Thursday, April 2, 2015

My price was wrong

I wish I could forego my knack for long-winded reminiscing as I revisit another chapter in Las Vegas game show history, but that's not possible.

For several years there was a "The Price is Right" stage show in Vegas. It was an afternoon show, and it was a bastardized version of the TV game show America loves.

As a lifelong game show fan, I attended several TPIR tapings in Hollywood. Six of them, to be exact, over three separate trips about 15 years ago, including one about two weeks after 9-11. So many people had canceled travel plans because of 9-11 that the usual flock of would-be contestants didn't show up for the taping. Oh, they filled the studio with an audience, but it wasn't quite the circus outside the studio that most people experience.

Six shows, and not one call to "come on down."

Several years ago the folks at Caesar's had a ticket deal where you could purchase a 48-hour pass – for about $115, tax included – for shows in the Caesar's empire. Well, any of the second-tier shows. If you wanted to go to one of their premium shows, you could buy a ticket at a discount.

I was on a solo trip to Vegas, so I bought the "all-stage pass," or whatever they called it, and used it to see six or seven afternoon, evening and late night shows.

You had exactly 48 hours to redeem your pass for tickets, and you had to show up at the box office prior to the show for a ticket. If it turned out the show was sold out (which wasn't an issue) you were out of luck. I used it to see several shows, including the Price is Right stage show.

I told myself I'd never pay to see the Price is Right fantasy camp when I've been to the real thing. But given I had bought the pass, and my afternoon show options were limited, I decided I might as well see the stage show. I timed it so that I bought my 48-hour pass shortly before the Wednesday afternoon show, then came back on Friday to cash in my pass for a ticket as early as I could do so at the box office for that day's show. That allowed me to see the 2:30 show both Wednesday and Friday afternoon, despite the fact that the pass hit the 48-hour expiration before the start of Friday's show. There was no Thursday show, otherwise I would have been there for it, too.

I had read enough reviews via Trip Advisor to know the secrets to this stage show. If you were lucky enough to play a game, you played for modest prizes, yet the games were trickier than on TV. A progressive game that has cash prizes ("It's in the Bag") is played for $16,000 on TV. I think the top prize during the stage show was $2,400, and it seemed to be ridiculously impossible to intelligently play the game until completion and pocket $2,400. You have the option to stop along the way, and I would have stopped at $300 had I been on stage to play the game, it was that difficult.

They chose everyone randomly to participate, and four people would be called to contestant's row to bid on a small prize and win the right to go up on stage. You didn't get to stay in contestant's row if you lost out, they pulled four new people each time.

The show was in Bally's big theater, big enough to seat hundreds of people. The theater was less than half full, however. I'd estimate it drew a crowd of about 250 per day.

On my first day I was the first person called, and I was able to take the coveted fourth spot in contestant's row. We were bidding on some speaker system, and even though I bid last and was trying to be strategic, I bid too high in bidding over one of my competitors. The prizes were mostly in the $200 range, and the others seemed to know this, as we weren't getting bids over $500. At this point I don't remember what game I would have played had I been on stage. Needless to say I was disappointed, but I wasn't having much luck at blackjack during that trip, so this was par for the course.

At the end of the day everybody had a chance to be randomly called up on stage for the showcase. Two people were called, but I wasn't one of them. The secret to the showcase was that they made it seem like it was expensive, but in reality it was between $14,000 and $15,000. Unlike the TV show, both contestants privately bid on the same showcase, which included a bunch of shares of a stock that sounded expensive, a Mexican vacation that sounded expensive and an economy car. You'd think the economy car would be worth at least $15,000, but it must have been the most stripped-down version of a compact car. The trip was probably far less fancy than it sounded (it was probably three nights, no frills) and the stock might have sounded impressive because it was a well known name, (Yahoo, I think,) but it clearly wasn't a blue chip.

If a winning bid came within $100 of the actual retail price without going over, the contestant won the showcase. If it was more than $100, I think they gave you the trip. If both overbid, nobody won. I knew you had to bid in the $14,000 range to win, and although I couldn't have been the only one who knew this, others in the audience were shocked when the host read the actual retail price, as were the contestants, at least on the first day, because both overbid by plenty.

I had read that people won the showcase occasionally, but if you didn't know the secret, it was just about guaranteed you would overbid.

The show is no longer in Vegas, but it tours regularly to casinos around the country. I went to it here in Minnesota a couple of years ago with my girlfriend and her sister and brother-in-law, as they wanted to go. I didn't want to, even though a ticket was just $15, but I went, as I didn't want to be a jerk. They changed the format of the showcase, as just one person played for it, and they played "10 Chances" in order to win the showcase prizes. And they've made sure it is even more unlikely a person will win the compact car they show off.

As for the hosts of the show, it is a revolving gig. In Vegas they'd change hosts every week or two. Sometimes it was Jerry Springer. Sometimes it was second-rate game show hosts of yesteryear that only hardcore game show fans know by name. In my case it was Bob Goen, known most for his years co-hosting "Entertainment Tonight." I was surprised he never mentioned he was the last host of the daytime version of "Wheel of Fortune." I bet most people don't remember that two people hosted the daytime show after Pat Sajak left NBC daytime for a crack at a late night talk show. Goen was one of them, but it was never mentioned that day. Very weird.

In case you didn't guess, I wasn't lucky enough to be called to "come on down" on Friday afternoon.

The game show gods just don't smile down upon me.


  1. I saw this show at Bally's. It was strange as the final two people chosen, one guy guessed within $100 but wasn't even thrilled or happy that he won a car and trip. It personally seemed like a setup to me.

    Over 8 years ago, I saw the real Price is Right in Hollywood. Most people don't know this but everyone is interviewed by stating your name and occupation and this is how they choose the contestants. I actually got called on down but never made it past contestant row. :-( It still was an experience I will never forgot and still use the piece of luggage I won for being on contestant row but not appearing on stage.

  2. Very cool, thanks for sharing.

    As a multi-day visitor to Hollywood, I'm very familiar with the "interview." It's annoying.

    I get it, you can typically tell who has personality, who plays well to a camera, by a quick interview, but it doesn't tell you enough. A simple question of what you do for a living and where you're from may eliminate some people from consideration, but it doesn't tell you if a person would make a great contestant.

    I have watched the show since I was a youngster. I don't see it every day, but I know how it is played, and I know how to play intelligently. And yet I have never been picked. And I'm not bad when it comes to speaking loudly and clearly, or showing enthusiasm, but the production geniuses at TPIR wouldn't know this based upon their five-second interviews of me.

    It annoys me greatly when they pick some enthusiastic, annoying person to come up on stage and then that genius doesn't know the simple basics of how to play a game. Not every contestant needs to be a wizard at TPIR, but they might as well pick contestants at random.

    As for a winner of the car/trip at Bally's, yeah, I'd be suspicious if the guy showed little emotion. Maybe he was just shellshocked. But if he knew the secret to the showcase at Bally's (almsot nobody would guess the value of the showcase to be as low as they claimed), and made the point to go to the show, to actually be on stage and win it would have to be a bit of a thrill.

    Yeah, the dude's win, as you described it, is highly suspicious.