As some of you may know, I was able to take part as an alternate contestant on the new GSN game show The Chase. While I wasn't able to make it on the show, I did come away with some great stories about my experience. Most notably, I got to meet one of the most insufferable twerps I've ever come across.
No, not him.
Actually, I'm referring to my fellow alternate contestant, a young man by the name of Drew Scheeler. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of my two days on the set of The Chase, in close quarters with Mr. Scheeler, and the many ways he managed to burn more bridges than the Viet Cong.
Our story begins on the morning of Friday, June 7, as I make my way to the Sunset Bronson Studios to take part in the final two tape days of The Chase as an alternate. I hadn't visited the studios before, so I was a little confused as to where our parking area was, and was under the impression that the casting staff were going to pick me up from the parking area and not the pedestrian gate across the corner from the lot, so I ran a little late. But eventually a nice blonde-haired lady named Hillary came to meet me and walked me over to the studio where I would be spending my weekend. I was directed into one of the many green rooms along the hallway, and was introduced to a fellow alternate, the aforementioned Drew Scheeler.
He didn't give off any bad vibes when we shook hands. He was dressed a bit more formal than me, with a sport coat draped over his white dress shirt with power tie. He looked like a 12-year-old dressed for church. As we introduce ourselves, Drew mentions that he knew that I was going to be there, as per some insider information from a mutual Facebook acquaintance. I was kinda surprised that this guy knew more about me than I knew of him as soon as I walked into the room, but hey, we're all friends here. To a point.
In any event, shortly after I arrive, the eight of us who were called today (six contestants, two alternates) were led to a conference room across the lot where we would go over the rules with Bob Boden, the EP of the British version of the show, and Brooke (who, may I add, was absolutely delightful when she came in to say hi). I notice that one of the contestants from the FOX pilots is in the room with us. About half an hour later, we head into the studio where we're given direction on where to stand, where to look, where the keypad is on the table, and all that other stuff. After everyone gets the jist of what we're doing, we return to the green rooms. And this is where Drew Scheeler's true colors begin to bleed through that snow-white dress shirt.
Drew seemed bemused at the fact that the pilot contestant, someone who's based locally and that Drew knows through the national trivia circuit, is slated to be a contestant, while Drew, who flew in from Ohio, is a mere alternate. Shouldn't people from out of town get first priority to play? That's how they do it on Jeopardy!, after all. I hesitate to point out that the guy from the pilot was easily the strongest player from those pilots, and was probably invited to the for-reals show because he'd give Labbett the biggest fight.
Reading material in the green room was sparse, and the TV was kept off. Our cell phones had already been confiscated, so we honestly didn't have much to do in the room while we waited for one of the players to suddenly come down with typhoid fever and withdraw. Fortunately, the casting department helped resolve this by having one of their people, a bubbly young lady named Joanne, sit in with us and strike up a conversation. I chime in from time to time, but given that the discussion seemed to drift constantly towards movies and TV shows I haven't seen – seriously, what's so goddamn special about Arrested Development, anyway? – I'm not as talkative as Drew.
Maybe that was for the best. Because as the players for the first episode of the day – among which Mr. Pilot Guy was included – were shepherded towards the studio, Drew begins to share for me and Joanne his master plan for when he gets on. It involves him being put in third position, i.e. the last player to face Labbett individually, having his two teammates get knocked out, and "take a step forward", i.e, take the high offer – which he expected to be about $125,000.
But Drew, I point out, this is supposed to be a team game. Doesn't matter, he thinks the other players would just get in his way (because having players buzzing in and be prompted would eat into his Final Chase time) and dilute his payday. But Drew, I argue, the reason you want multiple people reaching the final is so that they can cover any potential blind spots you might have. Not to worry, he replies, he figures he's good for 20 or so steps on his own.
At this point, I advise everyone reading to look up the French word for "shower".
The other striking thing about the conversation we were having was just how pessimistic Drew was about the show lasting beyond its original eight-episode order. He was desperately afraid that too many wins would put such a strain on the prize budget that GSN would balk at the prospect of renewing and opt instead for more Family Feud reruns. His tone on the subject was fatalistic; yeah it's great that the show made it to the US, but it won't last. Remember, now, that someone from the production staff is in the room with us as he's essentially bashing the network on which their show will air and condeming its future.
