My Turn: Climbing the Pyramid
Televised game shows are the modern version of ancient gladiatorial contests. The zippy pace, nail-chewing suspense, and the mind skills of contestants pitted against each other all make for great theatre. But what’s it like to be a participant? ARCHITH SESHADRI provides a blow-by-blow inside story of his exciting adventure of appearing on the $100,000 Pyramid, ABC’s hit prime-time show.
(Left) High five! Snoop Dogg and Archith get it right. (Photo: courtesy, disneyabcpress.com)
On a routine day back in March 2018, I stumbled upon ABC’s casting call for the $100,000 Pyramid game show. On a whim, I decided to fill out the application talking about my love for playing board games, my passion for teaching music, and my recent work and travel adventures in India. The application also required a quick 30-second video where you showcase your personality to the casting producers.
Barely 24 hours after I hit the send button, I got a Skype call from an unknown number. Ethan, a casting producer from LA, wanted to do a test run of my knowledge of the game Pyramid. Ethan did a few practice rounds of the main game (which is like the games Catch Phrase! or Taboo) where you give or guess as many clues in a short amount of time. My years of playing board games paid off, and I did fairly well in this section. For example, if the category was “Presidents,” I’d have words associated with Presidents, like First Lady, Donald Trump, White House, etc. Then, Ethan asked me about “Winner’s Circle” which is the trickier part of the game. This is the round where you are given 60 seconds to give or guess six clues by only using lists of nouns and adjectives and phrases. You cannot use full sentences or prepositions or anything that does not fit the description of the clue. These usually start with easy categories but quickly become tougher. Some examples include “U.S. Cities,” “School Jobs,” “Purple Things,” “Batteries,” “Things You Strike,” “Things That Are Triangular,” etc.
Since I had done well in the initial application and preliminary audition round, I was scheduled for a few more rounds with the senior supervising producers. These were more intense as they were timed with flashcards.
The casting producers wanted to test one’s ability of not only guessing the clues but also giving the clues. They also wanted to see personality. They wanted to see passion. They wanted to see how one performs under pressure.
After a few auditions, I decided that if I was going to win this, I’d have to get serious and practice, practice, practice. So I ordered old versions of the Pyramid board game (Dick Clark’s and Donny Osmond’s), watched old episodes on YouTube and created lists of various topics and categories in a log book. Interestingly, I had made old Pyramid questions as a teenager growing up, and pulled those out for reference. I figured the more I practiced, the better I’d do.
Perhaps it was my enthusiasm, perhaps it was my career in broadcast journalism, or perhaps it was my confidence in articulating clues and playing the game well. Well, something clearly struck a chord with the casting producers. On a trip to Baltimore on April 18th, I got a call from one of the casting producers asking me to block out the first two weeks in May for taping. I officially received word that I would be a contestant on Season 3 of the $100,000 Pyramid.
Prepping for the game show
But the game was just about to begin. There is a lot to being on a game show. There’s a bunch of paperwork and travel plans to coordinate with the casting team. You even have to get your wardrobe choices for the show approved. Last but not least, you must be prepared to answer a host of questions on the show ranging from interesting life anecdotes to how you’d use the prize money if you won it. To get ready for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I would practice regularly with my mom and my brother at night.
Once I got the actual date from the casting producers (Monday, May 14), I was told that I could bring a guest to be in the audience. Since our taping was around Mother’s Day, I thought it would be a good idea to take my mom along with me, more so since she’s a game show enthusiast! There was one more matter. My participation had to be kept completely under wraps. Barring my family and closest friends who doubled as my study buddies, I could not share my game show experience with a soul.
At the studio
Finally, the moment I was long awaiting had arrived. The morning hustle and bustle had started in New York City. At 8 am sharp, our private black limousine whisked us away to the ABC studios on the Upper West Side. Once I walked into the studio lobby, I met my fellow contestants (we had four episodes to tape that day so there were eight confirmed contestants and two alternates). The energy was positive. The mood was filled with excitement. We each exchanged stories about our hometowns, how we studied, and what to expect. The ABC production crew quickly took us to our respective green rooms where we put down our bags and wardrobe outfits. We soon met with a lawyer, the show’s producers, and other ABC staff members.
