Growing up, I watched more than my fair share of television, being part of the earliest generation of children raised mostly indoors. One of my favorite television genres was always game shows, whether they be Sale of the Century, Card Sharks, Classic Concentration, Hot Potato, Joker's Wild, you name it, I watched it. As a child, I used to envision myself being a contestant on one of these game shows, running roughshod over the competition. However, not being especially telegenic and the rapid decline of game shows in the 1990s, the odds of my ever appearing on a game show were terribly slim, leaving this childhood dream left in the dustbin of time, incomplete.
However, I was visiting friends in Boston this weekend, where I was invited to go to the Old School Game Show, which blends participatory theater, sketch comedy, and dance routines, with a hefty dose of 70s through 90s nostalgia, game show and otherwise. After the slightest of arm twisting about staying an extra day in Boston, I agreed to go, getting to live the game show studio audience experience from the comfort of an intimate downstairs theatre. Not having an advanced ticket, I manage to navigate the twisty streets of Somerville to find the box office, purchase a day of ticket and return 20 minutes later with my friends, one of whom was very committed to the concept of participatory dress-up to the inclusion of a fake mustache, whereas I went with a natural beard.
We take seats on the right half of the stage in the second row, where I spend most of the night trying to not lose my name tag in the vain hope that I would be called up. The stage was already set up, with a live band in the back of the stage, a central podium complete with buzzers and shag carpet in front of the band and two large panels, which held the teams Family Feud style with sidewalls of shag carpet and the words Old School emblazoned on the front in orange and blue, using what I believe to be old school Price is Right font.
Finally, the band takes their place at the back and opens with the Hawaii Five-O theme followed by the long version of the A-Team theme, which surprisingly neither my friends nor the stranger to my right knew by sound. I mean, the A-Team theme is iconic and quite possibly one of the best parts of the show, so I would expect the audience to get it...but they didn't. This is followed by an opening sequence which includes equal parts dance, including some incredibly 1980s legwarmers, girls dressed as 80s movie guerrillas, the host dressed as Rambo and a bloodpack. All of which worked seamlessly together to provide both narrative structure and entertainment.
Finally, contestants were called upstage. Like I did for most of the night, I strained to make sure I heard each name correctly, ready to leap up and run to the stage, yet my name was not called. Teams of four were assembled and the first game was played, which was 33s played at 78 speed, requiring you to identify the action movie themed song. Both teams were not very good at this game and one correct answer out of four questions was provided, but this was sufficient for their team to move.
As the night progressed, the flow of events was skit, game show event, skit, game show event. Most of the games were just the right mixture of quirky and old school game show as you would expect. About halfway through the night, one of my friends was called up on stage, where he missed his opportunity to advance toward victory.
As the next to last round of the night started, I anxiously awaited to hear my name, but expected nothing. I had a good time being a studio audience guest and that was good enough. Of course, this being a great story, the second name called was my own. Like a fat woman in a mu mu, I screamed, yelled, whooped, and hollered my way to the stage like no other contestant had, dropping my poor name tag on the way.
For this round, we had to guess the bad joke that followed the movie scene. My team scored early as the guy in front of me won his question, leading me to put my hand on the shag carpeted buzzer stand. The clip was from Eraser, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, a movie I had never seen. Essentially, Arnold shoots an alligator. I move to buzz in, but hesitate, allowing my opponent to choose in a while crocodile, which was wrong. Steeling up my meager courage, I guess "You're Luggage." and get it right, giving our team a commanding two-nil lead. When both my team and the other team failed to answer the next question, I was aware we had mathematically advanced to the finals...where we would face the same team again, murderer's row of alternate trivia, who stayed up forever.
Here, the goal was to eliminate people from the other team until there was one person left from each side. We needed to guess the character's catch phrase. The gentleman in front of me did his job and I squared off against the same person yet again. When Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up as the Terminator on the screen, there was nary a hint of hesitation on my part and I beat my foe to the buzzer, screaming out, "I'll be back!" advancing further. The next person on my team was eliminated and both people in the fourth spot on the team were eliminated for not knowing Bruce Willis's catch phrase from DieHard. So, it came down to myself and the gentleman in front of me. We both sadly blanked on Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, giving me a window of reprieve and a second shot at the finale. This time, it was something that I knew, won the battle of the buzzer and answered with great joy, advancing to the finals.
Here, we were in the lightning round, something I've waited to do for my whole life, answering a series of questions in rapid fire display. My opponent and I shook hands, with the winner receiving $100 and the loser, one of those fancy old-time video game systems that allows you to play NES and Sega games. The prize was secondary to me, but winning, the pure, unadulterated joy of winning, was all that matter.
My opponent went first, selecting a fine 80's record which revealed the category of artists for songs related to action movies. I stared him down, because really that's what I do when I'm overflowing with tension and nerves, since social grace is not my forte. He starts slow and tanks...he got three questions out of 12 right. He failed Happiness is a Warm Gun. He brought sadness to my heart, since I knew pretty much any category was going to be a slamdunk win if I only needed to guess four right in 30 seconds.
So, I scream out Miami Vice, which flipped over the category of action movie stars. I was handed the stick microphone like game show hosts in the 70s held and braced myself, locking out all other distraction than my overwhelming desire to win and obtaining the right answers to the questions. And I went gangbusters, hitting Jason Statham as the star of Crash right out of the gate, passing four with about 17 seconds to spare, finishing with a big victory total of eight.
Admittedly, had I not won at this juncture, I would never have been able to live down the failure of losing and would be taunted by Sandra Bullock as the star of Speed as one of my guesses. But I won. Fist pumping, bloody jumpsuit guy hugging, giant novelty checking holding won. I almost collapsed, but stayed afloat with my tremendous joy as one of my life's dreams came true. I won a game show, while the final dance routing was completed around me.
If you live in Boston, go to Old School Game Show. It's an amazing time on every level and led to one of the best days of my life, since for once, I was the big winner.