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quiz show
taking a swing at the world series (of pop culture)
by mike julianelle
pop culture

You've done it. You've sat there on your couch watching your favorite game show, shoving Doritos in your face, shouting answers at the screen. You've mocked the loser contestants as they flubbed easy questions, secure in the fact that you would wipe the floor with every single one of them.

What if you had a shot to put your money where your mouth is? Would you be able to overcome your nerves and recall the right answers in time, in front of a crowd, on camera, with bright lights in your face? Would you take the chance? Or would you rather protect your ego and preserve your hollow, arrogant fantasy of dominance rather than risk failure?

Just before Christmas, I formed a team to try out for the second season of VH1's "World Series of Pop Culture" game show. My teammates and I had all watched the show the first time around and each of us had participated in the ritual I described above, complete with mockage, shouting, and Doritos. We were confident we had what it takes to not only make the show, but win it.

We completed the written applications, which asked us our reasons for trying out (money/fun/ego), how we thought we'd do (total domination), what were some of our favorite pop culture obsessions (the usual), etc. Some questions targeted our team dynamic and overall personalities, and we had to include pictures. This was for a TV show, after all, and America don't want no boring, lifeless uglies on the screen. Apparently, however, they do want weirdos.

Shortly after submitting our applications, we received an audition appointment, and were told that we should put our best foot forward as a team. They suggested matching outfits or uniforms. Um, hell no? We chose to skip this step (unless you count Jeff and Sujal's matching velvet blazers as a uniform. I think it was pure coincidence.) Maybe we'll dress like circus clowns if we make the show, but until then I'll leave my Voltron outfit at home, okay, VH1? So we arrived gimmick-free, dignity intact. And we stuck out like porn stars at a virgin convention.

Most teams had no qualms about spending their money and sacrificing their shame on matching t-shirts. We saw tons. Some teams actually sported full-fledged costumes, like the Cobra Kai, who wore jumpsuits and headbands. We had plans to hit the town after our 6pm appointment, so we dressed appropriately, i.e., like normal people. And we stuck out like snipers at a speed-stacking tournament.

The appointment was one part test, one part audition. If your team passed the written exam you were granted an interview with the producers. They wouldn't divulge the grading process or passing numbers, but we were told that each team member had to hit a certain score to qualify, and should we all do so, the total team score needed to add up to the mysterious passing grade.

Before putting pencil to paper, we were made to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I will attempt to describe things as best I can without violating said agreement and getting sued for something as ridiculous as revealing the answer to a question about Lance Bass' love life.

We had 15 minutes to answer 50 short answer questions. The topics ranged from movies to reality TV to "a little bit of Monica by my side." I aced it. And so did my teammates. After finishing up and then waiting 20 minutes as the entire session's tests were graded in another room, we were informed that only 2 teams had passed the test. We were later told, by one of the outrageously hot young women that was running the test sessions (hi Jessica!), that 850 teams took the test in NYC and only 28 passed. Our team, StupidLisaGarbageFace, was one of two at our session of 30+ to pass. Sho'nuff!

Onto the interview. The questions they asked were similar to the ones on the application, and we knew they wanted to see some some charm and charisma. Our team had both. We shared some insight into our team name selection process (it took forever to settle on the name, from a "Simpsons" episode in which Bart tries to name a doll made in Lisa's likeness), joked about getting drunk after our interview (we weren't joking) and mentioned the possibility of wearing matching velvet jackets as team uniforms -- with nothing underneath. Which may or may not have been a good call...

Ten smooth-as-silk minutes later we left the interview on a cloud and immediately hit the hotel bar; we knew we'd made it. Not only were we clearly the most normal team there, Sujal is Indian! I mean, come on! We were supposed to hear by 10:30 that night if we'd made the next day's 8 team regional tournament, but it was less than a half-hour later when we got the call that we were in. From 850 teams down to 8, and StupidLisaGarbageFace was one of them.

The next morning we reported back for our first game. All we had to do was beat three teams and we were guaranteed a spot on the show, which films in late March. The mini-tournament was structured the same way as the show itself, so we knew the drill. The category is announced, the team chooses who will tackle it, and that person faces off against someone from the other team. If you lose your category, you leave the stage, and your team is left without you for the rest of the game, which, depending on categories, can be a major liability.