At this point, we were told who our competing partner(s) would be. I was paired with Melanie, an African- American girl from New York City. The remainder of the day was spent in practice rounds with the producers. The contestants each left to the studios while the rest waited their turns anxiously in the green room. It was nearly 7:30 p.m. by the time I reached the studio, mine being the last episode to be taped.
After a quick touch up, we changed into our outfits (I wore a turquoise Express shirt and a blue/green Satya Paul tie with a pocket square). At this point, we were also told who our celebrities would be. My episode was going to feature rapper Snoop Dogg and The Roots’ drummer, Questlove. I was a little worried since hip hop was not my forte!
At the studio, time seemed to race along. I spotted my mom in the audience and waved at her. I sat down on my seat and said a little prayer. And before I could blink, the cameras were rolling. We shot the opening sequence as they introduced the celebrities into the studio. And then the “voice of god” appeared as the announcer introduced the host, Michael Strahan. We quickly got acquainted with our celebrity partners— Melanie with Snoop Dogg, and I with Questlove.
(Left) Questlove and Archith paired up.
Since I lost the coin toss, I would play second. This actually turned out to be an advantage because Questlove was a stronger player. We also had a little bit of time to study the Pyramid board in the main game round to see which categories may be easier. We picked “Uber and Out” which had things that are left in an Uber—and nailed it! We got seven out of seven words and were off to a strong start (mustard, diamond, lobster, etc.).
I read somewhere that it is always better to “give” the clues than guess them, so every opportunity I could give clues, I took advantage of. The next category we had was “Things You Do with Your Throat” (cough, hiccup, gargle, yodel, gasp, etc.). We got six out of the seven (we missed gag). Questlove and I were in sync for the main game and we felt really good about our style of clue giving. Interestingly, we don’t really get to see our score so I just focused on nailing each round. This definitely helped me get to the Winner’s Circle since we were just in the moment. We didn’t let the categories define us but tried to use techniques like opposites or fill-in-the-blank. For the main game, you can’t use rhyming words or give out the initial letter, but everything else is perfectly fine (i.e., you can say “not day but night” even if the word is “knight”). So after a solid start, we managed to score enough points to make it to the Winner’s Circle, competing for $50,000.
After a short commercial break, I sat down in the Winner’s Circle. It felt so surreal to sit in that red chair with the wrist bands. Michael Strahan asked me what I’d do with the money. The casting producers always wanted us to come up with fun and creative answers (not travel, or pay off loans/mortgages). Since I love ties, I said I’d start my own fashion line if I won the $50,000.
(Left) Triumph in the Winner’s Circle: Archith celebrating his $50,000 win, as Questlove joins in jubilantly. (Photo: courtesy, disneyabcpress.com)
The lights dimmed. The dramatic music played. The clock appeared on the board. And then Michael Strahan boomed, “Archith, for $50,000 here’s your first subject—go!” Since I knew time was of the essence, I tried to paint a picture really quickly so that Questlove would be able to guess the answer. The clock goes really fast and you want to be short and sweet with your answers. I think the hardest category was “Quiet Things” but I whispered “a baby” and Questlove got it immediately. Our six categories were “Directions,” “Chinese Food,” “What Your Neighbor Would Say,” “Fashion Designers,” “Quiet Things,” and “Things That Are Sweet.” We finished the board with about 20 seconds to spare. I jumped out of my seat and thanked Questlove and Strahan as we won 50 grand! It was unbelievable.
For the second half of the game, we had to shuffle partners. I was paired with Snoop Dogg and Melanie was paired with Questlove. The categories in Round 2 for the main game this time consisted of titles like “Vest Love,” “Nothin’ but a Tweet Thing,” “Snoop,” and “There’s a Dogg in My Snoop.” Talk about vague!
(Left) Snoop Dogg and Archith Seshadri in the winner’s circle. (Photo: courtesy, disneyabcpress.com)
Both Melanie and I had rough first rounds. She picked the Mystery 7 but the team got buzzed for saying a word in the clue. Mine was “Nothin’ but a Tweet Thing” and it was celebrities who had more than 10 million followers on Twitter. Snoop gave the clues the first round. He said Jay Z’s wife. For some weird reason, I blanked and froze up. We got a few other ones like Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, but ran out of time. Luckily, at the very end Snoop said “not this,” so I thought he meant not black, not white, and stumbled out “Beyoncé.” And we, of course, got the point for it finally. We missed Pink and Rihanna. For Pink, Snoop said color and I listed every color but pink. But despite a stumble, we nailed it the next round with “Vest Love” which were people who wear vests. I gave the clues for words like swimmer, groom, nerd, valet, bell hop, Girl Scout, and card dealer. It was ecstatic—we went from four points to seven out of seven. The crowd went wild. I felt a sense of relief.
