A game show nerd moment
Phil Wrighthouse, a teacher from Attica, talks about his game show dreams ahead of Tuesday night’s appearance on ‘The Chase’
Phil Wrighthouse, confirmed game show nerd, has been working for this moment since he was a kid. Tuesday night, the school teacher who grew up and lives in Attica will be a contestant on the season debut of the ABC show “The Chase.”
We talked about it the other day with questions most likely decidedly easier than the ones he faced on the set of the show. Here goes …
Question: You’re on “The Chase.” This seems as big as a “Jeopardy” moment, right? Which is better?
Phil Wrighthouse: “Jeopardy” is ubiquitous. It’s the show everyone knows, everyone has most likely seen before at least a few times. It has the simplest rule set after you get past the answering style, which is literally just say, “What is …,” in front of your answer and you’re fine. “The Chase” is different. It’s longer, it’s got some more steps to it, and it demands way more from its players. I’m a huge game show nerd, and I think I can safely say that “The Chase” is the hardest game show out there. And, because of that, it makes for a more interesting show for the people at home. Does that make it “better?” Sure. We’ll go with that.
Question: What was the process to get on the show? Did you have to audition? Or …?
Phil Wrighthouse: I’ve been auditioning for game shows for years. I take the aforementioned “Jeopardy” test as often as I can. I interviewed for “Press Your Luck” and a few others. Even before COVID, those auditions were taking place over the phone or on Skype. Earlier in 2021, I interviewed for a show that hasn’t aired yet. I got somewhat deep into the process, but, as is the case with these things, you don’t get a “no” from anyone. One day you just don’t hear back and the show airs and you realize, “Well. That didn’t work.” So it was November of 2021 when one of the casting people I had met for that unnamed show asked how the process had gone. I told him I had been ghosted. He was surprised. He thought I was a good fit. But, he was working for “The Chase” now.
That set off multiple Zooms and interviews, forms and phone calls with various levels of casting and producers. Every step of the way, you’re answering practice questions but also a ton of questions about yourself. It was an enjoyable process, to be sure. Eventually, it was coming down to travel dates and wardrobe options. That’s when it started to feel like a genuine possibility.
Question: For those who are new to it, explain how the show works.
Phil Wrighthouse: Three contestants from all over the country go up against a Chaser, who is a trivia master of some kind. This season, they’ve widened the field even more and possible Chasers a team could face include multiple game “Jeopardy” winners and other trivia legends.
The game has three phases. Each contestant does a Cashbuilder, where they answer as many questions as they can correctly in one minute. For each one, $10,000 gets added to a bank. They then go up one-on-one against the Chaser. The Chaser and the contestant answer the same questions and are basically on a ladder, with the Chaser at the top and the contestant in the middle somewhere. The Chaser offers the contestant different sums of money if they want to play it safe or risk it. Lower money amounts mean you have more chances to miss questions. Higher money amounts give you less wiggle room. If you can answer these questions at the same pace as the Chaser or better, you and your money make it to the final round.
In the final round, whichever of the three team members haven’t been caught answer, as a team, as many questions as they can correctly in two minutes. Then, the Chaser has two minutes to answer more. If they do answer more, the bank disappears and you go home empty-handed. If they don’t, you split the collected money.
Question: How did you prep for the show in the weeks leading up? And how about on that day? Or is this something you can’t prepare for, as in, it’s a lifetime in the making?
Phil Wrighthouse: I’ve played trivia, hosted trivia and written trivia. I know a fair amount. By the time I knew I was going to be on, there wasn’t a ton of time to study. I watched episodes from the first two seasons with my wife to discuss strategy and practice some. I tried to study some geography, because that’s my weakest spot. But, at the end of the day, my philosophy was that I was either going to know stuff or not.
Question: Tell about that taping? Was it all nerves? Total calm? Something in between?
Phil Wrighthouse: It was definitely more on the calm end of things, which seems counterintuitive. You think going in you’ll be nervous that you don’t know any answers ever. But the cast and crew did an amazing job of keeping us calm, prepping us for what was going to happen, just talking to us as we were waiting for camera resets. Once I made it onto the show itself, everything else was kind of icing on the cake. I don’t want to say a ton about the taping but that the set is as cool as it looks in person and Sara Haines, the host, is as truly nice and awesome as she seems.
Question: Ken Jennings is gone this season after two seasons on the show. Could you take him?
Phil Wrighthouse: Maybe. “The Chase” is all about speed. “Jeopardy” asks 61 questions a game if they get to them all. “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” asks less than half of that, and, in most versions, you have help and time to deliberate. “The Chase” asks over 100 questions of its three contestants and its Chaser. It’s not just knowing the answer, it’s knowing them quickly. Ken, in the first two seasons of the show, would really try to pull an answer out if he was hunting for it, but that might take five or so seconds off the clock. On “The Chase,” time is literally money. He knows more than me, of course, but it would have been a fun fight.
Question: A game show nerd. What was your initial gateway drug into that world?
Phil Wrighthouse: Game shows were always on in our house growing up. My mom was a teacher, like me, so she was on summer break when I was. Game shows were on all the time. “The Price is Right” is the easy answer, of course. It’s such a reliable show, even now. It’s relatable, easy to pick up. Heck, you don’t even really have to audition for it. You just show up in line for a taping and if they like you, you’re on. It’s universal.
When I was a kid, when most kids wanted to be firefighters or policemen when they grew up, I legitimately wanted to be a game show host. There’s something about being the pillar of the whole thing. The timing, the rhythm, the moving parts. It was great to watch Sara Haines, host of “The Chase,” do what she does. She’s fantastic at it.
Question: What’s your favorite game show? Guilty pleasure game show?
Phil Wrighthouse: My favorite of all time is any version of “$100,000 Pyramid.” If you find any episodes with Dick Clark hosting, it’s a masterclass on game show hosting and just game design. That game is all about nuance. HOW you say something is just as important as what you say. And, Dick was always ready to dissect what went wrong or right with a team’s performance but, not in a way that tore them down. He truly loved the game, or at least played the role of that on TV. He cared about it and wanted the people at home to care too.
Question: Come on, you can tell us: How did you do?
Phil Wrighthouse: 27 pages. That’s how long the contract was that I had to sign that said they can sue me if I tell. My lips are sealed.
What’s next: “The Chase” airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, on ABC and the next day on Hulu.
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