What's it like to be on a TV Game Show?
In 1998 I appeared on the second season of Comedy Central's "WIn Ben Stein's Money".
Win Ben Stein's Money was a 'Jeopardy' style game show where contestants get a chance to win $5,000 of Ben Steins'money. It starts out with three contestants answering questions to try to get as much money as they can. In round two,the player with the lowest amount of money has to give it back to Ben, and Ben takes their place for the rest of the round, where questions' values rise to $200 to $500 of Ben's money. At the end of round two, again the player with the lowest winnings gets canned, and the money goes back to Ben. In round three, the player with the most winnings will face Ben in a 'lightning round' where they have one minute to get ten questions correct, and if they get more right than Ben, they get all $5,000 of Ben's money. If they tie with Ben, they get the money they won in rounds' one and two, plus an extra $1,000. If they get less than Ben, all they get is the money that they won in round's one and two. The sad and dismal truth to this show is, Ben Stein's Money is given to him by Comedy Central, and whatever the player's don't win, he gets to keep. Thus, he nets anywhere from 15 to 18 thousand dollars a week! Win Ben Stein's Money had this taunting opening statement: "Hello. I'm Ben Stein. And today, I'm going to make history. I'm putting up $5,000 that says I know more than you. So if you're smart enough.. fast enough.. and If you've got the guts... YOU can win Ben Stein's money!
Win Ben Stein's Money   During a commercial break, Co-host Jimmy Kimmel, would announce, 'Think you're smarter than Ben? Give us a call'. A local phone number was displayed. After watching this for a few months and playing along with the TV, I thought, 'I could do this". It looked like fun and definitely hipper than "Jeopardy'. (No creepy Alex Trebek either.) The questions were mostly general knowledge rather than "Pop Culture" and a lot of the answers seemed really obvious to me. I called and left my name. The show's producer, Harv called back and gave me a 10 question quiz. I got 9 answers right so then I'm invited in a week to come Sunset-Gower Studios to take the written test. Harv says: "Congratulations, you're a very smart lady. Do you have any smart. FEMALE friends that you could bring with you to take the test? We're short on female contestants".

I arrive at the TV studio at 6:00 PM to take the test. About 50 men and 12 women, most in their 30's and 40's. I couldn't help but notice that many of the potential contestants were overweight or obese. Some the men looked like they'd just been released from a psychiatric hospital. Everyone passed the 50 question written test. Then, in groups of 3 we play a mock version of the game with Harv standing in for Ben. I knew I was going to get on the show because a production assistant standing behind Harv was smiling and motioning at me. (you, you, you!) and I answered my question correctly:

Q: Who was the mother of Queen Elizabeth the First?
A: Anne Boleyn.
(I've seen "Anne of the Thousand Days" a dozen times)

After 3 and a half hours of this fun, everyone was photographed, (Smile!) and told: There's no guarantee that you'll be on the show. Thank you". Not being a White male or overweight was the edge to getting on as a contestant since few people like that showed up for the test and they seemed to be looking for some diversity in the contestants. 5 days later they called me back to tell me I've been chosen as a contestant and given a date for taping the show 3 weeks away on February 5, 1998. Meanwhile, while waiting for the taping, I study and brush up on my weak subjects - chemistry, architecture, sports and capital cities. I'd already read "The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy" and "A Brief History of Time". My friend loaned me a 3000 page, college level general knowledge book. I read every page because it's preface claimed that this was stuff every literate, educated person should know. I studied as hard as if I was going to take the LSAT! 500 flash cards in my hands...

6 days before the taping I caught a horrible cold. A contestant information sheet comes in the mail from the producers telling me what NOT to wear and to bring 2 changes of clothing. Casual only. No suits, jackets or ties for the men, no skirts, heels or strappy tops for the women. No blue jeans, black or white, tiny stripes or patterns. That eliminates most of my wardrobe! I wore black jeans anyway and took 2 extra tops. The morning of the show, I did 2 things. I put a a bottle of champagne on ice and then I had my hair styled by a professional. I'm not used to putting on the feminine artifice (I rarely wear make-up) and thought by making sure I had a "good hair day" would boost my confidence on camera. OK, but I'm bloated from taking loads of cold medicine to get there along with swollen wisdom teeth to add to the suffering. (If I made the call to cancel, they probably wouldn't have put me on the show at all.) I'm nervous and my mouth is as dry as the Mojave desert.

