How I Won $10,200 on Game Shows

Can you spin a wheel, answer in the form of a question, or guess the price of a showcase without going over? If so, appearing on games shows can be a fun way to earn some extra cash.

Way back in the 1900s, when I moved to Hollywood, I won $7200 on Wheel of Fortune and $3000 on the now-defunct DEBT. Being a contestant on game shows was fun and profitable. I’ll tell you how you can do it too!

DEBT was a trivia show hosted by Wink Martindale in 1996. This was a perfect fit because I have a flair for minutia and know everything that is not on the SAT. At the time, I was a touring stand-up comic, so I jotted that line in my notebook. I read it out loud later: “I know everything that’s not on Saturday.” What the—? That never got big laughs on stage. Some jokes do better in articles.

In late 1997, I reprised my role of “Chip – The Game Show Contestant” on the grand-daddy of them all: Wheel of Fortune. Here’s a photo of me and Pat Sajak. Who’s cool now? Take that, Ed Grimley. I was the big winner on my day, and made enough to be on that week’s Friday Show of Champions.

How to Get on Game Shows
Individual results may vary, but here’s how I got on those game shows. First, I called the “If you want to be a contest” number that ran at the end of the closing credits of every show. But these days, the internet is also your friend. At the end of this article, I have links to a slew of shows.

Once you get a chance to “audition” to be a contestant, you should treat it like you are actually on a broadcast of the game show. The producers are imagining how you would do on the show, based upon your “audition”. Look your best, speak clearly, and have something interesting to say when the producers ask you about yourself. It’s like going on a first date with America. I told Pat Sajak that I was a haberdasher, then explained I sold T-shirts bearing a phrase I created “Bichette Happens”. This was for (then) All-Star Colorado Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette.

Bottom line: Would you wanna watch you on TV? This is no time to be a mumbling, meandering stiff.

Thousands of people audition for some of these shows. You can do what you want. But after I auditioned for Wheel, I sent my headshot/postcard once a month expressing my hope to do the show. A few months later, they called me to see if I’d be the stand-by contestant in case anyone freaked out. If I did that, they would move me to the front of the line for being an actual contestant. Done. I put in my day. Everyone kept their cool. I went home.

After I was scheduled to appear on Wheel, they called a few days later to say I couldn’t do it since their research showed I had been on another game show in the past 18 months. I had just appeared on Comedy Central’s Make Me Laugh. I’d come too far to give up now. I reasoned with them that I was a comedian on that show, not a contestant like I would be on Wheel.

I told them that no one would recognize me, because I am a man of many disguises — like The Jackal. They agreed to have me on Wheel. Whew. I still have some of that Turtle Wax. They weren’t kidding about a lifetime supply.

The Reality of Reality Shows
Nowadays there are reality/game shows that require contestants have a certain talent like singing, modeling, or cooking. These are TV shows first and are cast with personalities. In 2006, I participated in one such show: NBC’s Last Comic Standing where I was a semi-finalist. That was a reality show disguised as a stand-up comedy competition.

There isn’t anything wrong with that kind of “contest” as long as the producers are upfront about it. When I read my contract, there was something about NBC and producers having input. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to sign it or participate in their reindeer games. They even ran that disclaimer at the end of every broadcast:

 

For me, it was just a fun venue in which I told my jokes! I even laughed when I saw the show and the editors made it look like I assumed I was going to be named a finalist. They used a clip of me getting off my stool, then they cut to Roz when her name was announced, then to me in a different shot being dejected. All three of these shots were cobbled together from different unrelated situations. Well played, Editor! Well played.

The takeaway on being a contestant on a reality show: Don’t agree to do it if you are uncomfortable with how you might be portrayed. Are you prepared for that? That is the $64,000 question. If the answer is “No”, stick with the old school game shows.

To get more information about how to be a game show contestant, check out these pages:

You can also peruse these links to see how to get “cast” in reality & game shows on various networks:

  • ABC
  • CBS
  • FOX
  • NBC
  • Game Show Network

Finally, for full immersion, there are blogs like Game Show Follies. A few more resources that might help you in your search are TVtix.com and TVtickets.com and AudiencesUnlimited.com

Good luck! Have you been on a game show? What was your haul?

