthy. Everyone was really professional and encouraging, and nothing was scripted. The only thing was that we were encouraged to explain our answers rather than just give them straight away, like, 'Well, I know it can't be A because...' or, 'This actually came up in a pub quiz I did last week, so I know it's B!' but that's fine because it made it more interesting. Also, sometimes if both the contestant and the chaser get a question wrong, it's edited out because it doesn't affect the outcome, and it gets too long otherwise. We also had to do a few retakes because Bradley Walsh descends into fits of laughter really easily!"
30. "I went to a taping of The Price Is Right, and during the interview process they ask you how you pronounce your first and last name. Unfortunately, if you have a first or a last name that is difficult to pronounce, your chances of being chosen to 'come on down' are basically 0%! Same thing if you happen to have the exact same first and last name as another contestant in the audience."
31. "I was a contestant on Let’s Make a Deal. After the initial questioning process, I made small talk with someone who (at the time I didn’t know) happened to be an executive producer. After a few hours of waiting and traveling from building to building, we got to the studio. Fun fact: Where you sit has no effect on your ability to be chosen. It's all decided ahead of time by producers and casting directors. It helps to be in costume when you arrive and to really be yourself! I got chosen to do a trivia game, and I won!"
"Every reaction, challenge, and game are real, and none of it is scripted. The process of getting your prize afterward is long and confusing, and everything must be kept confidential until the episode airs. All in all, it was an amazing experience, and I’m so excited to see my episode air in the near future!"
32. "I was a showcase winner and won my individual game on an episode of The Price is Right just before the pandemic. All the people who work on that show really do a great job, especially Drew, who was warm and easygoing. Drew and I had a couple of great conversations throughout the show. The prizes I won were delivered individually throughout last year, which was a pleasant surprise each time, as I was stuck at home all day during quarantine. I sold the car to pay rent and expenses for the year, which I’m thankful for. I also won a pretty nice trip, but think it got scrapped in general due to COVID-19. In eight years though, I’m looking forward to heading back for another taping after the 10-year period passes."
33. And: "I have had the opportunity to be a contestant on three shows: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy. Millionaire was a mess. It was filming in Stamford, CT at the time, down the hall from The Jerry Springer Show and The Maury Povich show I think. Anyhow, Terry Crews was the host then. He was cool (even did the pec dance before we started the game). We were kept secluded in a room watching old Millionaire episodes starting at 7 a.m., briefly stepping out to see the stage and do test runs. There was no effort to really keep the energy up. Wheel was a great environment. They loaded us up with sugar and kept our energy level at around a 7, so by the time we were ready to go, we were at a 10. By the end of the day, you're zonked. Side note: Vanna White came out and introduced herself to all of the day's contestants before heading into the makeup chair. Could not have been lovelier!"
"Finally, I was on one of the last episodes Jeopardy filmed before COVID-19 shut down production. The studio audience that day was just contestants and family members who made the trip. We found out backstage that WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. They took a lot of precautions because of Alex Trebek's pancreatic cancer diagnosis. There was hand sanitizer everywhere, and masks and gloves for the crew. They were swabbing everything down with Clorox. We actually weren't even allowed to shake Alex's hand, but he made the most of our brief interactions with him. Truly an amazing gentleman."
Have you ever competed on a game show, gone to a taping, or worked behind the scenes? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.