We managed to handle some category mismanagement and grit out a win in our first game against a team that had a strange obsession with Ryan Reynolds. I cannot stress enough how crucial good category management is. Obviously, everyone that made the tourney was well versed in pop culture minutiae, but if one team member is best at music and another at movies, you have to be careful to field the categories in such a way as to save the music man for the music category. In our second game, we failed to do that, and were dispatched by a team of men I can only describe as not likely to appear in Tiger Beat. Maybe Cat Fancy.

With our defeat, we were left to pray that the producers, who were to choose 9 wildcard teams from the 35 that lost in their regional tournaments (NYC, L.A, Chicago, Austin, Orlando), would recognize the fact that we were three telegenic, charming guys who aced the written test and got done in by some unfortunate decision making. Plus, Sujal is Indian! Come on!

The fact is that the teams that made the regional tourney were pretty well-matched and perfectly capable of answering most of the questions. The three major deal-breakers, as far as I could tell, seemed to be: personality, demographics (the test sessions were dominated by men, so any decent tournament-qualifying teams with female members probably had a great shot at the show) [Editor's Note: Aw, dammit!], and, when it came to winning matches, category management. If you watched the first season of the show, you saw Team Cheetara annoy their way through their matches. We were aware of the need to stand out, but were confident we could do it without being obnoxious, wearing ridiculous outfits, and completely embarrassing ourselves.

I guess not. We got word at the end of February that we didn't make the cut. From 850 NYC teams down to the final 4 and then out.

So now we are faced with the depressing reality that screaming the answers at the TV during the 2nd season of VH1's "World Series of Pop Culture" will be no where near as fun as it used to be. We chased the dream, but were denied. Now it's time to chase the dragon, McKay-style.

Maybe we should have changed our team name to "Harold and Kumar and Harold." Sujal is Indian. Come on!


Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".

more about mike julianelle


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topic: pop culture
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dave lentell
3.12.07 @ 11:12a

Dude... You have a Voltron costume? I'm jealous.

Seriously though... you took your shot. Heck of a lot more than most folks ever attempt to do or get a chance to do because Jeopardy will NEVER let them try out (not that I'm bitter).

Sorry you didn't make it, but congrats on the effort.

joe procopio
3.12.07 @ 2:35p

I'm actually really impressed.

mike julianelle
3.12.07 @ 3:05p

Aw, thanks. The way we lost was totally frustrating, because it had less to do with what we know than with strategy problems. Also, during the tourney, I squeaked by on some categories that aren't my strengths (reality TV, one hit wonders) and never really got a chance to field questions that are in my kitchen (movies).

joe procopio
3.12.07 @ 3:43p

Anyone who watches VH1 reality (especially celebreality) will tell you these shows have nothing to do with the content - it's all about the freaky.

It's like that time they had the VJ contest at MTV and picked that junkie freak of nature (Jesse?) but also quietly hired the runner-up who knew what he was doing and was good at it. The runner-up is still on televsion, I last saw him hosting one of those movie presentation deals.

Now I'm rambling, but Chuck Klosterman's insight on this in Sex, Drugs... is spot on.

mike julianelle
3.12.07 @ 3:48p

Wow, I totally forgot about Jesse! And yeah, that other dude hosts like DVD on TV on FX or something, and it's embarassing, the banter he has to spit with that blond chick.

heather millen
3.12.07 @ 3:52p

Do you have any idea how many times I told these boys over the course of the weekend, "Remember your category strategy!?"

But, ah well. It made for a fun weekend in NYC. I hung out with Sujal's wife throughout and we kept getting these calls from the boys that they got into the next round. And the next, and the next... It was wild! And not to doubt the boys, but with these things, we assumed they'd take the test, fail like everyone else, and be out to dinner by 8. But it just kept going!

Until, sadly, it didn't.


alex b
3.12.07 @ 3:59p

Wow, what a roll! Props to you for going for it and navigating the VH1 freakshow. Naming yourselves "Harold and Kumar and Harold" would have been brilliant. (I'd crack up at "We Have a Token Minority", but maybe they wouldn't go for that.)

mike julianelle
3.12.07 @ 4:25p

We felt like the Harold name was too "on the nose" and might turn them off, as it was clearly pandering. And while we were nervous about our name (StupidLisaGarbageFace), it was original and got laughs EVERY TIME it was read aloud, from spectators, the producers/casting people, and the opposing teams.

alex b
3.12.07 @ 4:49p

StupidLisaGarbageFace... that's badass :-)

tracey kelley
3.12.07 @ 4:54p

What an awesome experience. Can you try again next season?

mike julianelle
3.12.07 @ 5:05p

We can, but the odds of everything breaking just right again? Not great. But I'll prolly try again.

