Inside USD

Professor ‘Falls Down,’ But It’s Game Show Fun

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Patton Oswalt.

Those two words, the actor/comedian who voiced the character of rat chef Remy in the animated movie “Ratatouille,” was University of San Diego Professor Eric Pierson’s downfall — literally.

After battling a contestant in a good back-and-forth duel in NBC’s word-oriented trivia game show “Who’s Still Standing?” Monday night, Pierson’s fate — the floor becomes a trap door when a contestant misses a question — concluded with him dropping eight feet into a waiting mass of foam padding.

“They tape the drop twice,” the veteran communication studies professor said. “It was a lot of fun, though, for me. If you’re not having a good time, then it’s not worth doing.”

The game show, hosted by Ben Bailey of “Cash Cab” TV trivia game show fame, had its season finale Monday after an eight-episode run that started in late December. Pierson said he did the taping that aired for the first time Monday night back in June.

“I responded to an online request,” he said. ‘I drove up to Los Angeles and took the test. If you do well on the test, then they put you in a mock version of the game. They put it on tape to see how you do. When I went, they did one full day of taping shows and I didn’t get on. They asked me to come back the next day.”

While this was a new game show, it wasn’t the first time Pierson’s appeared on a game show. He had a memorable five-day run on “High Rollers” with veteran Wink Martindale serving as show host. Pierson appeared on that show shortly after he and his wife, Shirley, a USD alumna, were married. The newlyweds used the money he won to put a down payment on a house.

Shirley noted Monday that in one High Rollers episode where Eric won a fur coat as part of a $15,150 prize total, that she still owns the coat.

Mary Boyd, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, hosted a USD viewing party Monday for Pierson’s appearance in Frank’s Lounge. Students, faculty and staff colleagues joined Pierson to see the results.

The object of the game is for one contestant, who is surrounded by a circle of 10 others, to one by one eliminate them to receive the $1 million top prize by answering a series of trivia questions. If any of the 10 contestants defeats the main contestant, they win $10,000. Four contestants tried and failed before Pierson had his shot.

Pierson, who did get to say that he’s from Chicago and that he’s a communication studies college professor — the University of San Diego part was edited out, he said — was put into a “professor” costume that included a bright yellow shirt with a jacket complete with long elbow patches and he wore a beret, too. While admittedly not his favorite look, he did have the look of a poised contestant.

Pierson answered eight questions correctly and impressively — everything from knowing what object brings a person bad luck for seven years (mirror), the AOL voiceover (You’ve Got Mail) and even what was the name of the dolls whose motto is “The Girls with a Passion for Fashion” (Bratz). He also successfully answered Garrison Keillor’s famed radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, when his opponent didn’t and passed the turn to Pierson.

He wasn’t so lucky, though, when his opponent passed a second time on the Patton Oswalt question. The only letter hint that had been given was the “a” in the second word.

Still, though, Pierson was smiling Monday when it was all over. He’d been sworn to secrecy as to how he fared until the show aired. Again, he had fun.

“Doing something like this reminds me that some academics can take themselves so seriously,” he said.

Several members of the viewing party congratulated him on his appearance and a few also consoled him. Said one of his students as she left Frank’s Lounge: “Good job, Dr. Pierson. It’s OK, I didn’t know the answer, either.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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