Jason Keil

Jason Keil is a writer whose work has been published in the Phoenix New Times, AZCentral.com, Phoenix Magazine, and OnMilwaukee.com. He also co-hosts the podcast What The Fork.

Have Your Drew Spayed and Neutered: My Price Is Right Experience

    Drew Carey was on drugs.

    George Gray, the announcer for The Price Is Right for nearly five years, humorously made it clear the comedian and host of television’s longest running game show had injured his shoulder and was on painkillers. The excited crowd, dressed in the homemade costumes and silly t-shirts that have made The Price Is Right such an enduring show, laughed as they anxiously waited for Carey to take the stage.

    I found it hard to keep my excitement at the pitch Gray and the stage crew wanted me to maintain. I was still recovering from running the Los Angeles Marathon only two days before. When my wife and I reached CBS Television City on an unseasonably warm Los Angeles spring morning, we had no idea that the journey inside of the Bob Barker Studio would take over four hours. Standing and sitting for the length of the uncut version of Heaven’s Gate outside a television studio had wore me down.

    A wave of disappointment hit me. I had been obsessing about this moment for over three decades. The Price Is Right, with its kitschy music and silly pricing games, was a show that I have loved since I was four years of age. I would take sick days from school if I had a hunch that “Plinko,” the fun game where contestants drop chips to win cash, would be played on that day’s episode.

    On a personal level, The Price Is Right was a program that united generations of our family. On trips to my paternal grandparents’ house, we would drop everything for an hour to play along with the audience members. We’d scream at their giant Zenith tube television in an effort to prevent a cardboard Alpine climber from falling off a mountain on “Cliff Hangers” or guess a lock combination on “Safe Crackers.” We believed that we could magically coerce the giant wheel contestants would spin to get on the Showcase Showdown to land on the coveted $1.00 square.

    My grandmother passed away over two years ago, but she was on my mind as my wife and I approached our second hour of waiting in line. As we signed our waivers, took our souvenir pictures, and passed the CBS Network gift shop, I imagined my Grandma Keil complaining about how all this waiting seemed to be designed to wring a few extra bucks from the audience. 

    Being the pop-culture obsessive that I am, I tried to take it all in. You could tell who had been through the line before. They came armed with water bottles and sack lunches. A couple of kindly gentlemen came prepared with Halloween-sized candy bars to pass out to the over 300 people in line. I overheard stories from people who traveled from all across the country to get that slim chance of winning a sports car or a vacation to beautiful Wales. We even bonded with a family from Brooklyn as we sweated in the mid-afternoon sun only to see them in back in line, this time in the rain, at Disneyland the next day.

    We approached the audition portion of our journey. A gentleman wearing a nice shirt and a badge asked us our names and what we do for a living. I declined to share my day job working for a large insurance company; my side hustle as a freelance music journalist seemed to be the more interesting choice. It ended up backfiring when he asked if I watched the Grammy Awards the previous evening

    “A little,” I responded.

    “A music journalist who doesn’t watch the Grammys? That’s odd,” he observed.

    “Not when he’s on vacation,” I smartly replied.

    He moved on. It was then I knew my chances to reach Contestant’s Row were now Slim to none, with Slim leaving to try his luck at Let’s Make A Deal.

    We finally reached the studio and took our seats, and I attempted to set aside my earlier disappointment. I couldn’t believe how small it was! TV really does change our perspective on things. Gray then gave us the rundown: if you make it on stage, follow Carey and don’t hug him today (shoulder injury). The Tucson native then took his place at the announcer booth and Carey greeted us with smiles and appreciation.

    It was hard to tell if the man who made Cleveland famous always told mildly inappropriate jokes or just on days when he’s slightly high on painkillers. I could barely hear him over the audience cheering and shouting. A stagehand holding the cue cards of the names Gray was calling to Come On Down encouraged us to be as loud as we could. The taping was almost exactly like a television episode, except the parts where Carey swore were edited out of the final show. During commercial breaks, Carey would tell funny road trip stories, thank Army veterans who were in the audience, and give out free career advice between pricing games. He told the group of frat boys dressed in gym gear not to go to college.

    It was nice to see one of the gentlemen who gave out candy bars be the first name called. It gave the audience a reason to cheer for someone. Sadly there was no Plinko played. I did manage to get a little swept up in it all and there was sincerity behind my incessant screaming. We were witness to some rare The Price Is Right moments. There was a two-way $1.00 tie during a wheel spin. During the Showcase Showdown, both contestants overbid. No one was going home with a new pontoon boat.

    When it was all over, we were very happy Carey showed up to work despite his painful injury. The lead-up wasn’t exciting, but for an hour we experienced television magic.