BY robert mckee
When I was on that Friend or Foe in 2002, they gave me a specific date when it was going to air. I invited about 30 friends, some of which drove the three hours from Austin, to a bar across the street that had a private room with an enormous screen to have the watching party. The time slot approaches, I'm getting nervous. All of a sudden, the show begins, and my jaw drops because I notice Kennedy -- the ol' MTV DJ of the early 1990s who hosted the show -- wasn't wearing the ironic emo pink elephant sweater she wore during my taping! I was so embarrassed, making all these cool and supportive friends of mine come out to a bar to watch a game show to no avail. The show ended up airing two or three days later, and fortunately I was able to resurrect a party at another bar for the real airing.

I couldn't remember if my Austin friend Dave made it to that party so I asked him via chat and he put it best:
dave: Yes.. Drove 3 hours =]
dave: to be FOE'd by GSN
Well, about two weeks after returning home from Lingo, I made a few calls to GSN's programming department and was told our episode would air October 25, 2005. I told everybody. I mean EVERYBODY, even though in the past I got burned by being overzealous in announcing a game show airing date! Between local friends, family in other states and the vast number of people I talked with on the Internet, it's fair to say I had hundreds of people tuning into the Game Show Network to watch this. I did know that they filmed five Hawaiian themed shows during the day I was there at the studio, so it was presumed those five episodes would air during some sort of theme week, as they've done in the past with a "fiesta" week and a military week. Well October 25th being a Tuesday it was assumed my episode would be second in line of a five-episode series. When I tuned in the day before, I noticed it was a regular episode of Lingo. No Hawaiian shirts, no tiki torches, no poi, no pineapples, no roasted pig on a rotisserie -- I started to get very nervous that they messed up again on giving me a date that I blabbed to the whole world. Sure enough, October 25 comes and they did not air my episode. This time I was GENUINELY STUNNED. Again, all my pals and relatives and friends, many of whom wasn't familiar with Lingo at all, stopped what they were doing and made it a point to watch this show for me and it turned out I wasn't on it. WTF do I do now?
I call GSN the next day and I was told that they decided to wait to air those Hawaiian episodes until they had a Hawaiian sponsor in conjunction with their Hawaiian Affiliate. As much as I asked for clarification, that was the way it was explained to me, and they did not have a date for when it really was going to air. I was wondering what the other 18 contestants were thinking, but then again I remembered I had to call up to GSN to even initiate the dialogue that I was interested in knowing the airing date. If you didn't have the initiative to do that to begin with, you'll never know the airing date anyway, because they never sent out anything in the mail or called to alert us. On shows Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and The Price is Right, they all announce the airing date during the show, so when you go home you'll know exactly when it is to run. (Whenever Pat & Vanna wish you a safe July 4th as they sign off, keep in mind that episode was probably filmed in April.)
Waiting, waiting, waiting. No word on anything. I remember in the mountain of paperwork we had to sign, one of the clauses was that only after the show airs do they have 120 days from that point to pay you... So not only am I disappointed that I can't show my friends this show, but also I have no idea when I'mma get mah money! The little dickens at Friend or Foe decided to send the check 119 days after the show aired -- they really stretched that to its absolute maximum.

All of a sudden in September, to my absolute shock, a check arrives in the mail from "Laurelwood", the production company of Lingo. My first thought was "Oh, shit, they already aired the episode and I somehow missed it!?? I was more confused than excited that I was getting paid! Of course, I came back to earth and was happy to see the money as well -- but certainly, they didn't pay me before airing did they?
Incase anyone was curious to know what the payment paperlook looks like, the check was attached to a stub that looked like ones you get with a paycheck.. all very official and invoicey lookin'.
And here is the check. Yay, I got paid! Pretty cool -- but I'd still like to see the damn show! So what's the deal? I just very well may have burned up half the winnings in long distance calls to Los Angeles that day on what the story is on the airing date. Same vague response. "Waiting for the sponsors" WTF does that mean, I do not know, but I went along with it, and whenever a friend of mine would ask "hey, when is that game show you were on gonna air?" like a total tool, I'd tell 'em what GSN told me, "oh, their waiting for some sort of "sponsor". There were no worries, though because since I got paid, it HAS to air, right? one day soon, hopefully..

