I met my friends Randy & Theresa at Bardog right around midday yesterday to pregame for The Price Is Right Live at the Orpheum at 7. We were going to meet up with about 10 other Bardog employees and regulars with whom we all had seats together. Around 3:00 Allie Cat, the daytime bartender on the weekdays, showed up with the matching T-shirts we had printed. They were lime green with the Price Is Right font and images of the pricing games.
“Prizes, cars, trips, boats… Let me see that PLINKO though”
I was a bit puzzled. A friend of mine had registered as a contestant when The Price Is Right Live came to the Orpheum in 2019. He had told me it was a 5-hour ordeal, that they had to show up at 5 PM (two hours before showtime) and audition. Yet, when I filled out the contestant registration form online last week, it didn’t say anything about having to show up early. So we all hung out at Bardog until 5:45.
There were an enormous amount of people in the lobby, many in custom-made shirts similar to ours. (I thought ours were the best, though.) We weren’t allowed to go to our seats until 6:30, probably because the theater’s management wanted to encourage us to purchase beer, wine, and snacks from the concession area.
You know what I like about The Price Is Right Live? It’s one of the few Orpheum events where it’s totally acceptable to show up in a T-shirt and shorts. I’m not a dressy person at all, but normally I would not think of going in there in a shirt without a collar – just out of respect to the Orpheum, the grand old dame of the Memphis theater scene. But for the Price is Right, you dress the way people dress on the TV show.
We went to the registration table for potential contestants. They found my online registration and made me a “PAUL” name tag. There were no auditions. Contestants were chosen at random.
At 6:30 we got to our seats. I was right in the middle of Row S, with Allie Cat to my left and Randy to my right. It was the first time I’d been to the Orpheum since my legs got bad. “Damn these seats are close together, and close to the row in front of us,” I thought. “If I get called to Contestants’ Row, I don’t know how I’m going to get to the aisle without tripping over people.”
Drew Carey and George Gray were not on the Live tour. The host was a guy named Todd Newton who has extensive game show hosting experience. He made the evening fun for the contestants and the audience.
About 7:20 the show got started and the first item went up for bids. The winner came up to play Cliffhangers, a game where a mountain climber starts at the bottom of a cliff at a spot labeled 0. There are notches labeled 1 to 25 going up the cliff. The contestant guesses the price of three minor prizes (typically in the $15 to $50 range) and for every dollar they’re wrong, the mountain climber ascends a notch up the cliff. If the mountain man goes past 25, he falls off the cliff and the contestant loses whatever big prize he or she is playing for.
The lady who played Cliffhangers got the mountain man to stop on about 18 and won her big prize. I think it was a trip to Dublin, Ireland.
Before putting a second item up for bids to contestants, Todd gave us some Price Is Right history:
- The Price Is Right was originally hosted by Bill Cullen and was on NBC and ABC from 1956 to 1965
- It was revived in 1972 on CBS with Bob Barker as host
- Drew Carey took over hosting duties in 2006
- Bob Barker is still alive and kicking; he’ll turn 100 on December 12
As they started the second round of bidding, I notice a difference between the live version and the TV show. On the live version, they completely replace the contestants on Contestants’ Row each time. On the TV version, once you’re called to Contestants’ Row, you remain there until you come on stage to play a pricing game or until the show ends. I guess they do it differently so more audience members can have the experience of actively participating in the show.
The second contestant on stage played Any Number, which Todd told us was the first game Bob Barker ever played with a contestant, back in 1972. The way it works is there are 3 prizes:
- A large prize with a 4-digit value (I’ll have more to say about this in a moment)
- A medium prize with a 3-digit value
- A piggy bank with a dollars-and-cents value (between $1.02 and $9.87)
You guess prices, using each digit 0 through 9 exactly once. Whichever prize you guess all the digits for first, you win. Obviously you want to pick digits you think are in the large prize’s price while avoiding the piggy bank at all costs.
Here I noticed another discrepancy in the live and TV versions. On TV, the large prize is usually a new car and they give you the first digit of the car’s price, leaving you the last four to guess. In the live version, the large prize was a trip to New York City, and only for 3 nights – typically on TV, trips last 6 nights.
The lady won her NYC trip, valued at something like $2356. This would be a trend that would repeat throughout the evening – prize values were MUCH smaller than on TV.
Between rounds we learned a few more facts:
- The Showcase Showdown wheel was introduced in 1975
- Cliffhangers was introduced in 1976
- PLINKO was introduced in 1983
The fact that they mentioned PLINKO gave me hope that it would be one of the pricing games.
Next they called 3 people to the stage to spin the wheel for Showcase Showdown. They were new people, not winners of previous pricing games as is the case on TV. High amount (whether from 1 spin or 2) would go on to the Showcase. If you spun exactly $1.00, you got $100 and a bonus spin. Landing on the 5 or 15 on the bonus spin got you an extra $1000; landing on $1.00 got you an extra $2500. All those bonus amounts were one-tenth of what they are on TV.
The third contestant to get on stage played The Clock Game. The contestant is shown a prize and makes an initial guess as to its price and the host says “higher” or “lower.” The contestant then guesses again until they either hit the exact price or the 30-second clock runs out. If there’s still time left, they play again for a second prize.
Then it was time for intermission, lasting 15 minutes. A lot of people were unhappy that the bar had closed before intermission.
The fourth contestant to reach the stage played PLINKO!!! Again, though, the prize values were much less. As with TV, if your chip landed in the center slot, you won the most; but on the live version that amount was $500. On TV it’s $10,000.
One cool thing did happen, though. The PLINKO contestant had been sitting right in front of me in the audience. Todd asked who she was there with and she said her granny. Granny got invited up on stage to play along.
That was it for pricing games. Only 4 of them as opposed to 6 on the TV show.
Three new people spun the wheel for the second Showcase Showdown. Two of them got $1.00 and won $100. Each was awarded a bonus spin, which also served as a spin-off to see who would move on to the Showcase.
They both got $1.00 on the spin-off, earning an additional $2500 each! I bet that total $5200 Showcase Showdown payoff busted the live show’s budget. They spun off again and this time there was a clear winner and nobody landed on a bonus amount.
Next came the Showcase, which differed drastically from what you see on TV. There was only one Showcase, rather than one Showcase per player. So both Showcase players bid on the same Showcase. It consisted of
- A small prize, likely valued in the hundreds of dollars (can’t remember what)
- A trip – again, only 3 nights
- A NEW CAR! A Nissan.
First off, let’s talk about that new car. When they give away Nissan sedans on the TV show, they’re usually Altimas. Altimas are roomy mid-sized cars that are among the most popular cars in the U.S. On The Price is Right Live’s Nissan was the entry-level, subcompact Versa, two notches below the Altima in the pecking order (the compact Sentra is in between them).
Most people weren’t gonna be driving that Versa home, though, even if they had the closest Showcase bid without going over.
You see, if you do that on TV, you get ALL the prizes in your Showcase. In the live version, though, you only win the small prize for being closest without going over. To win all the prizes in your Showcase in the live version, you have to guess the total amount within $100 – again, without going over.
That was it. We were done about 9:40. Randy & Theresa walked me home and got to see the madness that is the Fat Tuesday patio first-hand.
CONCLUSION: If you want to have the experience of playing some of the most popular Price Is Right games, by all means go, it’s a lot of fun. Just don’t expect the way the games operate to be authentic to the TV version. Also, don’t expect to walk out of there with tens of thousands of dollars in prizes.
I’ll try to be back tomorrow with more news, but more likely it’ll be Tuesday.