(And of course, two weeks after taping, GSN renews the show for a second season without even waiting for the first season to debut.)
So now we've got a good handle on how much of a greedy tool Drew Scheeler is. But we have yet to see how much of a conniving, greedy tool he is.
Our green room is close enough to the stage that we can hear the audience when they pop. This gets Drew to thinking what else he might be privy to on set if he could just find a way to get closer. Sure enough, about 90 minutes or so into the taping, Drew excuses himself to use the adjoining restroom. Five minutes later, he emerges, announcing that he tried to put his ear to the wall on the other side of the room, but couldn't hear anything. (I point out that that's because the other side of that wall has another green room, and that one's empty.) Again, PRODUCTION STAFF IN THE ROOM, and he's openly looking for ways to gain access to information he's not entitled to. He also makes a big deal about not having his cell phone, and that tomorrow he plans on bringing his laptop, with the excuse that the WiFi is busted so he won't be able to use the internet. Naturally, Joanne shoots that plot down immediately.
The rest of the episode passes without too much incident. We hear a giant cheer come from the crowd, and we deduce that the team likely won. Drew gets nervous again, hoping aloud that they didn't win too much. There's got to be some money left when he makes his glorious conquest of the game, after all. A few minutes later, the players come back to the holding area, and Labbett has come out as well, to congratulate the pilot contestant on his big win and console the other players for not reaching the end.
Here's the thing. Mark is having this conversation literally on the other side of our wall in the hallway. I can see his right arm stick out from the doorway. Mark's accent is readily recognizable for anyone who's seen the show, even if you don't see the face talking. But while I clearly catch on to Mark's presence, it's not until a few minutes after the conversation that I have to explain to Drew that Mark Labbett was on the other side of our wall. The guy who was trying to eavesdrop on an empty green room had no idea that the show's main fixture was less than 10 feet away from him. His reaction? "All British accents sound the same to me," he replied.
We have a very oddly-constructed lunch – everyone got a to-go box filled with what looked like a little bit of everything the cafeteria had that day – and the second batch of contestants are made ready for their turn to play. (And among those contestants was none other than our own Cory Anotado. I didn't really make eye contact with him that day because, well, the show's supposed to be about a team of three strangers, and I didn't want to jump up and yell, "Yo, Pacdude! What's up?") It's at this point that we're told we won't be needed for the rest of the day, so we sign off on our per diem forms and excused. (I got $100 for my time, Drew got $300. Keep those numbers in mind.)
As Hillary walks me back to the exit gate, I mention that if we don't make it on as contestants in the next taping, I would like to at least sit in the audience so I can see the show. Hillary makes a relatively non-commital reply, and sends me off for the afternoon.
Saturday rolls around, and I again make my way to the studio. Once again led by casting into the same green room as before – only this time, Drew isn't there waiting for me. Instead, I'm greeted by a middle-aged woman named Muffy (who turned out to be a lot cooler than you'd expect from the name.) Drew is back, but not in our green room anymore. Turns out he's been assigned his own green room this time; the casting staff unsubtly point out that they'd gotten kind of annoyed at him poisoning the waters after Friday.
Same process as before – we go into a meeting room, the producers and Brooke introduce themselves, and they go over the rules. Since I've heard this already, I spend my time reading past the basic rules of the game and look over the minutia – timing, answer judging, contingencies, that stuff.
Drew, to his credit, adheres religiously to the non-disclosure agreement he signed the day before. And by that, I mean to say that he wastes no time blabbing to anyone who'll listen about the $800 bottle of champagne that yesterday's winner bought the night before at Umami Burger for all the other players in celebration of his $125,000 win. He also figures that just because he's in his own green room doesn't mean he can't keep annoying the casting staff and the other players – players that, as a reminder, are not supposed to communicate prior to their episode being taped – and he drags one of the armchairs in his room up against the doorjamb so that he can communicate through the hallway.