right??
In January 2006, word was out that they already started filming Lingo season 5, and this time they added $1000 per day in a progressive jackpot if you pull off getting the Lingo on the first pull in the bonus round. Well the Hawaiian episodes did not have a progressive jackpot, so splicing any of them onto air in the middle of a run of a show with a continual jackpot would confuse/piss off the viewers. I knew just then and there it was going to be at least May or June before we're gonna see this on TV. Sucked. Enter Alex Davis of buzzerblog.com, a popular source of news and inside scoop for the game show world. They are closely tied to flashgameshows.com which is a collection of very awesome bonus round emulators of many classic and fun game show bonus rounds written in Flash. Alex knew of my plight and was interested in investigating the holdup as well -- he went out of his way to research what the status of my episode was with all sorts of people I didn't have access to. He reassured me that since Chuck and Shandi (and the production staff, editors, union makeup artists, rented fire-breathers and hula dancers) definitely got paid for their performance, it was in the show's best interest to go ahead and air them -- why not?
Months have gone by. Heather and her husband visited Crystal in Dallas in the Spring of 2006, and when they came to Fort Worth to have dinner with my wife and I, the fire in me to renew my campaign to find out a date from GSN was reignited ;) ..

(In that pic, Crystal and Heather are holding a torch used in the Torino 2002 Winter Olympics.)
In May of 2006, GSN announced that they were going to be canvassing the country — with Shandi in tow — seeking new Lingo applicants, and one of their stops was a mall in the super-suburban soccer-mom part of North Dallas, an hour's drive from here. Naturally, we were going to go to hopefully meet someone from the GSN staff that could tell us something! I spoke with a GSN guy who gave me his card and told me to contact him the following week and he'd be able to find out an answer. Great! When I went over to talk to Shandi, I was surprised to see she remembered me; I told her why we were there and she goes "Those episodes aired a couple of years ago! I remember, because I had to change into different bikinis!" Hm. Either Shandi managed to catch these magic episodes while my game show sensei Alex -and- all the online game show discussin'-community -and- myself didn't, orrr ... Shandi perhaps doesn't watch Lingo! Well, that's ok if she doesn't watch it because, after all, she does live it; but for her to say with such confidence that they already aired puzzled the hell out of me. Then again, she did say "a couple of years ago", which kinda invalidates the whole conversation.. she may have been thinking about their Fiesta Week, but during that week she was wearing Mexican garb, not a bikini. Well, whatever. She's still cute and she is like seven feet tall... (she's bending her knees to pose with me)...
I did what Richard Hatch didn't do. Everyone asks "how much tax did they take out?" Well, they didn't take out any. Lingo paid Heather and I each the full $5000, and we were to report it as income 1099-style ourselves. I do a lot of web and application development consulting, so I'm used to collecting Misc. 1099s, and this one was basically just treated the same as if it was a contract job. All in all, I think that the extra $5000 added to whatever else I earned in 2005 only bumped us up slightly in the bracket of what we had to pay for our entire 2005 return.

I think the only nightmarish game show tax situation is when people from places like Atlanta win, like, a pair of snowmobiles on The Price is Right and have to pay tax on the merchandise value.. That would suck ;).. If it's a cash prize, you still have some cash.
Miscellaneous, indeed. With all the game shows on nowadays, you'd think they'd have a "Game Show Winnings" category added to the 1040 :] ..

