Pyramid Game Show — Local Contestant Climbs $100,000 Pyramid
By Archith Seshadri
For the past 2 years, Martin Aramayo has called Atlanta home. This Houston-native is active in the improv community and juggles his time as an actor and bartender. Not only does Aramayo enjoy a good laugh, he performs improv and enjoys seeing others smile.
In a strange twist of fate, he met a former game show contestant in one of his improv classes, who encouraged him to apply to be on ABC’s $100,000 Pyramid. Pyramid is the classic word guessing game where you have to either give or guess a word or category similar to the board game Taboo. Aramayo said he “practiced for 3 months with [his girlfriend] and sister,” and other fellow improvisers. He also “bought the board game version, watched old episodes, created lists and practiced word association categories.” After several grueling rounds of auditions and skype interviews, Aramayo made it to the hot seat after impressing the casting producers with his wit, and personality.
Supervising Producer and Founder of Happy Bandit Casting, Liz Harris, says during the actual taping of the show she can’t breathe. From casting to producing the show, Harris says “it’s like a mother bird watching a baby bird fly on its own. For the first time, I am out of control when the contestant is playing the game.” She said this year, they also have a camera crew taping the producers backstage for their reactions. Harris said “it’s a lot different during the lights.”
Executive Producer for $100,000 Pyramid, Vin Rubino, says “there is energy and excitement” when the show is being recorded. “Anyone who walks in to the door, we want them to have a great experience whether they win, lose or draw.” Rubino adds that host Michael Strahan is an integral part of making the new revival of Pyramid a success which has now completed 4 seasons.
Every season, thousands of contestants apply to be on the game show, like Aramayo, but the casting producers have to quickly weed it down to people who know how to play the game well. The same goes for making sure celebrities on the show are well trained to be good partners. As far as dream celebrities, Rubino says “he loves Rosie O’Donnell, Julie Bowel and Leslie Jones because they are fast minded and really good at the game.” In a given season, they have to pick 54 celebrities since there are 2 per episode and usually the casting team reaches out to potential celebrities but there are instances when celebrities also reach out to play, and sometimes they will shoot for multiple episodes. “We have a big list of people that we have every season. We keep asking to get Billy Crystal to be on the show.”
Fast forward to game day, where Aramayo flew to New York City with his girlfriend. ABC paid for his tickets and put him up in a nice, swanky hotel. Luckily for Aramayo, the taping of the game show came right around his birthday so he made a trip out of it as well. “I have 2 of my best friends and my favorite cousin up there so it was a lot of fun! My girlfriend came with and she got to meet my friends and celebrate. It was a grand ole time.” Aramayo said his strategy was to “be as exuberant and full of energy!”
In the green room, the casting producers are playing improv games and keep a fun, relaxed notion but you are not allowed to have your phones. Harris says the celebrity-contestant pairing is completely random. “We don’t have control over that part of it to make the game show fair.” The materials, the contestants — it’s all pretty random so there’s a huge element of luck in the show. Harris says the name categories are the hardest because they are harder to give clues for. Harris says of all the games she has cast for, Pyramid is the hardest one to cast for.
After waiting in the green room, getting briefed from lawyers and playing a few practice rounds, it was Aramayo’s turn to climb the Pyramid!
Aramayo was first paired with comedian Jay Pharaoh and then switched to actor Anthony Anderson for the second round. He said his game show experience was “exciting and nervous.” The first part of the game — aka, the “main game” is where you have more liberty with the rules. You can mime, do fill-in-the-blanks, say opposites, and use any word except rhyming words or say a part of the word. For example, you can say “not day but….” for either night or knight because they sound the same. Rubino says actors and improvisers do really on the show because “they have to think on their feet.”
Aramayo and Anderson were on point in this round and made it to the “Winner’s Circle” for a chance to win $50,000. The audience applauded. The lights dimmed. Host Michael Strahan, calmly but eerily, came up to the duo to say “For $50,000 here’s your first subject, go!” These are the categories Aramayo had to quickly come up to make Anthony Anderson guess in 60 seconds — he got all of these correct except the last one!
Measurements of time
What an owl might say
Parts of a theater
Types of tape
Famous people named Washington
Things on Racks
“Things on racks” — a tough subject is what stopped Atlanta based Martin Aramayo from winning $50,000 on ABC’s $100,000 Pyramid. Nevertheless, the actor/improviser earned a respectable $11,500 on the TV game show putting his skills to the test. “Things on a rack will haunt me for the rest of my life. I was 27 seconds away from winning $50,000 dollars. But even that has given me perspective because all in all, it was a wonderful and unique thing I was able to do. I think my major takeaway is that you have to present and mindful at all times because otherwise opportunities may pass you by.”
