Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What a Job Did For My Game Show Audition

This was my thought in the car yesterday and I am so happy I realized this because this validates some of the stuff I have been writing in my 4th book. The concepts I have stated say that working and living within one's comfort zone will slowly expand the ability to function outside of it. The example I thought of is perfect proof.

I will start by telling you about my first game show audition. This was back in 2001 and The Weakest Link had just debuted in America. Within a couple months the NBC auditioning crew was in Saint Louis so Emily (the girlfriend I would eventually brake up with on Christmas via text message) and I went to audition.

The local NBC station was there outside filming the lines and somewhere in my house I have a VHS tape of the line and I can be seen clear as day and, well, I look as if I am staring death in the eyes. Truly I am motionless in the line and have virtually no life about me.

At this point in time I had not been diagnosed yet and I had no clue as to the reason why I was so stiff nor did I realize just how different I was in the line. Speaking of the line some 500 or so people showed up and it was noisy and all in all it was not that comfortable of a place for me.

Eventually we were ushered inside the audition room and the lead talent scout told us that, "In a moment we will go around the room. This is your chance to show us who you are so stand on a chair, sing, do whatever, but realize that this portion is as important as the written test you will be given after."

Stand on a chair? Sing? Was this an audition for a game show or American Idol? Again, the local NBC station had cameras inside and was filming and once again I looked as stiff as one could be and still have life. The person seated directly in front of me decided to listen to the scout's advice and he jumped up on the table and began to sing his life's story.

I had no idea how to react so I didn't. Per the videographic evidence my body and face went blank and I did not make any movement whatsoever. At the time I was so overwhelmed because I didn't know if what the guy was going was smart, or idiotic. Also, I was panicking because I knew there was no way I could say anything except the facts about myself. I also knew that I wasn't singing because I don't sing in public. On top of all this why would one jump on a table? Isn't that against the rules? And why were people telling jokes making people laugh? This was a trivia game show audition, not an audition for Last Comic Standing!

When it came my turn I was as factual as a courtroom, and about as entertaining as one too. At the time I did not realize that personality accounted for something. That concept didn't even exist in my world. Needless to say that as apparently scared as I was in line, and in the room, my written test abilities were irrelevant and I did not make it to the 2nd stage of the audition which is playing a mock game (Emily didn't either).

Flash forward a year and a couple months and the auditions came back to Saint Louis. Granted, this audition was for the syndicated version starring George Gray instead of Anne Robinson, but nonetheless it was an audition for a game show.

At this point in time I was in the midst of working at a video game store. Why is this important? It is because it was working there that I began to develop the ability to communicate at a different level. My jobs prior required no interactions with others, really, as I was a busboy at a bowling alley and a label applier for VHS tapes at a video duplicator. When I started working at Gamestop though I needed to communicate with the customers and the manager that hired me told me that I was his, "science experiment" (this was so because my job interview was much like my game show interview and I said three different sets of words at the job interview; I said "no" "yes" and "I don't know". I have no idea why he hired me) and that he could fire me, with or without reason, for the first 90 days. Because of this I was in a sink or swim situation so I had to talk.

And talk I did. I quickly became the store's and district's #1 salesman. I fell back on my knowledge of how to get people to trade when I play Monopoly and then it all clicked. If you want to use my "Alias" concept here you could, but this was the dawning of my realization that one has to be somewhat personable to get stuff done in a workplace. For me this, at most times in the video game store was an act, but it was a game and I knew my chances of a sale were greater if I wasn't so factual and bland.

With this knowledge I knew I was going to get to the mock game in this 2nd Weakest Link audition. It was an early audition and I showed up at 7AM. I was supposed to help open the video game store on this day but I was, ahem, "sick".

Using my illness as a tactic when it came time for us to introduce ourselves to the scouts and producers I said, "Hello, I am Aaron Likens and I am sick today, or at least that's what the store manager thinks". With that line I got the laughs I heard other people did the first audition I went to. (I do realize now though that making up fake sicknesses is not cool, I was young at the time :)

While my anxiety was just as high as the first audition I was able to just play it like a sale. I still wasn't diagnosed and I did have thoughts on how other people sang, and told more elaborate jokes about themselves. For me that one line was a stretch and I still wasn't as fluid as I am today, but it worked! After the written test it was time to play the mock game.

This is where the story goes back to much like my first audition. In the mock game they film and I had never been in front of a camera before. I was awestruck by it and my eyes became transfixed with the lens. When it came time to introduce myself I stumbled around and forgot who I was (true story, sadly).

The round we played was 90 seconds and I was asked two questions. The first one was, "How many truths are there in Buddhism?" I had no clue and guessed 7. It was wrong and I don't remember the answer. The 2nd question was, "Sclerosis affects what body part?" At the time there were a ton of ads on television of a skin disorder that sort of sounds like sclerosis (I have no idea how to spell it, sorry) so I said skin and it was incorrect. The correct answer was liver.

While I was the only one to miss both questions I still wasn't voted out. There was this guy who was wearing a tie that had Einstein on it and he missed a physics question so we all voted him out.

Only one round was played and my camera debut was a big bust. I didn't hold my breath for a call from the producers telling me I had made it onto the show. This was good because it never came.

The lesson from this all is the difference I experienced after having experience in the video game store. Because I knew and loved (still do love) video games I was able to have conversations with customers about them. If I had worked at a different retail store I am sure my end result would not have been as good or productive.

In the end it all worked out and that experience I got has certainly allowed me to become who I am today. If I had not been a "science experiment" I still probably would always been 100% factual and rather lifeless in public. Granted, I am still somewhat stiff and uncomfortable, but given the right circumstances I am able to communicate and able to, well, be more like my 2nd audition and less like my 1st.


  1. I think this is your best post yet!! You really have grown tremendously! I have heard you speak in public and you have the ability to capture your audience with humor and warmth. I didn't realize that you had ever been that 'stiff'.

  2. This is why being with people constantly helps. In my undergrad days, I would say I was by myself 75-80% of the time (and that's a conservative number). However, in OT school and on the days that I have classes with someone I know in my program, I flipped the script and was alone by myself only about 15-20% of the time. I made some contribution to the conversations. But, I also tried to understand the culture of the people that I will be with for the rest of my career. Over time, I had a better idea of when to be factual and when to just let go and joke around (as long as they are not offensive). I use three things to help me- 1. understanding the topic of conversation (hence it will give me an idea on how factual I can be) 2. I pick up on a few keywords or key individuals (in my field, we do drop names sometimes) and try to formulate a decent reply. 3. The location where this conversation takes place. For some places, it can go either way. For some places, however, it is usually pretty clear cut.