BY robert mckee
MOST game show contestants may not put much thought into their appearance when they're on a game show, but in my case, my story is somewhat of a fifteen-year saga. If you're REALLY curious about this, I tell quite a story. Ok, here goes! (You asked!)

I grew up pretty much a game show nerd... there were so many great game shows in the 1980s, but the ones that I obsessed over the most were the word games. This may be due to the fact that I was always forced into a two hour Boggle tournament whenever I visited my unbeatable grandparents. If you observe how my grandmother shuffled the Boggle cubes, she had true form. See how her head has that little follow-through to it? It's passion! She was into it, trying to shuffle them cubes as shuffled as possible. It's clear this was one of her famous moves to try to nudge the Qu cube into the corner while trying to score some vowels around the center, all without looking -- quite a talent. Well, needless to say, the word-game obsession was hereditary. Gramma was even a fan of Lingo when she was well into her 90s.
What's on my Tivo on a random afternoon. If you can typecast people because of what's on their Tivo, I'd love to hear the analysis of this combination. With the right mindset and the right adult beverage, Pyramid and ATHF do actually go together.
Although Wheel of Fortune was the granddaddy of word-puzzle game shows, there were countless game shows where the premise was simply to solve a word by having letters filled in one at a time. Seriously I can think of at least twelve game shows where that was the sole objective: fill in the blanks, guess the word. Among my favorites of these games was Scrabble, a Chuck Woolery-hosted word game show that lasted about seven years in the 1980s. That show was so well-produced for its time and very entertaining to watch. This will sound strange to many of you, but there is a specific sound effect on that show that ended up getting stuck in my head for about a decade. It's this wierd combination of someone clapping quarternotes along with this wacky hi-hat cadence that repeated over and over throughout the theme song and during certain parts of the show. It sounds like this:
It's weird, but I would hear that in my head sometimes when I walked or something. (Yes, completely sober.. I'm talking about when I was a kid, sheesh) :) .. I wouldn't ever bring this up but this does have a little bit of relevance later on in the story.. aaanyway..
In the late 80s, an obscure Canadian game show hosted by Ronald Reagan's son, Michael Reagan aired on our local UHF station for about a year and I was very hooked on it. Another word game, but this one was different. The clues given to you on what the word is were generated dynamically based on what your guess was. Bascially they gave you the first letter of a five letter word and you have to figure out what it is. The computer would take the letters in your guess and illuminate letters red or green based on if they were in the mystery word and if they matched the same position of those in the mystery word. You were given five chances to guess the word, otherwise control went over to the other team. After a team solves a word they had to draw two bingo balls and try to achieve a bingo on their little bingo card. That was the cutesy part of the show, but the word solving portion was fascinating to me.
Celebrities are always crediting teachers for being an inspiration to them when they were a child, and although I was never talked into becoming an actor by some theater teacher, I feel I had a more real-world and life-altering inspiration that, interestingly enough, directly contributes to this story. In 1982 I was assigned to Raymond Hunter's second grade class at Eagle Mountain Elementary School. Mr. Hunter was the only cat in the entire school district to have a computer in his classroom, an Apple ][c at the time. I believe he brought it up from home. Although the software was pretty much limited to Oregon Trail and Print Shop at the time, there was a little text-based game called "Pica Pica Bagel" I liked the most that, funny enough, resembled the Lingo format only with numbers, not words. It wasn't until Mr. Hunter brought a box of blank 5" disks to class and told me I could learn how to make my own programs and store them on those disks was I converted. The mere idea that this was possible, that one could create their own programs on a computer was so foreign to me but very exciting. I would always ask him if I could sit in the classroom and chill on the computer while everybody else played on the massive playground during recess. Having a computer around in a classroom in 1982 was clearly not standard and way ahead of its time, yet Mr. Hunter recognized my interest in it. He would have at-length discussions with me about how it worked while other kids were at recess. From that experience, the next Christmas I begged my folks for a computer and ended up getting one, and ever since, I had always remembered the guy who got me started way back in the day.
The next year, lo and behold, our school got a computer lab. Apple was very smart to give schools computers so kids would run home and beg for an Apple, as I was indeed one of those suckas. The computer I scored as a kid ended up being an IBM PCjr, not an Apple, and I really was pissed that my folks "got the wrong one" until I flipped it on and saw bars of color and triple-tone sound! It did make a nice presentation over the Apples, but the downside was that most of the software available to the IBM were business applications at the time, so if I wanted a game I had to make it myself.. thus my illustrious programming career started when I tried to emulate game shows with the ol' BASIC language. I wanted a LINGO game that randomly chose a mystery word and responded appropriately to my guesses, so I figured out the logic and how to program it.. all I needed was a list of five letter words to draw from.