I get to the TV studio at 11:00 AM. They are going to tape 4 shows that day with 12 contestant and a couple of alternates. They take all the contestants into the green room and then the attorneys come in.

The Contestants
WBS$ Contestants - Feb. 1998
Regina Scruggs, Colin Adams, Laura Molina

Walt Disney Company attorneys are there to make sure you're eligible to win the money. You fill out an I-9 and a W-2 and then they asked if anyone here has worked for Disney in the last 2 years. If you had, you'd have been disqualified with a "conflict of interest". Then they asked if anyone had ever worked for Disney. I tell the lawyers that I left Walt Disney Imagineering in 1992 and they say it's been over 5 years, that's definitely OK, go ahead and play. then they explain the rules to us. Once the 3 contestants are chosen for an episode, they may not speak to each other or to Ben during the breaks in taping.

Here's where I get my first lucky break. They tell me I'm going on first. I'm alert and ready and now I don't have to sit in the green room for hours, chewing my nails. The producer asked all the waiting contestant to fill out a card for Jimmy to read and to 'tell us something funny about yourself' for the introductions. I write in my blurb about Naked Dave. I was wearing a red Victoria's Secret corset tee. Since Regina was wearing red, they asked me to change my clothes. That's how I end up in that sloppy, gray V-neck top that fits too tight across the bust. (How embarrassing). Each contest is assigned a PA to baby-sit them and we head to the stage. Jimmy is already on stage but does not talk to the contestants. He just paces paces around until the show starts. Before Ben comes out they show us how the hand buzzer works and tell us we can't "ring in" until the "cue light" comes on. I was thinking I'm in trouble now because I can barely see the golf ball size cue light from across the stage, below the game board. (I've got astigmatism) Ben Stein comes onto the stage now with his assistant. He greets the audience and has a short chat with each contestant. The show begins.

Yeah...Naked Dave
Jimmy Kimmel
Jimmy Kimmel smirks at me and I kick it back.
Ben reacts

He reads/improvises my intro - "Contestant number 3 is Laura Molina. Laura is an artist, a painter, actually, whose obsession is painting nude men. Ben, right now, according to the card, she's painting her ex-boyfriend's head on other men's nude bodies".

Ben reacts to my unusual profession.

The audience hoots and squeals. Ben says, 'I don't know what I can say about that. There's no comment I can make about that that would be appropriate'.

They won't mention the web site because your not allowed to advertise anything. This is as close as Naked Dave gets to being mentioned on national cable TV.

We proceed to play the game.

My first question. The answer was 'Jacqueline Kennedy'. I almost said "Jacqueline Onassis". Instead I awkwardly went through all her names - "Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis", Because I thought "Jacqueline Onassis" might not be the right answer. When you answer a question, the rules are that some things can be left out of your answer. You can answer a question with someone's last name only, but if you answer with a first and last name both have to be correct or you lose. You also don't have to say "Department of" when referring to a government agency, etc.

What you didn't see - Ben says, 'You didn't ring in but we're going to give you that one because you're cute'. My button didn't work the first time I used it. I was the last contestant to take a stab at that question so it didn't matter that I didn't ring in. They stop the taping for few minutes to make sure it's working.

Guess the question!
First Round Results: Regina $250, Colin $350, Laura $300
second round

All that studying I did was to no avail. Not a single question on the show had anything to do with any subject I read up on. What did help was watching VH1 for a few minutes the day before the taping and seeing an interview with Cheech Marin.  He was a regular on "Nash Bridges" at the time so when a question came up, 'in what city does the show takes place'? I got it right and  it's bonus question about 'Alcatraz'. 4 years later I got to thank Cheech for helping me win the game. He laughed and made the predicted joke, 'Where's my cut'? And anyway, I had to win because "this is for La Raza ". My winning smashes a stereotype.

Now we get to play the second round with Ben. He's had a lot of practice and you can't beat him on that button, so this is when, even if you know the answer, you can't get in.

 

 
A $200 question   I know this...

