by Hope Madden
It has been ten years since George and I packed our bags for a trip to Orlando to try out for VH1’s “World Series of Pop Culture”—a game show where teams battle each other for the title of biggest movie/music/TV trivia nerd.
My husband and I had watched the first season with our then-14-year-old son Riley and sought to impress him with our heady command of all things trivial. He was duly impressed and mounted an all-out campaign to persuade us to audition for season two.
He didn’t have to try too hard. We flattered ourselves that we easily could have trounced any team from season one—something I’m still hard-pressed to disbelieve. The champion missed questions about Caddyshack, Star Wars and Monty Python.
And you call yourself a nerd!
By comparison, between film reviews and George’s radio gig (a job he’s had since high school, by the way), we know movies and music.
But we did have one big weakness: George and I haven’t watched a TV show since The Sopranos went off the air.
It occurred to me that my friend Martha seems to watch every program on every channel at all times. I proposed the idea to her of joining our team and she nervously accepted.
One problem: my vanity. Martha is stunningly attractive and I realized I didn’t look forward to being the team frump.
Meanwhile, George had asked his friend Dan, who also watches no TV, to join the team. And though Dan’s strengths were basically the same as ours, he’s no prettier than I am. Excellent.
So, we kicked Martha to the curb and Shark Sandwich—named after the Spinal Tap album—was born.
Martha, by the way, took it well since she was hoping the audition wouldn’t come to pass anyway.
Because we were especially weak when it came to reality TV, we hatched a strategy. Whenever we were asked about the subject, we would answer “Flavor Flav.” This was 2007, after all, and he was literally the only reality TV star we knew.
I found this strategy so amusing that I considered using it in everyday life.
Officer friendly: Do you know how fast you were driving, ma’am?
Me: Flavor Flav?
In Orlando, hundreds of teams were tested over three days. We’d already passed their online test, which is how we got the Orlando invite. Once there, Shark Sandwich and 39 other squads of wannabes were ushered into a hotel ballroom to take a 50-question exam.
We were given half an hour to complete it, and the top two point-getters would move on to the next round: a face-to-face interview with producers. The other 38 teams would go home and the next 40 teams would move into the ballroom.
My teammates were supremely confident, but I was nervous about the test. I signed a contract, so under penalty of law I cannot divulge any questions. Still, if you don’t know that, say, Keanu Reeves’s character in Point Break was Johnny Utah, former quarterback for The Ohio State University, go ahead and head home.
Shark Sandwich missed a total of three questions, making us one of the two teams to be invited to sit with the ridiculously young VH1 producers.
Again my teammates were supremely confident, and they probably should have been: They’re entertaining. Dan, longtime morning show producer and radio DJ, fronts the Dan Orr Project, a band famous locally for its clever parody songs. During our audition, he sang a bit of “Nights in White Castle” (to the tune of “Nights in White Satin”).
I think the twentysomething producers were amused, and that’s what they were looking for, right?
They wanted teams that would draw interest—love or hate—from an audience. Could the three of us elicit such passion?
Here’s where the beautiful Martha probably would have come in handy.
After our meeting, we were encouraged to wander around the area’s theme parks and wait for a call. If we passed, we’d be one of the eight teams in the local Orlando tournament, with a trip to the big TV tournament in New York on the line for the winning nerds.
We’d had a few cocktails by the time the producers phoned, which makes it all the more surprising that we didn’t unleash a profanity-laced tirade when they rejected us.
No reason was given, so we assumed it was because VH1 felt that America-at-large couldn’t root for a team whose members knew their stuff because of their jobs and not just for the love of trivia.
It was an easier philosophy to accept than many other options—too old, too boring, too drunk.
So we swallowed our pride and watched season two from home. Our main interest was seeing the team that came from our Orlando tryouts: They’re Real and They’re Spectacular. All right, maybe taking a team name from a Seinfeld line was clever, but whether or not they were real, they were far from spectacular.
They didn’t answer a single question correctly. Not one.
They’re Real and They’re Spectacular went out on a question from the TV show “Friends.”
Good lord. Even we knew Ross’s monkey was named Marcel.
Why did they say Flavor Flav?
OK, they didn’t really say that. But I would have respected them more if they had.