My family was never much of a TV watching bunch. Time in front of the telly was fairly strictly meted out, and we were one of the few families I knew where The Box was banished to its own room and the living room was reserved for quiet reading and conversation. My siblings and I would greedily snatch time for a handful of shows after school – Gilligan’s Island, Hogan’s Heroes and programmes of that ilk were favourites. My sister and I bonded over Star Trek, and the whole family would gather to watch the occasional hockey game. On the periphery of our watching habits were the game shows, enjoyed but not in a devotional way, and I grew up watching snippets of classics like Let’s Make A Deal, the Family Feud and the granddaddy of them all, The Price Is Right. I remember the day when the host, Bob Barker, stopped dying his hair and appeared on stage sporting a crown of snowy white down. An avid animal rights fan, he finished every show with the refrain “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered” which I can’t recall without hearing his voice in my head saying it.
When I saw that the Price Is Right was doing a live tour I knew we had to go so on one rainy Saturday morning Long and I were on our way to the General Motors Centre in Oshawa to see if we could be the next contestants to “come on down”!
I had been to the GM Centre once before for a comedy show and I knew from experience that the restaurants in the downtown core fill up quickly so I did a quick search and found the Berry Hill Food Co. which kept popping up with consistently high revues so I made a reservation for dinner. Long had pored over the PiRL website and discovered that if we wanted to be contestants we had to show up a couple hours before the doors opened to register. Now, it didn’t seem right to travel all the way to the show without even bothering to get a chance to win cash and prizes, so we made our way out with hours to spare and STILL were greeted by a massive line up that wound around the building. The line was so long we thought we might actually miss our reservations, but the PiRL crew clearly had things under control and while the wait was long it moved quickly, winding around the centre itself and then zigzagging through an indoor ice rink that had boards laid down to protect the ice. The line up was full of eager potential contestants, some with specially printed T-Shirts (one group had a “if you don’t pick me, pick my husband”, and “if you don’t pick me, pick my mother” etc) and hand lettered signs. There were a couple of bridal parties and the crowd appeared largely female but not overwhelmingly so, maybe 6:1.
As we were waiting in line I was musing to Long that if called I would make a TERRIBLE contestant. I have in my life leased one car and never bought one new so I have not a single clue how much they cost. I rarely shop in traditional supermarkets – farmer’s markets and organic food shops are my purview, with No Frills for the household paper and such. I book my own travel a la carte, so have little idea how much a package vacation costs. I would fail, miserably. That said, I was pretty excited to try.
Once we were finally registered and took some snaps by the sign we made our way to the restaurant. Slightly off the beaten path (even for Oshawa!) and housed in a tiny nondescript storefront, we arrived at the empty restaurant to realize our fears of not being fed before showtime were unfounded. The place was charming, small with a handful of tables, and open kitchen and a real diner vibe.
There was a single bearded chef and a lovely waiter who took us through the menu. Much of their food is locally sourced, their pasta is made on site and the menu was comprehensive and filled with things I wanted to try. We split an appetizer of BC Spot prawns on toast with chorizo and garlic butter which was outstanding. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and the chorizo provided a fabulous smoky spicy burst of flavour. Long opted for the fish special, a “Catch & Chips” that featured cod that day and I (who am not really a pasta person) selected the Seafood Arrabiata. The dish was deep and filled with perfectly cooked shrimp, octopus, mussels and scallops, bathed in a slightly spicy tomato sauce. The wonder was the pasta itself. Made on site only a few hours prior, the noodles alone were remarkably tasty. They would have made a delicious meal all on their own adorned with a bit of butter. I finished every bite, and was groaning when the lovely waiter came to tell us about the desserts which included peanut butter ice cream pie and a Mars Bar ice cream pie. Well, clearly THAT had to happen and we made short work of them both.
Then it was back in to the stormy night to try to win some fabulous prizes. Long and I had excellent seats on the floor and the place was bursting with anticipation. The MC came out to warm up the crowd. He was a comedian named Andy Martello and it was his job to call down the contestants. He gave a quick “how to” about this very thing (apparently you should lose your cool in a big way), and showed a highlight reel of people freaking out and doing cartwheels and “the worm” on their way to Contestant’s Row.
Then the host was introduced, a very LA, spray tanned guy named Todd Newton who evidently had won an Emmy. I could not possibly imagine for what so I googled him. Apparently not only has he hosted a multitude of shows and won an Emmy for having done so, he is also a published author and philanthropist. With a shit load of tattoos that were carefully covered for the show. I had prepare myself to dislike him, but he was actually quite funny, self deprecating and quick witted so I ended up warming to him considerably.
In the original broadcast version a single new contestant is called to the panel of four once there is a bidding winner. In the live version the entire panel of four is replaced, so there are more people called from the audience and each panellist only has a single shot at the stage. This stage version had all the classic games including Plinko and my old favourite (if only for the excellent theme song) Cliffhanger . The stage looked the same as it did on TV, complete with the big wheel.
The energy in the arena was amazing – people were screaming and shouting and cheering. Every time they called a new panel I was CONVINCED they would call Long (for some reason I didn’t ever feel like I would be and I was OK with that). Some of the contestants were great and some were terrible. The host actually broke with traditional and refused to let a confused contestant bid $89.00 on a completely crap kid’s fly fishing rod. He made her take another try and she was STILL $6.00 over at her second guess of $29.00. After a fun couple of hours where I proved my mettle by secretly winning Cliffhanger and deeply failing to bid appropriately at the Showcase Showdown where some young girl who looked barely our of her teens won with a bid that I thought was thousands of dollars too low, we made our way home. I confessed to Long that the day felt complete by the time we hit the restaurant, and the show itself was icing on the cake. I had FAR more fun that I was expecting to, and I might even go again even if I don’t write about it. It was tonnes of fun and at some point it might be MY turn to COME ON DOWN!!!!!