USA TODAY International Edition

I made a ‘ Deal’ and I won, even dur­ing the pan­demic

- Sandy Hooper Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Monty Hall · Wayne Brady · Facebook · California · Southern California · Skype · Volkswagen · Volkswagen

I don’t need to tell you that the news cy­cle has been re­lent­less this past year, es­pe­cially for jour­nal­ists. The last thing that I want to do after a long day of in­tense news cov­er­age is watch more news ( sorry, bosses). So thanks to the pan­demic, I’ve rekin­dled my love for game shows. Watch­ing peo­ple win money, va­ca­tions and cars is ex­actly the en­ergy and joy I need.

I’ve loved game shows ever since I dis­cov­ered the Game Show Net­work when I was younger. The witty hosts, ex­cited con­tes­tants and fun prizes are enough to get any­one hooked. Add in crazy cos­tumes, and “Let’s Make a Deal” eas­ily be­came my favorite. The re­runs with orig­i­nal host Monty Hall seemed like the most fun and ex­cit­ing place to be. As I got older, I was happy to see that Wayne Brady would carry the torch and host the “big­gest party in day­time tele­vi­sion.” With my new pan­demic work- from- home life, I was finally able to watch as they aired and wished that some­day I could be a con­tes­tant.

In April, I stum­bled across a Face­book post look­ing for peo­ple in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia who were in­ter­ested in be­ing con­tes­tants on the show. I quickly sent a mes­sage ex­press­ing my in­ter­est, ap­plied and re­ceived word back the same day confirm­ing a Skype in­ter­view the next day.

I thought I nailed it, but didn’t hear back for months and figured my dreams were dashed – un­til a Mon­day in De­cem­ber when I re­ceived a phone call ask­ing if I wanted to be a con­tes­tant. My tap­ing would be three days later, as long as I could quickly take and pass a COVID- 19 test.

The only thing stand­ing in the way of my bucket list dream was a test for a deadly virus rav­aging the world. But I re­ceived a neg­a­tive re­sult and was cleared for the show. ( My episode aired Feb. 18.) The up­side to the COVID- 19 safety pro­to­cols? The show had greatly re­duced the au­di­ence, from which con­tes­tants are cho­sen, to just 10 peo­ple from the usual crowd of 150 scream­ing, cos­tumed fans. Ev­ery­one in the au­di­ence would have the op­por­tu­nity to play a game at some point dur­ing the show.

On Thurs­day I pulled up to the lot dressed in my re­quired cos­tume. Due to the short no­tice, I cob­bled to­gether all of my gear from the garage to dress up as a rock climber. It was an ex­pen­sive cos­tume. We were in­structed to keep our masks on as pro­duc­ers es­corted us to in­di­vid­ual hold­ing pens, where au­dio tech­ni­cians and other pro­duc­ers pre­pared us for the show and tried to hype us up.

Once we were seated in the stu­dio in our so­cially dis­tanced pods, we were in­structed to re­move our masks when tap­ing was about to start and to put them back on when we cut for

com­mer­cial breaks. Gone was the chance to hug or high five Brady, an­nouncer Jonathan Mangum and model Tiffany Coyne. We were told where to stand if we were called down to play, six feet away from the hosts. Be­hind us on screens were the new pan­demic ad­di­tion of “at- homies,” con­tes­tants cho­sen to at­tend the tap­ing from their homes over video chat, and who also had a chance to play.

I was the first con­tes­tant called to kick off the show. I was so ex­cited and in­cred­i­bly ner­vous. I stum­bled through my in­tro­duc­tion and ex­plained that I ac­tu­ally use all of this gear to climb rocks and hike moun­tains. Wayne thought I was a spe­lunker, much to the dis­may of my climb­ing friends

As my “deal” be­gan, I chose the mini cur­tain and won a mu­sic room val­ued at $ 6,037. I sat down and cheered for my fel­low con­tes­tants as they played and won their deals. Only one con­tes­tant lost ( or “zonked”) in the en­tire episode.

When it came time for the Big Deal, a con­tes­tant named Leah was in first place after win­ning $ 10,000. Dur­ing the com­mer­cial break, she broke down in tears, say­ing that she and her hus­band re­ally needed the money. Leah kept her win­nings and did not go for the Big Deal. I was next in line in terms of prize win­nings, and I said good­bye to the mu­sic room.

My boyfriend offered some sage ad­vice be­fore I left home and told me to go for Door No. 3. Wayne started with Door No. 2, a photo stu­dio val­ued at $ 7,048. I’ve watched enough episodes to know that if they called my door next, I most likely did not have the Big Deal.

This is about the mo­ment where my brain ceased func­tion­ing. Wayne called on Door No. 1. All I saw were the tips of skis and I started ask­ing Wayne if I won the Big Deal.

I had.

Door No. 3 opened, un­veil­ing a brand new Volk­swa­gen Tiguan. I screamed, jumped and even­tu­ally sprinted to my new ve­hi­cle.

After the show, my fel­low con­tes­tants con­grat­u­lated me and we ex­changed some con­tact in­for­ma­tion. Un­be­knownst to me, an­other con­tes­tant who also works for my com­pany was on the show and left a win­ner. Our chance to com­pare notes was cut short as we were urged not to linger, a snap back to the re­al­ity that we were in a pan­demic.

I’ve no­ticed in the last few months that game shows have more fre­quently ap­peared on tele­vi­sion, with shows such as “Deal” in prime- time slots. The en­ergy definitely isn’t the same as a crowded live au­di­ence, but I’m glad they’re mak­ing this work.

As Leah said dur­ing her “deal,” we haven’t had excitement in a very, very long time.

 ?? PRO­VIDED BY SANDY HOOPER ?? Sandy Hooper wait­ing in a so­cially dis­tanced pen be­fore tap­ing.
PRO­VIDED BY SANDY HOOPER Sandy Hooper wait­ing in a so­cially dis­tanced pen be­fore tap­ing.
 ?? PRO­VIDED BY FRE­MAN­TLE ?? Sandy Hooper, a USA TO­DAY se­nior pro­ducer, is a con­tes­tant on the game show “Let's Make a Deal”
PRO­VIDED BY FRE­MAN­TLE Sandy Hooper, a USA TO­DAY se­nior pro­ducer, is a con­tes­tant on the game show “Let's Make a Deal”

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