How To Get On A Game Show
After a while, casting directors get to know you because you’ve been on their show and you’ve done a good job. Their job is to get good people on their show.
The first person to talk to on how to get on a game show is probably the man who literally wrote the book on how to get on game shows. Scott Hostetler has been on almost every game show you’ve ever wanted to be on: Wheel of Fortune, Press Your Luck, The Weakest Link, Match Game, Pyramid and 15 more different shows, on US and UK shores. Known as the Game Show Guru, his book, Winning Secrets from The Game Show Guru, details his strategies on trying out for game shows and winning money. He sat down with me and we talked about his career and how the hell he keeps getting picked.
“One of my friends described me as ‘bubbly.’ I guess I’m ‘effervescent.’ If you go in with a positive attitude, a smile on your face, you’re engaged with them, you’re not sitting back—if they say something to the group like ‘hey, how are you doing?’, you stand up and say, ‘I’m doing great!’ You have to let them know, hey, I’m here, I want to be on this show.” Scott’s journey started, depending on if you consider it a game show, on The Gong Show. “Well, it depends on what you want to call my first. My first actual game show was The Gong Show. A couple of guys and I were sitting around, watching TV, and we decided we could put a singing act together and go try out. So we did that, we told some bad jokes, sang some bad songs, and Patty Andrews of the Andrews Sisters gonged us,” he tells me.
His first actual game show was Wheel of Fortune, which he says he auditioned for by accident. “I was in college, and my aunt called me. She knew I didn’t work or didn’t have school on Tuesdays, and she asked me, ‘Will you drive me to LA? I got an audition for Wheel of Fortune!’ I said, ‘OK, that’s fine.’ So I picked her up and drove her to LA. We’re sitting in the Merv Griffin Studios lobby and a girl came down. She said, ‘OK, who’s here for Wheel of Fortune?’ and my aunt said, ‘My nephew drove me down here. Can he try out too?’ The girl said, ‘Sure, we’ve got some room. OK!’ So we went up and tried out, and they took me and not my aunt. I wasn’t the Game Show Guru back then, so I don’t know how I did it!”
It’s being upbeat, it’s being personable, and remembering that you’re always auditioning. From the time you walk in, you’re nice to everybody.
But now, almost 20 different game shows and over $300,000 in cash and prizes later, Scott is the Game Show Guru. He claims that every person he has personally coached who has appeared on a TV game show has won money, which is an impressive hit rate! So I asked him for some good tips. First, I asked him the secret to getting on so many different game shows. And apparently, the secret is persistence. “For the next five years [after Wheel of Fortune], I tried out for everything. Joker’s Wild, High Rollers, Card Sharks, and I kept trying out and kept trying out, and didn’t get picked up… until I was finally selected for Press Your Luck in 1983. Great show. When I was being rejected, I was gaining experience, learning why I wasn’t getting picked, what did I do wrong, what could I have done better, and I picked up some tidbits. Pretty much, I get picked up for everything as long as I pass the test.”
Hollywood is a surprisingly small town, so being persistent and regular with auditioning for game shows, especially if you’re in the Los Angeles area, is beneficial. “After a while, casting directors get to know you because you’ve been on their show and you’ve done a good job. Their job is to get good people on their show. So, I come in, and they say, ‘Scott! How are you?’ I’m great, how are you? It’s being upbeat, it’s being personable, and remembering that you’re always auditioning. From the time you walk in, you’re nice to everybody.”
Whatever the contestant coordinator says, DO IT! They’re the ones taking your pictures and pushing it over to the producer.
Of course, there’s that pesky knowledge test that befalls most trivia game shows. I wondered what Scott did to prepare for those tests. “Some people are trivia buffs, or they’re not. If you’re not, don’t go for a show with trivia. Go for Wheel of Fortune, a show with a puzzle or something. Or, a game like Deal or No Deal, which is strictly personality. How I prepare and keep my trivia knowledge up is that I read a lot. I like to read trivia books. A book I just finished was 5 People Who Died During Sex: and 100 Other Terribly Tasteless Lists, which has lists of top ten things of all kinds of things. I like looking at those types of things.”
“Also,” Scott continued, “traveling really helps. When you see the Bayeaux Tapestry, then you learn while you’re standing there looking at it. A guy recently said to me, ‘Yeah, we bought Alaska in for $72,000,00.’ I said, ‘No, we bought Alaska for $7,200,000. I saw the check.’ We actually wrote them a check. It wasn’t to Catherine the Great, it was to the Russians, but it was signed by William Seward: 7, comma, 200, comma, 000. 2 cents an acre. So yeah, you remember that stuff.”
As many auditions as Scott has been to, I ask him if he’s seen any colossal mistakes. “I talk about this in my book. I was auditioning for High Rollers. The casting director stands up and gives a little speech. She says, ‘OK, everybody. I want you to stand up and tell me about yourself. I don’t want you to tell me you like gambling or games or game shows, because that’s why you’re here! And I don’t want you to tell me about your family, because that’ll only make me think I should have them on the show. So you, sir, go first.’ And this guy stands up and he says, ‘Well, I know you said not to say anything about gambling, but I really like it, and I really like game shows and everything. And my family said I should try out for this, they’re really great, they said I’d do really well on this.’ And I was just shocked! I was sitting right behind him and I thought, ‘She just said don’t do that!’ If there was a trap door, I’m sure they would have opened it up. Whatever the contestant coordinator says, DO IT! They’re the ones taking your pictures and pushing it over to the producer.”
If Scott were to give one piece of advice to someone applying to be on a game show, what would it be? “Well, let me give you two things. One, you’ve gotta watch and know the show. Look, particularly, at the people who are on the show. They’ve already made the selection. You can see what they’re wearing, you can see how they’re acting—Price is Right is not a good example because people wear a lot of different things! But you can see how they’re acting. The Chase, for example, I’m too old for. They’re not going for my demographic. So they go for younger smart guys, like you.” Aw, shucks, you’re too kind.
There’s an aside to that piece of information. What happens if the show you’re auditioning for hasn’t been on the show yet? Every casting notice I’ve seen only gives vague ideas to how the game could possibly play out. How would one prepare for that? “I am a good game player. I play a lot of games. I grew up on board games: Clue, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly. First off, if you’re a good game player, you listen to their instructions because nobody knows how to play the game. So they give their instructions and then everybody plays the game. Play by the rules that they set out. Use the strategy they use. In a mock game situation, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. If they say, ‘And, you can do this or this,’ then do it! It shows you were listening, it shows you’re interested in the strategy of the game and you’ll impress the casting director. Even if you lose, you say, ‘oh, pshaw,’ and clap and all that. Listen to the instructions because I feel, if someone tells me how to play a game, I’m at an advantage because I’m a game player.”
Scott’s last piece of information requires introspection. “Another thing you can do is—and I say this in the book—prepare ahead of time, because they’re going to ask you to say some interesting things about yourself. If someone asks you for three interesting things about yourself right now, you would struggle for answers because unless you’re a crazy egomaniac, you couldn’t come up with something. Before you go to the audition, think about three things. Do you have hobbies? You could even ask friends: What’s interesting about me? Maybe you’re really good at card tricks. I told one guy who liked to do card tricks, ‘have a deck with you, because if you say, “I do card tricks!” they’re going to say, well, then show me one! and then you pull out a deck, you will be memorable.’ They will remember that.”
Some people are trivia buffs, or they’re not. If you’re not, don’t go for a show with trivia. Go for Wheel of Fortune, a show with a puzzle or something.