Monday, September 3, 2007

My (?) Story: Split Second

Folks who know me well, or who have read my posts on the subject, know that I'm a fan of game shows. What's less well known is that I have family history behind it. You see, my grandmother was a contestant on the Tom Kennedy version of Split Second back in the mid-70s. In fact, my aunt, who was only 16 at the time, sent in the application on my grandmother's behalf, and informed my grandmother that she had been invited to Southern California to try out for the show on the day that I was born (August 8, 1974, better known as the day President Nixon announced his resignation from office, effective the next day).

Although most people today don't remember Split Second, it was one of the most popular shows of its time. And since I had just been born just prior to Grandma's being on the show, she got to brag about becoming a grandmother by mentioning me on the show. Grandma eventually left the show as a five-time undefeated champion, but to tell the story properly, I need to back up a bit.

I've already mentioned that my then-high-schoool-aged aunt sent in the application for my grandmother. This was done without Grandma's knowledge, so she actually had no idea that she'd be on the show until that important day early in August. Grandma arrived in Southern California for her rehearsal and taping in September for shows to air a couple of weeks later in early October. Unfortunately, the rehearsal didn't go all that well, and the contestant coordinator was faced with the possibilty of having to send Grandma home without actually putting her on the show. After a few conversations with the contestant coordinator and the producer, it was decided to give my grandmother a second chance, which went much better, and she was allowed to play in the last of six shows being taped that day. Having won that game, Grandma (and the members of our family that had come down to support her) went back home (to Placerville, about a day's drive away) for another week, coming back a week later to start the next taping block of shows. Before they returned, however, Grandma got a bit of a cold, and was concerned that it would affect her performance. In fact, she actually lost on her second appearance!

However, it was discovered that several errors were made by the folks at the show on that second appearance, and after a number of discussions with various staff members (one of whom was apparently Markie Post, later to gain fame as Christine Sullivan on the '80s sitcom Night Court and, more relevant to Transformers fans, the voice of June Darby on Transformers: Prime), my grandma was asked to come back in late-January for a return appearance (standard procedure on game shows when an error on the part of the show has been verified). The shows aired sometime around Valentine's Day, 1975, and my grandma continued on to become an undefeated five-time champion!

Some observers have noted similarities between the Split Second end game and the end game of the '80s version of Hollywood Squares, both of which gave their champion a chance at winning a car by seeing if the chosen car would start when the key was turned. But Grandma tells me that, unlike in Hollywood Squares, where the champion would choose a key on his/her first day as champion, the cars in Split Second already had their keys in them, and that the champion merely selected a car. If the champion had just won for the first time, only one of the cars would start. If they had won two games, two of the cars (all five still being available, unlike in Hollywood Squares) would start. If they'd won three games, three of the cars would start, etc. So, by the time Grandma finally won her fifth game, she'd missed out on winning the car every chance thus far, but was now given her choice of which of the five cars she could take home.* To help make the choice, Tom Kennedy asked my aunt to come up on stage, telling viewers how she'd sent in the application and worked to help pay for Grandma's trip (the only time, to the best of Grandma's recollection, that a family member came up on stage to help in the selection of the car). So my aunt and Grandma chose a blue 1975 Camaro to take home. Ironically, Grandma's gone her whole life without a driver's license, but I'm sure Grandpa and my aunts and uncles (most of whom were still living at home at the time) enjoyed it.

I've talked to a few people who have been on game shows in the past (some of whom I met while trying out for shows myself), and I've been of the impression that, although the games are competitive, there is nonetheless a sense of comraderie that builds between fellow players, and that they often wish that they could all win the big prize. In Grandma's case, this actually worked out, in a way, as the person who won that game Grandma would have lost if not for the producer's errors, a woman named Jacqueline, won her own car on that very show!

Unfortunately for me, I have no memory of ever seeing my grandma's episodes, because most game shows of that era were erased by the network to make space for new stuff (nowadays, electronic storage makes such purges a thing of the past). Only a handful of episodes of Split Second are known to exist. I'm fairly confident that Grandma's episodes are on some reel-to-reel audio tapes in storage somewhere (I used to listen to them when I was young, but that was many years ago now), but attempts to locate the tapes in recent years have yet to produce results.

Split Second actually only lasted a few more months after Grandma's last appearance, the final episode having aired on June 27, 1975. This is a show that I'd love to see brought back some day, as I think that it would fare well in the current game show climate. But I haven't heard so much as a rumor that anyone's considering it. Still, my Grandma's story is something I like to think about, even if I never do get on a show myself.

*UPDATE: October 16, 2010 - I have finally gotten audio recordings from Grandma, including the full first episode she played and highlights of her other games, as well as a couple of other full episodes in which she did not participate. Through listening to these, I have discovered that my original information about the end game is not quite correct. While it IS true that the end game differed from the '80s version of Hollywood Squares in that you could choose any one of the five cars if you won five times, the end game for any other games won was pretty similar, if without the "keys" element. On the first day, a car was chosen at random by the producers prior to the start of the show. Only that car would work if chosen by the winner at the end of the game. If that person won again, a car would be chosen (again at random) by the producers to be eliminated from the optional cars, (with another car chosen at random to be the car that would work). This meant that only one car would work each time a contestant reached the end game, but your chances were improved by the smaller number of cars to choose from (a 1-in-4 chance on the second win, a 1-in-3 chance on the third, and a 1-in-2 chance on the fourth). My apologies for the confusion.

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