But the game wasn’t over just yet. We had one last category to nail. It was “A Tribe Called Questlove,” a list of hip hop artists. Even though I didn’t know a single one, I stayed calm and focused. I gave opposites to help Snoop guess as many as we could. We needed three to tie and four to win. One by one, I articulated the clues “not salt but...”, “not walk but…”, “not private but…”, “Jack and Jill went up the….” We had done it, yet again. I heard the ding-ding-ding sound. We got enough points to make it to the Winner’s Circle again. This time the stakes were even higher: a grand prize of $100,000. That means, if you win both Winner’s Circles, you could walk away with $150,000.
I decided to give the clues again because I felt I was stronger at giving clues than guessing them. The first clue came up as “Things at a Football Game,” followed by “Things in the Bible.” The third square is what we got stuck on after I gave clues like “I am a small brown insect,” “I am like a butterfly,” and “Balls are named after me.” I was hoping Snoop would guess “Things a Moth Would Say,” but he wasn’t getting it so I skipped. The next square was music-based and the topic was one that I was not really familiar with: “Prince Songs.” We nailed the last two which were “Things with a Trunk” and “Types of Paper”—which luckily proved to be the $4,000 and $5,000 prizes. The buzzer rang and we ran out of time. Strahan said, “Archith, we have to get you some music with that money you’ve won—congrats on the $61,500!”
Even though I didn’t win the jackpot, $61,500 was a lot more than I walked in with. I was happy with the result and I played the game to the best of my ability. For the incredible experience and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I am grateful.
After famously reinventing his career from a consultant at Accenture to broadcast journalism, Archith Seshadri has been a reporter and anchor at various locations in Georgia for local news affiliates of CBS, ABC, and FOX. Most recently he finished a 2-year anchoring stint for Zee News’ English channel, WION, in New Delhi.
Archith’s 7 winning strategies for
game shows and the game of life
1. Be Present
Stay in the moment, get in the zone, smile, and focus on one round at a time; don’t plan too many steps ahead. Also, ignore the past; don’t get stuck on a bad round or a bad situation, but just keep moving forward and go with your gut! Sometimes it is better to grab what we can than wait for a perfect opportunity.
2. Be Positive
Play to your strengths. I was better at giving clues than guessing, so I decided to do that, which worked well to our advantage. Don’t waste time trying to fix what you don’t know—chances are you probably will use your time better polishing your craft than fixing your flaws.
3. Be Prepared
Whether it is an interview, a meeting, or a game show, know what you are going to get into. I watched many, many episodes of the old game show versions, studied the questions, made lists/categories in a log book, practiced with my friends and family, bought the old board games, and studied tips online about what to do on game day. Be well rehearsed so you can be as ready as you can be!
Make sure you know what is important—in this game, it’s not about how many you get right but staying ahead of your opponent. It’s not about getting a perfect score; it’s about just doing the best you can and finding ways to be strategic.
5. Take Risks
Taking the safe road will never get you too far. Always ask if you’re in doubt. If you don’t, the answer is no. Since I worked in TV news, I knew I couldn’t apply for game shows when I was working in American newsrooms. But at that time, I was working for an India news outlet and knew this may be easier to circumvent with the producers (which it finally did). Also, if I didn’t take the risk to apply and put myself out there on a game show (despite the outcome), I would have never known what it would be like to be on a primetime game show, let alone win!
6. Be You!
Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. If you are good at something, say it; if you like something, own it. Add humor and feel free to laugh at yourself and show your vulnerable side. If you don’t know something, it is perfectly ok—just admit it and move on!
7. Be Nice, Thankful, and Grateful!
Be genuine, smile, and be happy for other people during the waiting period; everyone is trying to be successful. We all were trying to be positive and encouraging for each other and not look at each other as cut throat competition. We even wished that we would each win something like cash, a trip, etc. Winning or losing isn’t the main thing—walk away with the experience that very few people can, and leverage the opportunity well to open new doors!
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