When a contestant becomes too descriptive in the Winner’s Circle, Harris says, “we literally jump out of our chair.” This season, she said a lot of them repeated the words on the board which automatically got them buzzed. But when the 60 second clock starts ticking, she says a lot of contestants cave under pressure and are able to answer it correctly during the commercial break.
On the show, Aramayo said he plays to buy a horse, put money down for a new car and go on a sailing trip, but not before clearing up some other loans and debts! If he had the chance to do the whole experience over again, Aramayo says he “would have been calmer on the show and had more fun. I would have had more rapport with the celebrities and Michael. And I would have known what darn things go on a rack!” He said he had no idea who his actual celebrities were until he walked on the set. “That’s kind of one of the exciting things, you don’t know who you are going to be paired with. I suppose someone who is familiar with the game would be best. Jeff Bridges would be pretty cool though or Dave Chapelle.”
When it comes to winning the money, Harris says here’s what you shouldn’t say: “What you are going to do is not my business as a casting producer. If you have debt or student loans, or pay off your mortgage or travel, that is fine. But she says those answers are not interesting. Say something that is interesting to you. If you are a Batman lover and you want to turn your car into the Bat-mobile so that would be a fun answer. Say what you would do if you had no responsibilities, what would you do with this money!”
Rubino said this season, contestants gave the clue first unlike in previous seasons where the celebrities start. He also said that since it is a 22 minute show, they had to eliminate the old tiebreaker format so that they could “keep the fun stuff in the show” like banter with Michael Strahan and the celebrities.” At one point during the taping, the producers said Aramayo looked super intense “and that [he] looked like [he] was trying to murder Anthony Anderson because [his] face looked so serious but they cut that out.” While the taping of the game show is about 30 minutes, the same as it airs on TV, he said they edit a lot of it out to make room for commercial breaks. “I didn’t realize that they would cut so much from the show. I would have been much sillier if I knew that they were going to cut out anything that wasn’t funny. Also the set is smaller than I imagined it would be.” His advice to aspiring game shows is “to prepare like crazy for the show but once you are there, just relax and enjoy the moment.”
If you are looking to be a contestant, Harris says the ideal qualities are being good under pressure. Harris says “we want contestants to be likable, rootable and fun” because this is life changing money. She says being relevant and knowing general pop culture is also key. For Pyramid, Harris says practice, practice, practice and really knowing the game well. She says pick up the board game version, Taboo, Heads Up or Catchphrase. Game shows are fun and people want to “feel good” and not deal with what’s going on with their lives.
Aramayo says he’s pumped for the experience and once in a lifetime opportunity. “I think it’s absolutely nuts! I mean I was on a gameshow on ABC and I won money. It’s wild to think that I did that. I am really happy I was able to do it!” And when he’s not on prime time game shows or booking acting roles, Aramayo says he enjoys exercising, martial arts, snowboarding and hiking!
Harris says there is no winning quota per season but the goal is to get the most winners. “I have never had the problem of having too many winners. There is a panic when we don’t have people win.” Sometimes though, alternate contestants are bumped up if someone is not playing well on the day off during practice rounds and moved to another day. Harris says the audition process is quite intense and says “we want contestants who are wonderful to work with, it makes it helpful for us because we have long days anyway.”
Harris is working on game shows for the last decade and started her own company called “Happy Bandit Casting” because she says she has more control over the entire game show casting process. She says she and her team are fun, upbeat and try not to be scary: “It’s important when dealing with regular people to be patient and help them with the questions and nerves because this is not something they are used to doing.” She says the casting process has changed a lot in the last decade because of social media. A decade ago, there were no skype interviews, so everything was in-person auditions. But she says meeting people in person has its perks and advantages because you know how they’ll react in stressful situations.” Harris says they always look for people from different parts of the country, different ages, different industries and diverse contestants but she encourages people to audition, even if it is the same game, year after year because you may have “gotten better at the game,” or they already have too many people that look like you! “We want people who want interesting personalities, stories and are rootable and that they are great at the game,” said Rubino.
Pyramid has a lot of luck elements involved like the choice of categories, the celebrity players’ skill ability, the order you play and the winner’s circle questions. And for the contestants who’ve already been on the show, maybe looking for a ‘second chance’ week or a celebrity-celebrity charity show, Rubino says don’t expect that anytime soon. For now, any time Aramayo sees things on racks like sale items, wines, spices or dishes, he’ll simply smile and wonder “what if?”