“So, who wants to make a deal?”
Master entertainer Wayne Brady stands in the center of the “Let’s Make a Deal” stage, dressed to the nines, microphone in hand, already knowing the answer to his question. Every person in the audience leaps in the air and begins waving their arms, begging for his attention.
And there I am: on the far right of the set, blinded by the Technicolor lights and metallic sheen.
I am still stunned by the fact that I am there at all. I have watched “Let’s Make a Deal” on countless occasions, screaming at the television any time a contestant makes a bad decision. On top of that I have been a massive fan of the host, Wayne Brady, ever since his glory days on “Whose Line is it Anyway?”
As I jump up and down, caught up by the infectious energy of the crowd, the man himself locks eyes with me and beckons me to the front of the stage.
I jog down and shake Wayne’s hand. It’s time to make a deal.
“Let’s Make a Deal” began in 1963, created and hosted by the incomparable showman Monty Hall. The concept of the game show involves members of the studio audience bargaining for prizes with the host. The contestant is offered something of value and given a choice of whether to keep it or exchange it for a different item. The show’s defining game mechanism is that the other item is hidden from the trader until that choice is made. Thus, the contestant does not know if he or she is getting something of greater value or a prize that is referred to as a “zonk,” an item comically designed to be of little or no value.
CBS revived the show in 2009 with pro-improviser Wayne Brady as host and fellow comedian Jonathan Mangum as announcer. The show in currently in its eighth season with ratings rising every year.
So, in July 2016, while working as a dormitory Resident Assistant in Los Angeles, I utilized one of my days off to attend a filming of one of my favorite game shows. I reserved a ticket online and took an Uber to the station in Van Nuys. As soon as I saw a line of people in Halloween costumes, I knew I was in the right place.
I am not a wild, bounce-off-the-walls sort of guy, so I fully intended to watch the show without participating. Why would they pick a lanky, fairly mellow Okie dressed as a prospector?
After signing numerous documents, the station confiscated our cell phones to keep us from filming the show from the audience. Eventually, we met with the “audience pep coordinator:” a human flamingo named Percy. He explained to us that, in the past, the show-runners had chosen contestants based on “levels of craziness… And that didn’t work.” Now, the executives look for likable people who can have a coherent, witty conversation with Wayne.
My one-on-one chat with Percy went very well — I expressed what a big fan I was, where I’m from, and I slipped in a few quips too. At that moment, I got the feeling that I might actually be chosen to play.
Finally, we got on a bus and were driven to the actual studio: a nondescript, beige lump of concrete a few blocks away. I figured the executives don’t want to advertise the real location in case of stalker fans.
We filed onto the set, and I was awe-struck. I couldn’t believe I was standing in a place I’d seen on TV countless times. My seat was assigned to me by a glum man in a tight, black t-shirt.
I had a perfect view of the three iconic “doors,” each one concealing a prize to be bargained for. Per the show’s tradition, everyone in attendance wears a wacky, eye-catching costume — sisters dressed as Nerds candies, a man in a Sun suit with the planets of the solar system orbiting him, a group of middle-aged ladies in flapper dresses that are a bit too short… The list goes on and on.
The show starts. I’m seated directly behind Jonathan’s podium — if I lean slightly to the right, I would be in his solo shot. The baby-faced, curly-haired announcer is two feet away. I want to say hi, shake his hand and thank him for all the laughs he’s ever given me, but I never work up the courage.
Then Wayne enters, and the crowd goes nuts. Sporting his dapper suit and shiny scalp, he holds the entire audience in the palm of his hand.
“3… 2… 1…” A chipper voice booms from above. “And we’re on.”
The show is an absolute blast. Wayne ad-libs a song with two female contestants. A wide-shouldered guy wins a $21,000 car. A grandma is invited forward to dance the Charleston.
About halfway through, during a “commercial break,” I see Percy whisper in Wayne’s ear and gesture to me. My heart begins to beat a little faster, but I smile and adjust my old-fashioned vest. Showtime.
Filming has resumed. Brady asks that grand question. We all jump around like fools. Wayne scans the audience and calls me out.
I stand beside an entertainer I have admired since elementary school, and my smile almost rips my cheeks. Wayne begins talking to me, but I can’t hear him for the life of me. His microphone amplifies his voice toward the seats, not the stage, and his instructions are lost under the crowd’s cheers. I nod and say “Uh-huh” a lot.
Wayne asks what I’m dressed as.
I answer, “An old-timey prospector in shorts, because it’s California.”
Wayne cocks an eyebrow.
Well, this is awkward, but I decide to steer into it. I pause a bit more for comedic effect, then add another “Uh-huh.”
Wayne laughs. Success.
We get to the deal: I can have $900 cash or whatever is inside the green box onstage. I verbalize that green is my favorite color, but I turn it around to say that I prefer the green of dollar bills — I take the cash.
Wayne reveals the contents of the box: furry plates, a “zonk.” I dramatically grab my heart as the audience applauds and praises my win. He pats my shoulder: “Nice job, buddy.”
“Great to meet you, sir.” Too formal? Should I say something else? Too late. My feet have already taken me back to my chair right behind Mangum. My neighbors congratulate me with sincere smiles.
My show airs January 24 (today) and I contractually could not talk about my full experience until now. I left “Let’s Make a Deal” with $900 — not the biggest payday in the grand scheme, but it’s certainly a fortune to a college kid like me. Moreover, the never-ending party and sense of community among the audience, along with meeting the one-and-only Wayne Brady, will stay in my memory for as long as I live.