Arnie Gordon doesn't have a movie star's smile. He doesn't giggle uncontrollably or jump up and down when good fortune comes his way. But that hasn't stopped him from becoming a contestant on three game shows--the lifetime limit allowed by CBS and NBC--winning about $15,000 in cash and merchandise along the way.
The Encino public relations man says there are techniques that can improve a person's chances of being among the 1% selected as contestants from the thousands of people who try out for any of the two dozen game shows that are produced locally.
Gordon said one irony about game-show contestant selection is that people who may think they are least likely to be selected may actually have a good opportunity to make the grade.
"They are constantly looking for the types of people they don't often get," he said.
For example, Gordon said people 40 and older generally have a better chance of being selected, because they tend to be less likely than younger persons to try out for game shows.
"The little old lady who rides a motorcycle is an appealing image" to the people who cast game-show contestants, he said. People from minority groups--black, Hispanic and Asian--also stand a better-than-average chance of being selected, he said.
Where a person lives can be a benefit.
"They are looking for Middle America," he said. Persons who are not from Los Angeles have a better chance than natives, and persons who actually live in a small town have a better chance still. Regional accents--if they are not too thick--can also be a plus, he said.
While Gordon does not advise his students to lie on the applications that prospective game-show contestants fill out, he does suggest ways that they can present facts about themselves in the best light.
For example, when trying out for shows, Gordon identifies himself as a native of Brooklyn now living in Encino. "If you can somehow make it look as if you are an out-of-towner, it is in your favor," he said.
According to Gordon, game shows look for two main things in a contestant: someone who will win and who will give them a good show. Talent coordinators initially screen contestants on both criteria. The initial screening is often a test designed to predict how well a person will play the game.
"They want people to win a lot of stuff," Gordon said. He said the conventional wisdom among game-show producers is that losing ground in the ratings is often a result of contestants not winning enough cash and prizes to stimulate viewer interest.
The other standard screening device is a personality test. Usually, prospective contestants will be asked to tell a little about themselves. Gordon advises that it be brief and entertaining. Exuberance is a plus.
"They are looking for people who are expressive, who have a lot of body language," he said.
He also advises prospective game-show contestants to think up a couple of one-liners or interesting things to say about themselves. He told one talent coordinator how he once threw a birthday party for a baby elephant. When the elephant blew out the candles, it blew the birthday cake all over the children standing on the other side. He brought a photo of the mishap and was eventually able to show it to a national television audience when he was selected as a contestant.
What to wear varies from show to show, Gordon says, but the one general rule is to dress inoffensively. "Someone in punk attire would not be selected," he allows.
Gordon suggests that prospective contestants call ahead to find out what clothing is appropriate before coming down to try out as a contestant.
"They want to get an idea of what you would look like on the show," he says, and he suggests that people who have uniforms, especially those in the armed forces, wear them. "It sets you apart," he said.
A Strong Plus
While being on three shows can disqualify a person from appearing again (except on ABC, which allows two appearances every five years), one previous appearance can be a strong plus.
"It shows them that someone else has seen something in you," he said. "They will take a good look at you."
When you're in the final running, watch the prospective game show as often as possible, Gordon suggested. Even videotaping the shows and playing them back over and over is good preparation, he said.
Being invited back to play a tryout game in front of the producer is the final hurdle to selection. "If you win and look enthusiastic, they may select you," he said.