Things were going so well. And if we managed the categories right, and had the right people up there at the right time, we probably would have won the second match. Sujal took movies when he should have let Jeff take it. Jeff knew them all but instead watched Sujal bomb, and then Jeff was all that was left for a music category and Sujal knew them all, but was already done.


I got burned by an obscure Mork and Mindy question, and we were playing a team of 40 year olds, and they knew it. SUCK!

jason smith
3.12.07 @ 7:58p

Watch where you post. This is Jason from Needs More Cowbell, captain of the Cat Fancy team that beat you in NYC. We were selected as the alternate team for the WSOPC and will be in NYC for the show next week.

I'd like to clear up some details. First off, we may be ugly and freaky, but we're not a team of 40 year olds. My brother is 41, but my friend and I are only 31. It's amazing that, old farts that we are, we did well in the tournament without our hearing aids. Yup, we'll be collecting social security checks soon. I really don't see how our looks and age had anything to do with how we did in the tryouts. Second, you weren't "done in by an obscure Mork and Mindy question". You needed to get that one right to even tie the round. Our guy Derek getting the Pierce Brosnan question was really the dagger for you. And aren't all of the WSOPC questions "obscure"? Isn't that the point of asking them?

This whole column seems very bitter and angry - unnecessarily so. We got our butts kicked in the final round, and we were disappointed, but they beat us fair and square, and we were proud that out of all the NYC teams we came in second. We certainly didn't take it personally, as you appear to have. In fact, all three of us thought your team was a bit surly after you were beaten. It's one thing to be upset and disappointed, but it's another thing to make personal attacks. It's uncalled for. Be proud that out of 850 teams you were in the final four. Try out again next year - the casting people will definitely remember you!

You may not have intended anything personal in your comments, but realize that this is a public forum, and sometimes the wrong people read posted comments and may feel targeted. I hope that you are able to look back at your experience and take away the positive from it rather than the negative.

mike julianelle
3.12.07 @ 9:29p

Jason: what did you take personally? The 40-year-old comment or the Cat Fancy comment? Neither was particularly harsh and one was even partially true. I didn't say anything about you being "ugly and freaky." I wasn't trying to insult you, I was merely attempting to be funny. Honestly, what does the Cat Fancy comment even mean?

And while I was frustrated by the way things went in the tourney, I am not "bitter and angry," at least no more so than normal. My title, after all, is "Angry Young Man," it just happens to be my style. Feel free to browse my other columns for evidence.

In the Classic TV round, Derek and I both knew every question except the Mork and Mindy question, a show that skews a bit older than most everything else in the so-called "classic tv" category (The A-Team? Cheers? 80s does not equal "classic" in my mind) and was the basis for my 40-year-old comment. Regardless, there's no need to rehash it, I got beat fair and square. What was annoying there was the way Derek seemed to BARELY get "Hannibal" and "Remington Steele" after what seemed to be a struggle, especially as I was waiting in the wings to steal! Whatever.

As I said in the article, and I'm sure you can agree, choosing the right contestant for each category was almost as important as knowing the answers, and that's really where we screwed up, because had we managed that right, we would have at least made it a closer game.

No hard feelings, bud. And good luck in NYC.

robert melos
3.12.07 @ 10:05p

This is awesome. When do we get to see you on America Idol?

russ carr
3.12.07 @ 10:21p

No hard feelings, bud. And good luck in NYC.

WTF is this?!!

We do not train to be merciful here! Mercy is for the weak! Here, in the streets, in competition! A man confronts you - he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy! What is the problem Mr. Julianelle?!

Oh, that's right. You were "StupidLisaGarbageFace"...

And I think you ought to post the Mork and Mindy question to see how many of us could have nailed it.


mike julianelle
3.12.07 @ 10:39p

Um, I don't even think it was that hard of a question, but it was the last question of the category, and therefore (and easily) the hardest of the category. I think it was: "What was the name of the leader of Mork's home planet?" or something.

