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Shortcuts: Winning a game show

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(CNN) -- How to get on a TV game show and win the big prize without completely losing your dignity.

Getting on: You've got to be in it to win it, as some leathery old presenter probably once said and your biggest hurdle is likely to be getting on TV in the first place. Despite the fact the game show is the modern equivalent of the stocks, inviting all too public ridicule albeit with the slight possibility of taking home a speedboat in recompense for your self-respect, there are thousands of aspiring contestants all climbing over each other to play the ratings winners for the big prizes. But beyond two or three shows there's an entire hinterland just desperate for contestants -- Pets Win Peanuts anyone? Some of the shows on cable in the small hours barely require you to know your own name, never mind the capital of Burkina Faso. Once you've done a few you'll find producers will be calling you, begging you to road test their latest pilots.

Invent your game show personality: The ideal game show contestant is a likeable loser; someone viewers can empathize with but feel comfortably superior towards. Remember television sells dreams and the dramatic arc of the game show lies in the contestants' striving for -- and usually falling short of with good grace -- a supposed life-changing opportunity. Move somewhere obscure and get a dull job. You'll need at least one amusing/embarrassing fact (You once got your head stuck in a dishwasher, you can play the "Marseillaise" with your knees etc.) about yourself and an extensive collection of novelty items (19th century nail clippers, porcelain statues of U.S. presidents etc.). Of course, you may fit many of these criteria already.

Choose your show carefully: Remember that brains are an obstacle rather than an advantage when it comes to game show success. You may be the smartest thing since Einstein but an in-depth knowledge of superstring theory isn't going to get you very far playing Super Catchphrase. The recent reality TV trend has spawned a new breed of game show in which contestants are sent to desert islands and poked with scorpions or locked up together and left to drive each other slowly insane. If this sounds like your idea of fun then consider visiting a psychiatrist. Check the odds. The Weakest Link has 10 contestants and nine go home with nothing. Go for something that pays out for every right answer or dispenses regular prizes and that three-piece suite could be yours. The most pointless show of all is the self-consciously "clever" game show, usually involving remarkable feats of spelling and mathematical wizardry, that offers no prize at all. Save your brain for counting the money you could win on something less hassle.

Don't cross the host: Don't be fooled by on-screen obsequiousness. Anyone who has made it in the fake world of television is a perma-tanned or plastic surgery-enhanced psychopath. If they've ended up in the bitter career graveyard that is daytime television they're probably more dangerous than a viper in a box. There is a new trend in game shows towards hosts being rude to the guests, all done with a knowing wink that suggests that an air of bonhomie exists behind the cameras. Don't be fooled. The wink actually says, "I'm earning a million dollars an episode just to be rude to these wasters." Oh and one more tip: don't bother with any smart comebacks. They'll be cut quicker than you can say "Bank!"

Love the camera: For most contestants the prospect of having a television camera pointed in their face is enough to leave them gasping for breath. Don't worry: television presenters breathe the same oxygen as the rest of us. Just try to forget the five million viewers on the other side of the lens willing you to fail. Remember that most shows reward personality rather than brains, especially as the producers have probably fixed all the questions beforehand. No use letting your natural moroseness leave you at an unfair disadvantage.

Be rich already: Let's face it, ultimately every game show is a question of nerve. Everyone can do it at home but it's staying cool under the studio lights with a presenter leering in your face when it counts. For that reason, perversely, you'll probably do best if you really couldn't care less whether you go home with nothing or $1 million. Mathematician John Haigh says of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?": "It helps enormously to be rich already as you then don't mind taking risks to reach the last question. Most of us would want to be very certain of the correct answers."


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Gameshow glory: a proven shortcut to wealth and happiness.

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