Associate Professor of Communication Studies Eric Pierson, PhD, received an intriguing email one afternoon. A new television game show was seeking contestants with a specific job title—college professor. He decided to respond.
"I took the request for college professors to be tongue-in-cheek," Pierson said. "I think as academics we can sometimes take ourselves too seriously, but I seldom pass up an opportunity to laugh at myself."
After a trip to Los Angeles, which involved a general knowledge test and a screen test, producers gave Pierson the thumbs up. He was invited to appear on NBC's "Who's Still Standing?," a trivia show hosted by Ben Bailey of "Cash Cab."
The show begins with ten contestants, each answering questions at an increasing level of difficulty. A correct answer adds cash to the grand prize, but an incorrect answer opens a trap door, sending the contestant plummeting through the stage. The last person standing can take away up to $1 million!
Pierson has won some strange things on TV game shows. Here's a list of his non-cash prizes:
- A case of spray paint
- Lacquer furniture
- Golf clubs
- Folding bikes.
So, how does a contestant remain calm with a prize like that at stake?
"I think my greatest strength as a contestant is that I never forget it's a game," Pierson said. "The purpose of any game is to have fun. If you win some money that is always a good thing, but you have to be having a good time doing it.""My strategy is always the same; have fun."
Pierson is a veteran of TV game shows. He appeared on "Catch Phrase" in 1985, and on "High Rollers" in 1987. He did well on both of those shows, winning $1,500 and $35,000 respectively.
"High Rollers was a great deal of fun because I was newly married and won enough money for a down payment on our first home," Pierson said.
"On the second day, I won a cash prize of $10,000 with a single roll of the dice," Pierson said. "My wife Shirley was in the audience and I could hear her screaming. I was on the show for three more days after I won the big money, but I don't remember very much after that emotional moment."
Pierson relives that emotional moment each semester, when he gives a lesson on game shows.
"I use my experiences to call attention to the fact that game shows, like most things on television, are carefully crafted experiences," Pierson said. "The outcomes are always left to chance, but almost everything else is produced and controlled. I want the students to be aware of the constructed experience and ask questions connected to why the experience is crafted one way as opposed to another."
- Anne Malinoski ‘11