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Chronicling one local family’s chance of a lifetime on Family Feud

Good morning! Today is Tuesday, January 25, and you are reading today’s section of Examiner+, a digital newsmagazine serving Westchester, Putnam, and the surrounding Hudson Valley.

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By Rick Pezzullo

For more than 70 years, game shows have been a captivating part of Americana.

From the debut of Truth or Consequences to The Price is Right, which holds the distinction of being the longest-running game show in history at 50 years and still going strong, television viewers have been seemingly intrigued by others having a chance to win thousands, and, sometimes, millions of dollars, and other prizes, by just spinning a wheel, answering questions, or knowing prices of products.

And how often do viewers remark to others or themselves as they watch these shows how dumb a contestant was or how they could easily have been a winner if they were on television?

Well, my family and I had a chance of a lifetime to find out first-hand just what it’s like to be chosen to be on a game show — not just any game show, but one that was ranked by TV Guide in 2013 as the third greatest game show of all-time: Family Feud.

Family Feud has been on the air since 1976, starting with host Richard Dawson, the kissing bandit. Since 2010, it has gained in popularity with Steve Harvey, one of the original Kings of Comedy, bringing his own unique flair to the program that airs each night on Channel 9, and in reruns on both the Game Show Network (GSN) and Buzzr.

Our journey to achieve our 15 minutes of fame and attempt to have a shot at winning up to $100,000 and a new car began innocently enough in the summer of 2019 when I stumbled upon a post on Facebook about auditions being held in Stamford, Connecticut for Family Feud. While it piqued my interest, it wasn’t something that drew my immediate attention. That is until I mentioned it to my family.

Little did I know that my wife Jacqueline had always dreamed of being on a game show, and Family Feud perfectly fit the bill since our immediate family of four, plus my fun-loving son-in-law, Mark, could share in the experience.

The first of many steps in the process is submitting an application, which includes the option of adding a video. As we discussed how best to sell ourselves on FaceTime, my wife became entertainingly animated, which Mark opted to secretly record, and add to our Aug. 16, 2019 application package.

Shortly thereafter, we were given a September 15 audition at a hotel.

The Audition

So away we went, without any idea what to expect, wearing our Sunday best with cautious optimism that perhaps we had what it takes to be in a select group of chosen ones. I remember thinking, “Is this really happening?”

What we encountered was a sea of other hopeful families crammed into a typical hotel ballroom, all anxiously waiting to display what they could bring to impress the producers. When our name was called to play a mock game, my wife certainly made an impression when she scooted up to the front and hugged a cardboard cutout of Harvey.

After we squared off with another family, one of the producers handed our team captain, my daughter Cheryline, a piece of paper instructing us to go to another room for a private meeting with Senior Casting Producer Bryce Keigley. We had advanced to the second round.

Once inside, Keigley asked each of us to ham it up for about a minute while talking about ourselves. Once again, my wife caught their eye. As we left the room, Keigley said to my wife, “See you in LA, Jackie.”

At that moment, my wife was convinced we would be selected. And she was right. On March 10, 2020, we were notified by email that we were scheduled to be on the show on April 20, 2020, in California! That Randy Newman song, “I Love LA” began playing in my head.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and like most things in the world, our plans were put on hold when production of the show shut down.

Waiting Game

We were contacted again at the end of May 2020 and given dates ranging from August to October to choose from, this time with tapings taking place in Atlanta, GA. However, with COVID numbers spiking in Atlanta at the time, and Cheryline learning she was pregnant with our first grandchild, we had to decline the invitation. But we were promised by the scheduling team of still getting a chance to be on the show.

So, at the end of January 2021, we were sent a new set of dates ranging from April to July, and we were booked for June 21. Family Feud pays for the airfare and hotel and provides a $300 stipend for food and essentials.

At the hotel, it was easy to spot the competition we might be facing, and the gamesmanship began in the lobby as we jockeyed for position to be first when we had to line up to be tested for COVID. On the morning of the taping, one family objected to having to wait for another van to be taken to the studio. Ironically, that was the same family we would end up playing against. Game on!

Good Answer

Even though we were one of six or seven families selected to play on June 21, there was still no guarantee we would appear on television since we had to audition again on the set. After we arrived at what amounted to a huge warehouse to go over the rules and get some pointers from producers, it was emphasized to bring energy and have fun. No matter how ridiculous an answer might be, it was important to clap and yell out, “Good Answer.”

We were taken to an accompanying building where the actual set is, and when we turned the corner and saw the stage it was like a surreal moment. But we were cool and collected, and during our audition on stage with a hype man for Harvey, we excelled, clearing the board (getting all the answers). The hype man also complimented me on my Rocky face mask.

Because of COVID restrictions, there was no audience. The families waiting to be on the show were the audience, plus a few outsiders who I think were paid to fill seats. Four shows are taped each day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

The first show featured a returning family who didn’t seem interested in chit-chatting with the rest of us. Whatever. They won the game and Fast Money—which is reaching 200 points after answering five questions. The payoff: $20,000.

Good for them, but at that point, we were focused on seeing Harvey for the first time in the flesh. He commands the stage and follows the leads of the crew. What TV viewers don’t see is the 10-minute standup he does during commercial breaks where he tells stories and jokes, some raunchy in nature. It’s like a show within the show.

We sat through three tapings and it was looking dicey if we would be selected to be on the last show of the day as one of the producers asked how much of an issue would it be if we had to come back the next day. We felt a little deflated, but we kept a firm upper lip and smiled, assuring her it wouldn’t be a problem.

Lo and behold, we were chosen! It just got real, and we were ushered to the makeup room. We were then taken to the set behind the large Family Feud sign and given some last-minute instructions. We did a family huddle to calm our nerves and then we were brought on stage. Standing in front of a huge sign with Pezzullo in big letters was almost like an out-of-body moment.

The cameras were focused on us, the music hit, and out came Harvey, with the small group of spectators cheering wildly. I felt at ease, perhaps due to having appeared on camera as a guest many times before at local cable studios for news programs.

Standing across from us was the Barthley family, five women from Georgia. They had a jewelry business, which they promoted by wearing samples of their goods. One of them mentioned she also had a marijuana business.

Having watched the show for years and practicing for months leading up to the show, we liked our chances.

We won control of the first three questions and were dominating. During the second commercial break, the producer came up to us and asked which two family members would be playing Fast Money (Jacqueline and Ricky). Only the triple round remained.

The question was something like if a woman found out her husband was cheating, what gift that he gave to his mistress would bother her the most? Mark hit the buzzer first and shouted out, “Jewelry.” It was number two out of four. His counterpart said, “Car.” (the answer that popped into my head first). That was the number one answer, so they chose to play.

I won’t provide any spoilers, other than to reveal eventually the question came back to us to steal and win the game.

With thousands of families trying out every year to be on Family Feud, we felt blessed to beat the odds and create a memory that we can always look back on fondly. That is priceless.

The first airing of Family Feud with the Pezzullo family is scheduled to air Thursday., Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. on Channel 9.

An editor at Examiner Media since 2012, Rick Pezzullo has more than 40 years’ experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, running the gamut from politics and crime to sports and human interest. Prior to Examiner, he was managing editor for 10 years at the former North County News in Yorktown Heights, where he first got his start in journalism as a freshman in high school. He also worked for The Peekskill Herald, The Daily Voice, and The Hudson Independent. He’s a big fan of the Yankees, Steelers, and Knicks, WWE pro wrestling, and the Rocky movies (yes, even Rocky V).

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