Another casting assistant is with us today – a 20-something guy whose name I don't recall – but Muffy isn't as talkative as Drew was, and I was smart and brought a deck of cards with me this time I could Solitaire the hours away – so soon enough our room is quiet. Well, relatively quiet, because our assistant has now stationed himself in the hallway to shoot the breeze with Drew. I guess Joanne didn't warn him about the guy from the day before.
But miraculously, this casting guy seems to take a shine on Drew – despite him once again explaining his scorched-earth method of playing – and suggests that Drew give him his contact information, potentially to do other shows he's involved with. I internally retch at the notion of Drew Scheeler getting another show before I do, but am relieved – not to mention appalled – when Drew casually warns that if whatever show the assistant is working on doesn't offer him a chance at at least a six-figure payoff, it's not worth the time.
(I would later find out that Herr Scheeler was a Teen Tournament contestant on Jeopardy!, and failed to advance past the quarterfinals. In addition, he was a contestant on the clock era of Millionaire, and crashed on the $100,000 question. So clearly, his desire for a hundred grand was not an arbitrary number.)
The hours pass slowly, the first episode finishes, we break for lunch (which I passed on, not really finding the Mediterranean pu-pu platter they packed for each of us that appetizing) and assemble the last three players for the final episode of the taping schedule. Neither Drew nor I have a vacancy to fill, sadly. The good news is that after a fair bit of lobbying, I manage to get the two of us into the audience for the last episode. As you can expect from a show of this pedigree, The Chase was a one-hour show that took five hours to tape, largely due to retakes of contestants walking off set or onto their marks. (There was also an awful lot of audience reaction shots filmed, which seems frivolous now seeing how they were never used.)
Admittedly, the three contestants chosen for this episode were not the sharpest. We've seen cash builders already where players get 11 questions right in a minute. Our team combined for nine answers total. This translates to a pretty crummy game, but it peaks Drew's miserly interest. He suspects that this batch of players was constructed specifically because the show's paid out too much money already and needs a dim team to cut costs. When the first two ladies get booted out of the game in short order, Drew openly suspects that we're in for a "Lazarus game" – the term the production uses when the three players get caught individually and one player has to come back for the bare-minimum purse of $15,000.
Robert, the third player of the show, struggles in his cash-builder, but his four correct answers are good enough for the top performance of the game. Labbett offers him a very friendly $15,000 to play it safe, or $75,000 to take the extra challenge. Everyone is shocked to hear him go for the big offer, and when he cruises through a (frankly easy) stack to bring the money home, the audience cheers and even gives him a standing O. Of course, Drew is non-plussed. No way he wins the money, he says.
In the final, Robert got a score of 15 steps – very nice for a single player, but still a fairly weak score to win with. And this is where Drew calls his shot – not only is Robert going down, but he predicts that there'll still be a good 35 seconds left when he gets caught.
Labbett comes back in. The Chase is on. Mark rattles off five right answers. When he finally gets one wrong, Robert can't push him back. We were seated directly behind the contestant table, and got our first look at the Arrow of Doom at about step 10. Another right answer, and another, and another, and another. The Beast is on the doorstep.
Brooke: "What Handel work made its debut in 1717 on a barge on the Thames river?"
Labbett: "The Royal Fireworks Music."
Brooke: "No, that's… that's wrong! Stop the clock!!"
At this moment, Drew is convinced that they stopped tape to double-check the title, and then will rule the answer right and the game over. Because while the title of the piece is actually "Water Music", the name "Royal Fireworks Music" is one of the piece's more common alternate names, so they'll give Mark credit for it.
This is where reading the entire rulesheet comes in handy. One of the parts of the rules bible that wasn't explicitly briefed to us was the part about judging, which just so happened to be one of the parts I skimmed over on the second day. The rule specifically said that the only right answer accepted on a titled work would be the official title, minus the word "A" or "The" in the front. "Royal Fireworks Music" is not the official title, therefore it is wrong. Try as I might to get it through Drew's head that I actually read the rules and know that the producers won't accept that answer, Drew insists that he's right and they're letting Robert dangle in the breeze for a few minutes before slamming the door on his $75,000 quest.
I suspect that the clock being at 32 seconds when tape was stopped had a lot to do with why Drew was so adamant about this.