"But Sensai, I can beat this guy!"

russ carr
3.12.07 @ 10:59p

Oh, man. I could've come up with half a dozen tougher Mork & Mindy questions.

"Out of commission!"

jason smith
3.13.07 @ 5:21p

Yup, no hard feelings. My apologies for sounding a bit upset. Maybe it was because my wife took offense to the Cat Fancy comment. :) Hey, I know I'm ugly!

And winning is a lot of luck, too. My brother, our movie ace, missed a movie question in the finals that both Derek and I knew. It's hitting the right categories and getting stuff you know. I've noticed that winning the coin flip is huge - the last questions in the batch are always brutal, and if you can avoid them, you're much better off. That's what happened in our final game - we lost the toss, and I got stuck with an impossible Shania Twain question as the last one in the round. I don't know if you saw them, but the guys in the bathrobes won the whole thing - I forget their team name.

I was curious how you found out about the 28 teams passing out of 850. We asked and they wouldn't tell us. And, not that I'm being sexist, but I think your comment about taking teams with women on them was spot on. I only saw two teams out of eight with female members in NYC. So if it's that way in every city, the mixed teams certainly had better odds of being chosen, as I'm sure VH1 wants as diverse a show as possible. I also had a little problem with El Chupacabra being asked back - why not give some other teams a chance?

I'll pass on details in NYC as much as I can. I'm sure the confidentiality agreements will forbid me to share much, but I'll tell what I can because I know we'll try out again next year. I hope you do too - you guys certainly have the smarts.

"Win, lose, no matter. You prove point."


adam kraemer
3.13.07 @ 9:33p

A few thoughts:

a) Mike is bitter and angry.

b) There is no such thing as an obscure "Mork and Mindy" question.

c) You were drinking in NYC and thought not to invite me? Now I'm bitter and angry.

robert melos
3.13.07 @ 11:43p

You didn't know the leader of Ork? You'll never be the King of Pop Culture if you don't know the easy stuff.

Still I give you props for even trying out for a game show. How do you think you'd do against a fifth grader on the new Fox game show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

adam kraemer
3.15.07 @ 12:15p

I've never actually seen that show, but it strikes me that the more accurate way to put that is "Can you remember from 20 years ago the stuff this kid studied last week?"

And the answer is Jonathan Winters played Mearth.


mike julianelle
3.15.07 @ 6:04p

I knew Winters played the character but didn't know the character's name.

robert melos
3.15.07 @ 7:51p

Winters played Mork and Mindy's child. The leader of Ork was Orsin, a voice from beyond but never seen.

mike julianelle
3.16.07 @ 9:30a

Ah. There you go.

I never watched Mork and Mindy, total blindspot for me. But it was the oldest show they asked about, probbly the oldest piece of pop culture they asked about PERIOD, over the course of the weekend. Bad luck for me.

jason smith
3.24.07 @ 11:24p

Well, I rescind my comment about El Chupacabra from before. They are totally cool and awesome people. It was probably due to my short-lived frustration about only being the alternate team. Sorry, guys, I didn't mean it!

mike julianelle
3.25.07 @ 11:02a

So, did you guys get a chance to compete, as alternates, or what?

tracey kelley
7.12.07 @ 9:07p

Okay, I've seen a couple of eps of this tonight, and I am certain Mike could have nailed every single question. Get a funky costume and beat 'em all next year, baby!

mike julianelle
7.13.07 @ 8:47a

I have mixed emotions watching the show. It's a little bit easier than the qualifying rounds were, but some of the teams (like Fragile last nite, and El Chupa) don't seem to have what it takes. But, as I state in the column, it's all about what categories you draw.

But despite the fact that I am confident we could handle ourselves very well on the show - and the fact that I know about 90% of the questions AT LEAST - I am kind of glad that I don't have to humiliate myself with litte intro dances and other stuff. No one comes off very well on that show, they seem to emphasize geekiness. Obviously.

But that doesn't mean I might not try out again next year.

tracey kelley
7.13.07 @ 9:37a

The team "...Real and Fabulous?" Totally cowed, and it was painful to watch, considering they were all "we're the pretty ones - no one expects us to be smart." Hell, I answered most of the questions they couldn't, and I'm not sitting around reading "People" in the nail salon once a week.

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