This was the $200 question that won me the round. Just like "Jeopardy", you can guess the question from the category. I correctly anticipated the question and the answer. I'm ready to jump out of my skin because I'm sure I know what the answer is. I ring in first and now it's my turn to smirk. Q: (See the card on the right, above) A: Obey   Jimmy confirms the answer, 'That's right! And we've been having nothing but trouble ever since'. What else would you expect from the creator of "The Man Show"? A close friend later said, 'I would've bet my life on you knowing the answer to that question'.
Guess what!
 
See ya!
Second Round Results: Colin $350, Laura $500
That's it! See ya, Colin. I got this suspicion that Colin was upset that he lost to me... But remember, game shows are absolutely fair! It's really a game of chance as much as a game of knowledge. It's one thing to sit at home watching TV, popping off answers like a smart ass. It's different and way more stressful to actually show up and play in front of an audience. But I'm going to the final round and Ben is grimacing after the commercial break
Sneakin' it by
  Before we go in the booths, Ben tells me the I'm "the prettiest girl we've had get to the booth". It is nice to have a TV star say that to you when you're 40. I didn't think I looked that pretty on TV, though. The lighting on WBS$ was terrible! Even Ben looks bad, depending on where he's standing on the stage. This might be because Disney was to cheap to have the set lighted properly. The only person who seems unaffected through most of the show is Jimmy, probably due to where he's standing on the stage.

They roll the booths onto the stage. Jimmy rolls out the safe and explains the rules. The contestant gets to choose whether to take the 10 questions first or second. I choose to go first. We enter the booths and before he reads the questions, Jimmy tries to psyche me out by telling me to "relax and imagine Ben naked".
In the Booth
Ben loses his money!!!
Best of 10: Laura 4, Ben 3   Ben defends: $0   Laura wins: $5000
didn't think I was going to win with only 4 answers right. Your brain to mouth response gets paralyzed from the pressure to perform. I knew the answer to the first question but I just couldn't spit it out! Then I waste more than 15 seconds trying to answer, "Who played Zorba the Greek"? I could clearly envision the "Anthony Quinn Public Library" in East L. A. thinking, 'I can't NOT know this'. "Anthony...mmmm.......Quinn"! (I am stubborn) But it's as much luck as it knowledge. How are you supposed to anticipate what you can retrieve from your memory? You can't. I got lucky that day. Ben, as you can see, was stunned when he realized he'd lost. His jaw starting dropping open when he missed the question, "What government agency is in charge of the Forest Service"? Which I had answered correctly, "US Dept. of Agriculture". (How did I know that? I'm a regular Angelus Forest hiker.) Then he misses one that I would've gotten right. "When does the next millennium begin"? He answered - "2000" WRONG! It began January 1, 2001. (Remember Arthur C. Clark?) He disputes his score on the millennium question with the judges and they all tell him "no way, you lost". The money falls from the ceiling and I laugh and celebrate. I'm whisked back to the green room where all the other contestants are applauding. I shake a dozen hands and then I'm immediately and unceremoniously escorted from the TV studio to the street because you're not allowed to speak to the waiting contestants. A fun and triumphant day for me, I go home to enjoy the previously mentioned bottle of champagne. Here's the catch, you don't get the money until after they broadcast the show. I didn't get my $5000 for 5 months!

It was an extra sweet win because it was really Mickey's money that I'd won. Having survived the horrible experience of working for the Walt Disney Company and then going through 3 lawsuits with them in the 90's, I got an extra thrill knowing that they wrote that $5000 check.

Because of the 1950's Quiz Show scandals, All game show producers have to make sure there is NO CHEATING. What I don't understand is why a game show, which is entertainment, has to be fair. If it's more entertaining and serves the show's producers and broadcasters economic interests to have a certain contestant win because the audience wants it, then what's wrong with "rigging it"? They say it would be fraud, but I disagree. Criminal and civil trials in California are not this fair. The TV news lies every day. Consumer fraud, for example, happens all the time. There are individual and class action lawsuits filed every day to rectify that and yet it never stops. I was 40 years old when I went through what proved to be an interesting experience. The lesson? The only thing in life that's absolutely fair and on a level playing field is being on a game show.

 

 

Wha' Happened?

Ben still can't believe he lost!

Photo and video of WBS$ ©1998 Valleycrest Productions / The Walt Disney Company  (eeeek! a mouse)  Text © 2004 Laura Molina