First Role: Game Show Contestant

February 2, 2016

Most TV game shows are made in Hollywood, so it makes sense that aspiring actors—a.k.a. Hollywood waitresses and dishwashers—would show up on game shows to get some face time on TV (and maybe win some cash).
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John Ritter appeared on The Dating Game.Appeared as a contestant on: The Dating Game
Story: In 1967 Ritter was a 19-year-old freshman drama student at the University of Southern California when he appeared as “Bachelor Number Three” on The Dating Game. He was a hit with the audience and the bubbly blonde bachelorette—and he won. Prize: a trip to a lakeside resort in Arizona. (Ritter went on to become the Emmy-winning star of Three’s Company, but this was his first time on TV.) Bonus fact: Years later, Ritter revealed that when he and his date—and their chaperone—got to the resort, it was closed. They had to stay in a nearby motel instead.


Appeared as a contestant on: The Price Is Right
Story: In January 2000, Bob Barker gave the “Come on down!” call and Paul went absolutely bonkers, making his way to contestants’ row, screaming, “You’re the man, Bob! You’re my idol!” When he guessed the right price on an item, he went even crazier, leaping onto the stage, putting a hand on Barker’s shoulder, and screaming to the audience, “I’m touching Bob Barker!” And when Barker told him he had a chance to win a car, Paul fell to the ground, then bounded up and jumped around the stage like a wildman…but he didn’t win the car. Bonus fact: In 2004 Paul, star of the AMC hit Breaking Bad, said that right before the show he’d “downed about six cans of Red Bull, because I knew they wanted people with energy. It was not healthy.”


Paul Reubens appeared on The Gong Show. Appeared as a contestant on: The Gong Show
Story: Reubens was a 25-year-old unknown in 1977 when he and fellow comic Charlotte McGinnis got a spot on the offbeat game show The Gong Show. They performed a goofy routine they called “The Hilarious Betty and Eddie”—and the judges loved it: they received the highest possible score and won the top prize of $500. Reubens was such a hit with the host, Chuck Barris, that he appeared on the show 15 times over the next three years. Reubens later said the appearances helped him survive those lean years, before his Pee-Wee Herman character made him a star.


Farrah Fawcett appeared on The Dating Game. Appeared as a contestant on: The Dating Game
Story: In 1968, the 21-year-old Fawcett dropped out of college in Austin, Texas, and went to Hollywood, hoping to make it as a model and an actress. In March 1969, she took the route that many other aspiring stars took and appeared on The Dating Game as a bachelorette. Did it help her career? Maybe: a few months later, she got her first role on a TV series, playing the role of “showgirl #1” on Mayberry R.F.D. Bonus fact: When Fawcett chose “Bachelor Number Two” at the end of that Dating Game episode, the other two bachelors became angry and a brawl broke out, with punches thrown and chairs smashed. It was an April Fools’ Day gag. (The show aired just a few days before April 1.) All three of the bachelors were professional stuntmen.


Kirstie Alley appeared on The Match Game and Password Plus.Appeared as a contestant on: Match Game, Password Plus
Story: Alley moved from Kansas to L.A. in the 1970s to pursue her interest in the Church of Scientology. While there, she developed an interest in acting. (Her first TV role: an uncredited “handmaiden” on the 1978 science-fiction comedy series Quark.) In 1979 Alley, 28, went on The Match Game, where she was introduced as an interior designer. And she kicked butt, winning $6,000. (In 1980 she appeared on another game show—Password Plus—but only won $800.) Bonus fact: It took Alley another two years to get her first credited acting job, but it was a doozy: in 1982 she got the part of the Vulcan Saavik in the smash hit Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.


John Hamm appeared on The Big DateAppeared as a contestant on: The Big Date
Story: Hamm moved from St. Louis to Hollywood in 1995, at the age of 24, to pursue an acting career—inspired, in part, by the success of his high school friend Paul Rudd. A year later, he appeared as a contestant on The Big Date, a dating show that ran for a year on the USA Network. It didn’t help his acting career: Hamm got just one paid acting job in his first five years in Hollywood. (When he appeared on The Big Date, Hamm was working as a set decorator…for soft-core porn films.) Bonus fact: During Hamm’s The Big Date appearance, the future Mad Men star was turned down—by two different women.
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