J.D.’s note: I’ve actually been on a game show, too. When I was a senior in high school, I was on “On the Spot”, a local Portland game show. I kicked ass in the first round, and looked like a shoe-in to go to the bonus round. But during the second round, I flubbed some really easy questions. I got stage fright. Still, I got a sweatshirt and a gift certificate to the local mall, so it wasn’t like I was a total loser!

 

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There are 39 comments to "How I Won $10,200 on Game Shows".

  1. Marsha says 16 June 2012 at 04:33

    This is a cute article and I enjoyed reading it, but this strategy to make money only pays off for a very small number of people. I’d rather spend my time and money on something with a better chance of success.

    (I was on a local kid’s program when I was 7 and won some toys.)

  2. A-L says 16 June 2012 at 04:50

    I think this would be a fun way to win money, but I’m not sure how good of a strategy it is unless the person already lives in the L.A./NYC area. For people who don’t live in those entertainment production meccas, they have to pay for all their travel expenses to get to the filming city. And for the 3 options I looked at, they also have to pay all travel expenses just to get to the tryout city (which is also usually L.A. or NYC).

    So you have at least one trip with very little chance of getting picked, and then a second, where you will hopefully win at least enough to cover your costs. But on a show like The Price is Right, even getting on the show is no guarantee of getting anything. So I’m glad to know the process, but I won’t be counting on this as my main strategy to get rich (quickly or slowly).

  3. Jaynee says 16 June 2012 at 05:25

    Many years ago I began attending a new church during my college years, and the leader of the college group was very familiar to me. Upon some investigation (read: I asked him why he looked so familiar), he admiited that I had probably seen him on a game show. Sure enough, it was Thom, the Navy Lieutenant who had won over $300K on Tic Tac Dough in the early 1980s. During the tour of his house, he and his wife pointed out lots of stuff they had won and still owned from the show.

    At one time I also worked at a large law firm in NYC and sat next to a woman who made all the rounds of the game shows in the 1960s and 1970s. She considered it a job and made a lot of money winning small amounts on EVERY game show that was on the air. I remember her saying that at some point she was on Mark Goodson’s speed dial in case they needed another contestant at the last minute.

  4. Kathy A. says 16 June 2012 at 06:02

    I was on Jeopardy a dozen plus years ago. Won a set of golf clubs (I don’t golf). Still, it was a great experience, if not a profitable one.

    I tried out the first time in a city a couple hours drive away. Timed test of 50 questions, all at the hardest level. IIRC correctly, you needed to get 45 right. They didn’t tell you your score, only if you passed or not. I didn’t.

    A year later the try outs came to my city. I went again. There were about 400 people in the room; 7 of us passed the test. Then we did a mock game and a chat with the producers. I decided they were probably looking for someone comfortable making small talk, who could keep the game moving along, and who could show enthusiasm, so that’s how I played it. 2 of the 7 of us made it to the show itself.

    The key to success on the show isn’t knowing the material (you don’t get there unless you do), it’s the buzzer. That was my downfall. I just could not ring in first to save my life. The guy who won had spent the previous month playing video games to sharpen his buzzer skills, and I think that was an excellent strategy.

    • Courtney says 18 June 2012 at 11:08

      My cousin was on Jeopardy a couple years ago, and she also said the key was the buzzer. She knew most of the answers, but the buzzer was so hard to time! Still, she won enough money for a down payment on a house. 🙂

  5. Lance@MoneyLife&More says 16 June 2012 at 06:37

    Game shows seem like they would be a lot of fun to be on. I always wondered how the winnings ended up getting taxed though. I would think I’d turn down some of the noncash prizes I didn’t want so I don’t have to pay tax for them (unless you can sell them to cover it).

    • Alison Wiley says 16 June 2012 at 07:07

      Good point, Lance. When I won 7k in a writing contest I did have to pay taxes on that money, and the university that paid me the naturally did not withhold any taxes. Fortunately, I woke up to my tax responsibilities just a few months after winning the money. But it’s an easy thing to overlook. It was a very heady experience to win what felt like a large sum. The challenge with a windfall is to stay grounded in reality (i.e. I OWE TAXES ON THIS) and to be intentional with the money, not impulsive. Though I’ve never regretted how I celebrated the day I learned I won: I took my parents and brothers out that very night to a fancy dinner. We all shared in the joy. Wonderful memory.