(NOTE: As it turns out, "Water Music" and "Royal Fireworks Music" are actually two completely different works - meaning not only was Drew wrong about the rule, he was wrong about the alternate title. Thanks none other to C. Robert Dimitri, the contestant on last night's show, for the correction.)
Brooke returns from backstage a couple minutes later, they walk the game back to the start of the question. Brooke reads the same question, Mark gives the same answer – and hey, whaddaya know, it's still wrong. Robert is offered the pushback, and he gets it. 32 seconds left, two steps remaining. It's still looking bleak. Labbett misses the next question about Warren Beatty movies. Robert knows the answer handily, and pushes Mark back to 12. Mark gets the next question right, but misses the one after it – one that's pure Americana – and Robert gets another push back. The crowd is going nuts. But glancing at the clock, I see 14 seconds left, and being a fan of the show I know that that is too much time for three steps to defend.
Sure enough, Mark rattles off two answers in quick fashion, and as soon as I heard Brooke say "If you have 108 donuts…", I knew Robert's valiant efforts would be in vain.
Nine dozen. Stage goes red. Three seconds still left on the clock. Everyone in the audience groans in defeat. Well, everyone except for one person. One person in the audience has the gall to stand up and cheer this man's heartbreaking loss.
If you can't guess who that person was, you might want to start reading from the beginning again.
That's right: Drew Scheeler, the failed Jeopardy! and Millionaire contestant, the quiz nerd who openly endeavored to throw his teammates under the bus to maximize his jackpot, the dude who made no secret as to how dim he thought the show's prospects were, is applauding the fact that a man he'd never met came three seconds short of winning a life-changing amount of money. At this point, I can take it no more; I turn to Drew, look him in the eye, and tell him to perform an act of self-copulation. Twice.
Did I get through to him? I don't know. I honestly did my best to tune him out at that point, and he probably didn't have much to say to me from there. We went back into the green rooms to fill out our per diem waivers again; Drew had to go first because the out-of-towner bus was going to leave soon. (I'm quick to point out that Drew was paid $300 for each of his days on set as an alternate. That's $600, total. If he doesn't get a 1099 tax form from the production company next year, there really is no justice in this cosmos.)
Joanne is handling our payouts once again, and with Drew gone I am finally able to vent after having to be in close proximity with the man for most of the 16 or so hours I was on the lot.
"I've never in my life had to spend so much time with a bigger asshole."
Joanne quickly concurs. Drew managed to piss off every single member of the casting department to the point that he's essentially been blacklisted from any of their future productions.
I get my $100 for the day, am escorted to the car, thanked for my time, and sent on my way.
Those of us who have been lucky enough to appear on a game show know that there are horror stories out there. Tales of contestants who took the game way too seriously, who alienated everyone in the room with their misplaced intensity, who looked at their victory on a game show as a God-given right borne out of their self-professed ability to store useless bits of trivia in their heads and regurgitate them on cue. It doesn't look like I'll get to be on The Chase – the window for Season 2 casting has already come and gone – but I know that at the very least, along with the $200, I got to experience firsthand a primer on what not to do as a game show contestant.
And I can honestly say that as long as you aren't an egomaniacal, self-centered, greedy, hateful, jealous, resentful little gargoyle like the one I had to share a green room and audience row with, you're already one step ahead of the game.
POSTSCRIPT: Wow, I didn't think I was going to get that much of a reaction from you guys. Thanks to everyone for the overwhelmingly positive feedback about my experiences – and for sharing your own horror stories about Mr. Scheeler's escapades elsewhere in the quizzing world.
While many of you were busy reading this diatribe last week, Drew took to Facebook and posted a picture of him in the audience for that week's episode as his new cover photo. In the comments, he also pointed out that I was standing next to him, labeling me as "Tim 'I'm too cool to accept Drew's friend request so Drew doesn't remember my last name'". I imagine that by now, he's been alerted to the presence of this article, so I'd like to take this opportunity to confirm that yes, I am absolutely too cool to accept Drew's friend request on Facebook. If there is one person on this planet I am too cool for, it is one Drew Scheeler.
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