UPDATE: The podcast episode has been published! Click here for more details on how to listen.
I apparently need to brush up on my ’80s teen movie villains.
And rappers. And constitutional delegates of the 1770s.
But I wouldn’t know I need to do any of this if it weren’t for “Ask Me Another.” It’s a quiz show heard regularly on NPR (on air and in podcast form). And it’s pretty fun.
I fulfilled my lifelong dream of becoming a game show contestant when “AMA” came calling. I had to take a very difficult contestant quiz that challenged my knowledge of history, pop culture, vocabulary and general useless knowledge.
I’m good at the useless knowledge part.
Based on my success there, I received the call to become an actual contestant.
The show works by pairing two people to play one of five games. The winners of each one-on-one face-off take part in a final round, where they compete for the grand prize — an “AMA” Rubik’s Cube. It’s valued at around $9.
The show is hosted by the hilarious comedian Ophira Eisenberg and her sidekick, singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton. Both of them ask contestants the questions throughout the game. I was playing in the third round.
Before that, Ophira teased (and I paraphrase):
Coming up, one of our most popular games, “This, That or the Other”!
That’s when my heart sank. My confidence vanished.
I walked onto the stage with my opponent. This, honestly, was probably the most nerve-wracking part. Based on the pre-interview, you know what kinds of questions Ophira could ask you. Kind of like your Jeopardy! introduction. But she’s also intentionally funny, unlike Alex Trebek. As soon as I stepped to the microphone, most of my fears eased. The conversation with her was very easy. I even made the audience chuckle a couple of times.
Then, we got into the meat of my competition.
“This, That or the Other” is a pretty straight-forward game. In this case, the hosts offered a name. My partner or I had to buzz in to tell them whether it was the real name of a rapper, a constitutional delegate in the 1770s or an 1980s teen movie villain.
“*&%#,” I said to myself. So did my opponent.
As much as I would love to share some of the names as examples, I can’t. They were too convoluted to remember. But many of them sounded as if they could be in any of those three categories.
What I didn’t think about before this game was the strategy. I was focused on buzzing in first and guessing an answer. If I got the answer wrong, my opponent would be able to guess — and keep in mind, one of the three options is already out.
I handed my opponent and least two of these opportunities. All because I didn’t think strategy.
At one point, I had one correct answer to his three. Not one to go down without a fight, I correctly guessed on the following two questions. Tied at three all, I feverishly hit the buzzer for the seventh and final name. Strategy would tell me to wait. But strategy didn’t come knocking until well after the game.
My final guess was ’80s movie villain. I knew, even before I said that, it was the wrong answer. I felt it was the wrong answer. I regretted saying “villain” as the word came out of my mouth. And before Jonathan could even tell me I was wrong, most of the audience’s groans did. Apparently, I missed the one name I should’ve actually known.
Now, I wasn’t out yet. My opponent had to choose between delegate and rapper. However, if I were he, I would pick up on the audience’s groans and realize they probably don’t know much about constitutional delegates. So they must know something I don’t — that name is that of a rapper.
So, my opponent guessed rapper. He and the audience were right. We shook hands, and my “AMA” contestant experience formally ended.
As a side note, the special guest that night was Leslie Odom Jr. of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. He sang a few songs (beautifully) and gave an entertaining interview about how he landed the role of Aaron Burr.
Oh, and he also contributed two standing room tickets to the hottest show on Broadway, which would be given to the overall winner. Yeah. That.
Other games of the night included things that rhyme with or sound like “alive” (i.e. “hand jive”), things that shake (i.e. Yahtzee dice, spray paint), and a celebrity mashup (i.e. Paul Ryan Gosling, Sarah Jessica Parker Posey). You know, things that require some of that useless knowledge I have.
But my useless knowledge does not include villains, rappers or delegates (although I did guess a lot of correct answers by saying ‘delegates’).
I’m not using that as an excuse, and I’m not being a sore loser. I had a blast being a contestant. Of course I wish I could’ve won the Rubik’s cube. OK, and the Hamilton tickets. But I consider this my big break.
Watch out, Wheel of Fortune. I’m coming for you next.
The “AMA” episode is not yet available, but as soon as it is, I will update this with the link!