    • Chip Chinery says 16 June 2012 at 09:52

      Hi Lance,
      In the case of both shows, I got a 1099 for everything I won – even the Turtle Wax! And Dimetapp – which was a FANTASTIC decongestant, but is no longer being made for adults. That was almost worth as much as the money.

      Both shows sent the money three months after my episodes aired.

      – Chip

  6. Alison Wiley says 16 June 2012 at 06:58

    Wellll . . . the part I like the most is that it all tied in with your talent for comedy, and let you run farther with that. In the broader picture, it seems to me that for many people, chasing this particular dream, and identifying with Hollywood and its high-spending values, could move them backward on a sensible lifestyle.

    Since we’re reminiscing about the 1900’s . . . back in that century, I won more than $7,000 in a nationwide essay contest called Quest For Peace. It encouraged me in my path as a values-based writer. That’s why I’m a fan of pursuing contests if it going to help you build your gifts and skills at the same time.

  7. Roberta says 16 June 2012 at 07:03

    This article provides entertainment value, but is not something that I could use in my life, unlike most of the GRS posts. In short, not one of my favorite articles.

    • John says 16 June 2012 at 09:18

      I agree, this isn’t really the type of thing I visit GRS for. I like the articles on frugality and the psychology of money. How to win money on game shows isn’t at all relevant for me.

    • Nicky at Not My Mother says 17 June 2012 at 18:42

      Got to agree here. Only a mildly entertaining and not really useful post. If an audition post is supposed to be representative of what the writer will bring to the website, I’m not excited about this one :-/

    • Kevin says 18 June 2012 at 05:53

      Gotcha. So….. back to finding 1,000 different ways to say “earn more/spend less?”

  8. Tracey+H says 16 June 2012 at 07:13

    I was on 2 game shows in the 1980s that were taped in Toronto (so look locally). I even dragged my husband onto the game show Definition as my co-player (you needed a team of 2). We won 5 games and came back for the Tournament of Champions where we both choked and were out right away. The whole experience was a blast! Then I went on Split Second (which was taped in Toronto, but shown in the US) and almost won. Total cash for both was $1300 plus several prizes.

  9. Kristen says 16 June 2012 at 07:26

    Perhaps the article should have been titled, “How I got approved to appear on game shows.” There isn’t any strategy here about how to win 😉

  10. Andrew says 16 June 2012 at 07:51

    Really?

    Come on.

  11. JD Carroll says 16 June 2012 at 07:51

    While I assume this might be fun reading for some readers, It is this type of post that has me leaning away GRS . As I long time reader I have always looked to GRS as a place to obtain useful information for managing my finances. This piece and the others like it in no way helps me to accomplish that goal.

  12. J.D. says 16 June 2012 at 09:26

    Haha. This is one way I can tell when the character of the site has changed. It used to be that I’d post stuff on Saturdays, and it’d usually be light-hearted looks at personal finance: cartoons, movies, songs, whatever. This seemed like a perfect fit for that sort of thing. But you know what? I haven’t done Saturday posts in so long that the readership (as a whole) no longer really remembers that, so this just seems out of place instead of part of natural flow of things.

    My bad. I should have provided this context at the start of the piece!

    • Nicole says 16 June 2012 at 09:41

      And gardening– don’t forget gardening!

    • Marsha says 16 June 2012 at 09:43

      The problem is that this is an audition piece for a permanent GRS writer. The average GRS reader is probably looking for something more substantial from the candidates, not this fluff piece. It might have been better received as a “My Story” piece from a GRS reader.

      • Becka says 16 June 2012 at 10:05

        Precisely.

        • Stacy says 16 June 2012 at 13:01

          Agreed! This was interesting and well-written enough, but not terribly useful for the average person. Definitely not a good audition piece for a permanent position.

    • Chip Chinery says 16 June 2012 at 10:22

      Haha. Thankfully I only have one game show piece in me!

      • Nihongo Dame Desu says 17 June 2012 at 02:45

        I thought it was enjoyable to read and that there is a bigger message here if one takes a moment to look for it.

        This site and most personal finances pieces often discusses increasing income. Chip did just that–he took his strengths as a performer and comic personality, and found a creative way to use them to to create a new income stream

        For those of us who aren’t comics and don’t want to live on a desert island for 6 weeks, there is still a valuable message here. You have to be creative when assessing your strengths and finding ways to make money with them. For example, maybe you have the personality of a dry stick and no game show would touch you with a 10 foot pole, but maybe you are an amazing homemaker. Take that skill and use it to make money by submitting those little homemaking tips found in women’s magazines. Successful submitters are paid.

