Being invited to take part in a press-only version of NBC's "Hollywood Game Night" late last year was a good news/bad news situation.
The good news? I checked off the "Be on a game show" bucket-list item. Despite living in Los Angeles, covering TV, and knowing people for the last 17 years, I've found it to be a lot more difficult than one might think. Generally, producers avoid (and sometimes even have rules against) casting journalists. I like to think it's because their tendency to know a little about a lot of topics makes them a bad investment in terms of the budget. This may not exactly be Vegas, but the house still needs to win a majority of the time.
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The bad news? There was no cash prize, which meant we were playing only for bragging rights over five of our pop culture-passionate peers, and there were no celebrities to help us in our trivial pursuit as there are with the real thing.
But the even worse news is that less than two hours later, when my hand was permanently gnarled into the sounds-like cupped-ear charades signal and my ears were ringing from Clue Boom! explosions, my team of five intrepid reporters had lost, and I was forced to endure the not-so-subtle proclamations of dominance from several people I call friends and a few I battle for exclusives on a daily basis. The humiliation continued as the publicists insisted we take winners-and-losers photos and the Facebook boasts — er, posts — popped up throughout the day. It didn't even help that we were all sent out of the Gower Studios soundstage with a decent midpriced bottle of red wine. I hung my head in shame. I'd been participation-ribboned.
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It had started out well enough. I emerged from my first matchup victorious after successfully identifying the nightmare-inducing photo mash-up as Penny Marshall Mathers during Celebrity Fusion. For the second round, we played a new game called In Other Words, in which you have to get your teammates to guess a famous line of dialogue without using any of the words in the quotes, including "a" and "the." Emmy/Golden Globe winner Jane Lynch, who playfully went through her hosting motions, including gently teasing our missteps for comedic effect, showed me the card that read, "E.T. phone home." I quickly and brilliantly blurted, "Alien, call house," which led a blogger to the correct answer and put another handful of points on the board.
Watch celebs play In Other Words:
Things were looking up, as we didn't even have to play the song-humming game I live in fear of, How Do You Doo, and the scores were close. But then Lynch introduced another new game, Clue Boom!, which requires safety goggles and a sliding bowl of clue cards and confetti that blows up at random intervals. It is essentially a perverse game of Hot Potato that really screws with your head.
The idea of little pieces of colored tissue paper flying toward your face leaves you involuntarily flinching and backing away from the beeping contraption. And when it finally does go off after you've solicited what seems like hundreds of answers to James Bond-themed questions, after what seems like an eternity has passed, your unladylike reaction includes an unplanned and thunderous F-bomb dropping. Half the crew members who were watching from the wings laughed at the expletive, while the other half let out a thank-God-this-isn't-being-televised sigh of relief.
One by one, the members of my team took their turn at the bowl, and despite our hanging tough and knocking out clues, the bowl bomb seemed to have it in for us and kept exploding on our watch, putting us further and further behind. It was hard to swallow the idea that much of our defeat could be blamed on bad luck.
Watch Mario Lopez and "Parks and Rec's" Retta play a roun of Clue Boom!:
The final challenge was charades, and again, luck was not on our side. Our opponents breezed through a litany of animated films that everyone has seen. When it was our turn to silently act out movie titles, our group of three women and two guys, one of whom considers the last sporting event he attended to be the "Dancing With the Stars" finale, was given the topic of sports movies. You have no idea how hard it is to beat the buzzer miming "Dodgeball" solo.
Watch "SNL's" Taran Killam and "Rizzoli & Isles" star Angie Harmon act out movie titles for their team:
It was all in good fun, and I'm not a sore loser, but if I'm being honest, I admit that I am supercompetitive, and it was also a blow to my ego. I pride myself on being a diehard gamer. First of all, it's in my blood. My grandfather once won both showcases on "The Price Is Right." I grew up on a steady diet of "Family Feud," "Double Dare," "$ale of the Century," "Press Your Luck," and "Password" reruns. I throw game nights at my house; drag Taboo, Time Out, and other board-based fun along on vacation or to family holidays; and I have magnets of hosts of old like Bob Eubanks and Monty Hall on my fridge. I watch DVRed episodes of "Jeopardy" and "Lingo" while riding the exercise bike and make my husband act as my own personal judge Lynch while I turn my back to the TV for the final round of "Hollywood Game Night." Contrary to my experience with P.E. class in junior high, I am never, ever picked last for a team when a round of "Pictionary" is about to go down. So to lose in the most public setting I have ever played in stung.
But it also gave me more of an appreciation for what contestants go through. The cold stares of your opposition, the expectant judging grins of the audience, the heat of the lights, the uncomfortable couch, the malfunction of the buzzer you'd swear you hit first, and the timer incessantly ticking down all contribute to your mind going blank, your pits getting sweaty, your nerves being shot, and your hand-eye coordination deteriorating. Maybe I'll stop yelling "Idiot!" at my screen when I tune in to NBC to see some poor schmo from San Diego placing the photo of the "Like a Virgin"-era Madonna after one of her in the pointy-boob bustier or one where the blonde is dressed as the geisha material girl. But probably not.