So let's recap. I flew out. I auditioned. I got called back. I flew out again. We taped the episode. Waited. Got paid. Waited. Filed the taxes. Waited. Called GSN, still no answer, and now they're getting a little annoyed :) Finally, in November of 2006 I'm sitting at a poker table in Las Vegas, and my cell rings. They really frown on people getting calls at a poker table but my CID said "GSN" and a 310 phone number. I bolted from the table leaving my pocket Queens so I could perhaps hear some news? It's my ol' pal Ann and she's calling to tell me the airing date will be NEW YEARS DAY January 1, 2007 during a marathon of Hawaiian Themed shows! Holy crap, they called! An airdate! I was very appreciative of the call, and Ann was a sweetheart for remembering to call me, but I wasn't making any announcements until I knew for sure!
In mid-December GSN started to announce their New Year's Day lineup, and there they were, a quick collection of Lingo snippets flashing some people wearing leis! It's official. Word spread fast. Finally, New Years Day arrives, and I held a party in our building's party room for the occasion. I provided the sake bombs for consumption as many friends and neighbors were on-hand to witness the show they've all heard about -- not knowing the outcome.
I had to do a lot of explaining between commercial breaks so people who have never heard of the show could understand what the hell was going on. I was besieged with calls, emails and Instant Messages from family, friends and internet acquaintences across the country with funny comments.. It was great to hear that I helped spike Lingo's ratings if only for a half hour ;). I was tanked on six sake bombs and there I am "on the TV" rippin' through five-letter words like Dom Delouise on a Renaissance Faire turkey leg. Needless to say, it was a very fun event all around.
I do owe thanks to many people for steps all along the way in this process, going all the way back to Mr. Hunter who gave me a most early exposure to computers. My very awesome and lovely wife Emily has been extremely cool and supportive about me travelling to Los Angeles on the gamble that I would succeed. My ol' pal Crystal (pictured with her lil' boy Jayden), who I met her twin sister Heather through. My thanks to Heather and Nick for the accommodations, and naturally, a sincere thank you to Heather herself for bein' my lil' partner in this whole ordeal. Props to Alex Davis for keepin' the lost Hawaiian episodes from fading into obscurity, and to Ann at GSN for putting up with me. Bethany, one of the contestant coordinators at the auditions, I believe might have been the one who saw the potential and put us on the show. Good call, Bethany! :D And thanks Phil Gurin for bringing back Lingo ;) Good folks!
On a final note, it has been announced that Lingo's sixth season will feature past winners going against their online winners. Perhaps now that our episode has aired and we have solved the most words possible in the bonus round, I'm hoping we will be graced with The Chuck once again -- so perhaps this isn't the end of the story! Stay tuned! :D
My thoughts on how Lingo can be improved

The way it stands currently, you are rewarded more for drawing the one magic Lingo-making ball no matter how many words you solved in the bonus round, giving everyone a 1:13 chance of winning the jackpot regardless of how well they played. For example, the couple in this pic solved three words in all of two minutes.... yet,
...they ended up winning more money than we did :) .. and, hey, good for them, that's cool. As far as winning the jackpot goes, there is no incentive to try hard to solve any more words than just one. To create more suspense and a more exciting bonus round to watch, a better idea would be to reward the team with a certain amount of money per word, or maybe on a sliding scale a lá Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Then, if they wanted to keep that "suspense" of that first Lingo ball draw, they could triple the amount accumulated, and if they simply got a Lingo thereafter, they could double the amount accumulated. Something that gives incentive to solving more words. I'm not saying this because of what we achieved on the show, but simply every game show fan has their own idea of ways games can be improved.
Stemming from my history with five-letter words, I invented a game that uses them exclusively called word sandwich. For some reason, it has become very popular in the Netherlands — the country where the inspiration for the current incarnation of Lingo came from. Dutch people apparently love word games, no matter what language it's in.

Perhaps if GSN is seeking to develop another similarly entertaining word game, I have many ideas on how this can be converted into a fun-to-watch multi-player game with a great element of suspense. They should drop me a line ;) ... Thanks for reading!

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