All I really remember about 9th grade was jotting down in my three-ring binder five letter words I could add to the array in my Lingo game. When I got home I'd add them to the game. In the BASIC code I had it randomly pick a number between one and the total number of words, so whenever I added new words I had to update the array old-school style, way before the days of XML ;)
This is a shot of the crude but functional Lingo game sans the silly bingo balls ;P .. it worked well and it was pretty fun to play... I actually played it for hours at a time.. sad, true, but little did I know this was long-term preparation! After a while, I got to really know the pattern of English-language five letter words. There are occasional quirks, but certain letter combinations eventually made the solution obvious -- but this comes from severe repitition of playing this game. After a while, I was trained in the art of five-letter-word-ery... I would try to speak in sentences with only five-letter words in them. TRULY WEIRD; KINDA NERDY CHILD. JELLY AMONG NUTTY BUTTER ABOVE BREAD, PLEASE.. good times.
This is a clip of me playing the GWBASIC Lingo game I wrote in 1988, set to the theme to Taxi for good measure.

Update! Youtube informed me "due to copyright infringement" for featuring the song "Angela" by Bob James (theme to the TV show Taxi) my video was flagged, so I was given the option for the audio to be swapped out with a generic song from Youtube's public domain collection. Yes, a one minute clip of someone playing a game written fifteen years ago in GWBASIC is certainly a threat to the copyrights of a TV theme song!.. anyway..
As I got older, I stuck with the BASIC-class of languages making many silly games and strange applications, moving on to QBasic. (I couldn't believe they dropped LINE NUMBERS) -- I didn't get it, until I played around and found the glory that is object oriented programming.. This prepared me for a nice little consulting career coding Visual Basic at the age of 22 and I was pleased to see the syntax and many of the language commands were fairly the same throughout the years. When the Internet started to blossom I discovered the language of ASP was really just a form of VB for the web -- I was truly excited, because now I could dig up my old 5" floppies and throw some of my old games and put 'em on the web and bug my friends w/ 'em! I picked up JavaScript and learned Flash in 1997... with it's Javascript-based Actionscript, I came out with 5letterwords.com, my Flash-enabled Lingo emulator! Basically the same logic from my 1988 game but ported to modern Flash script.
My lil' game spread amongst the similarly-as-quirky online game show community, and I met a bunch of people who share this strange spirit of being a game show fan as a child -- some take it waaaay more hardcore than others -- but all in all it's an interesting group of folks. One of the fine folks I met along the way was Matt Ottinger (the one person throughout Ken Jennings' famous string of 74 wins on Jeopardy to briefly surpass him during the game). Matt knew of my game and was very kind to send me a tape with some classic 1980s Canadian Lingo episodes to further refine it since the current incarnation of Lingo on the Game Show Network didn't exist yet. Lingo. Not the most well-known show and certainly not considered anywhere near the grade of 1980s monster big money game shows that EVERYONE wanted to be on, such as $25,000 Pyramid, Jeopardy!, Wheel, etc. But me? Ol' Lingo was my game. Five letter words. I knew them all. It only lasted one season and it was filmed in Canada, so it was never anything I realistically could long for ... but thennnn......
In 2002 the Game Show Network started to air a remake of Lingo -- with Chuck Woolery of all hosts! I was shocked. This is a game I always knew of, was very proficient in, and had always written it off as a game show of the past, and here they are bringing it back! Phil Gurin, a game show visionary who discovered the Dutch version of Lingo was intent on revitalizing the game and bringing it back to the States with his own production company. When I heard this, I HAD to get on this show. Living in Texas, there's the obvious disadvantage of having to fly out to audition, then flying out again if you get called upon to be on the show -- keeping your schedule opened for a large window of time and buying a plane ticket with a week's notice could be costly but I knew I had to make an attempt. I figured perhaps an advantage would be that because I'm from a different state I would be seen as a novelty by the staff since most of their contestants come from southern California. Maybe? So I made a call, told them I live in Texas but am willing to fly out to audition. The audition date was set for June 9th, 2005.