        For people who read this article only literally, sure, it isn’t going to be of value to most. But those who look at the framework and find a way to apply it to their own lives, there is definitely value in this piece.

    • RobertaM says 17 June 2012 at 06:02

      I remember those days! I loved the lighthearted pieces and miss them. All work and no play makes JD or GRS a dull boy. Thanks for this.

  13. Chellie Campbell says 16 June 2012 at 09:43

    Fun article! It brought back memories of when I won $10,800 on “Tic Tac Dough” back in 1985. I was on for 3 “days” (they film 5 shows at a time, so you bring several changes of outfits with you to the taping).

    Although this kind of article isn’t the regular fare of this blog, I like having some “out of the box” thinking as money-management strategies. As a teacher of Financial Stress Reduction® workshops, I advise that beyond “earn more money” and “spend less money” there is “find another way to get what you want.” Appearing on a game show is one of the latter and as such, deserves it’s place here.

    • Chip Chinery says 16 June 2012 at 10:31

      Thanks Chellie.

  14. john says 16 June 2012 at 09:45

    Bantha poodoo!

  15. celyg says 16 June 2012 at 10:11

    Not a fan of this article or the writer. If this is the audition piece (bring your A-game!), then I certainly don’t expect to get much value out of future pieces. Stick with the stand up comedy, perhaps. 🙂

  16. MelodyO says 16 June 2012 at 18:46

    Hmm, although the topic wasn’t of any personal use to me (being a Canadian, eh), I thought the writing was crisp, entertaining, and engaging. I’d definitely like to see what else Chip has in his bag of tricks!

  17. Jacob Deeds says 16 June 2012 at 21:42

    I loved the changeup. I was completely entertained.

  18. Angie says 16 June 2012 at 22:32

    Having flicked through Chip’s own website, he seems to focus more on the “daily deals” type of stuff, which is irrelevant for international readers like myself. But nice writing style…

  19. Ellen Reginga says 16 June 2012 at 22:49

    I like that he’s branching out from standard financial topics. It’s interesting stuff, and I didn’t know it before. I’ve always wondered how those game shows worked. Thx for the info!

    Also, I think a broader point of this blog is the reminder that a financially aware person looks for and is open to lots of opportunities for income, even from overlooked sources. He definitely brought to my attention a financial source I wouldn’t have ordinarily considered.

    Thanks for the fresh perspective, Chip! I look forward to more from you!

  20. Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey says 16 June 2012 at 22:50

    Joining game shows and reality shows are sure way to earn money though the odds are very small as compared to how you will be chosen and the chances of your winning. But if you are confident that you have the looks, the talent and you believe that you can outsmart them all, then there is no reason why you should stop and go for it!

  21. Chip Chinery says 17 June 2012 at 11:14

    I’m glad so many of you got something out of this piece. GRS is a great resource for ideas. I hope to drop a few more pearls in the future! Happy Father’s Day!

  22. Amanda says 17 June 2012 at 23:57

    I really enjoyed your writing style. Hope this gives a thumbs up for the position.

  23. Kevin says 18 June 2012 at 05:55

    Really? I thought it was a fun, entertaining post. The fact that it was money-related (and therefore totally appropriate for GRS) was icing on the cake.

    I must have missed all the insightful, useful, informative finance-related posts YOU’VE submitted.

  24. Kevin says 18 June 2012 at 06:00

    I liked it. It looks to me like some of GRS’s audience is a little too uptight for their own good. If you’re looking for “Just the facts, ma’am” on finance, without any editorial flavour at all, try the Bogleheads wiki and quit complaining.

    Personally, I like a little entertaining personal embellishment to lighten up a dry topic like finance.

  25. Honey Smith says 18 June 2012 at 11:11

    Fun post! I got free tickets to The Colbert Report (I was in NYC anyway, for a conference) and they actually showed me on TV! Super fun. And if JD’s looking to bring back the “lighthearted Saturday post” then a comedian seems like a shoe-in.

    For something more serious, I know there are people who spend their times winning contests. This made me think a little bit of that, too. We won a free Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings when I was growing up, and it thrilled my mom to pieces.

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