We the contestants are called in at 8:30 AM so we can get everything organized, like paperwork(that loveletter from the IRS. They want you to know how happy they are that you’ll win money, because they get their cut first. Love, your government), checking social security cards(Are we really who we say we are?), going over the fascinating tidbits of information we sent in to see which one Alex might use(they choose three. Alex chooses from those) and then…
But I get ahead of myself. There are fifteen of us, all sizes, shapes and colors. Teachers, ministers, engineers, computer geeks. And one romance writer with an RN. We nervously gather in a tiny room with a big table, bottles of water and pastries, paperwork and a plethora of producers(do they come in a plethora?) We get all our paperwork done(you know. Love notes from the IRS. That kind of thing.) and a real Hollywood make-up artist takes a shot at our bags and freckles(okay. Mine).
And then, after two cups of coffee(a mistake on my part), we head out to the actual stage to practice before taping. Another example of why these are the nicest people in Hollywood. I expected a kind of reality show atmosphere.. You know, set everybody against each other, figure a way to make one of us cry and the others argue. But, nope. The producer actually said, “We get a lot of money from sponsors. We’d rather you have it.” Okay by us. So they get you used to the stage and the lights and buzzers and audience and all before it’s time to actually play.
By the time we go out to get used to the stage, we’ve become tentative friends. I like all of them, and too late think, “Hey, wouldn’t it be nice to collect names and have a picnic next May?” Maybe I can ask the contest coordinators to share addresses. Right then, though, I’m listening to the stage manager tell us how this all is going to work. What camera to look at, how to work the buzzers, how the judging works(I’ll tell you that tomorrow) and even the fact that they have a secret behind every booth. You know how when the camera tracks across the contestants they all seem to be the same size? Well, they’re not. There is actually a square behind every booth that is a hydraulic lift. When you get settled, they raise them according to your height.
“So be careful,” the stage manager says. “Don’t get off the box until we help you. And some might be higher up than others…” Then, of course, he looks at me. “Eileen, the box only goes up so high.” Yeah. Thanks. I’m short. I never would have figured it out.