23 Facts About The Price Is Right That Will Leave You Jumping For Joy

Come on down...and discover the actual behind-the-scene secrets about America's longest-running game show, The Price Is Right.

By Sarah Grossbart Sep 04, 2020 7:00 AMTags

"Come on down, you're the next contestant on The Price Is Right!"

If you were a child of the '80s or '90s, you likely dreamed of hearing those words in person as you placed your bid right along with the overexcited participants in Contestants' Row. Because in a time before DVR—when the idea of watching television on the Internet seemed like some futuristic flying car s--t—tuning in live to the CBS stalwart that saw participants play what are essentially carnival games in the hopes of walking away with a pool table and, ideally, a new car! was the highlight of many a snow day or lazy summer morning.  

Just ask future Emmy-winning Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul, who lost his mind over the prospect of meeting then-host, the legendary Bob Barker, during a 2000 appearance. A freshly minted L.A. transplant eager to try his hand at acting, the Idaho native screamed, "You're the man, Bob! You're my idol," before successfully placing the closest bid (without going over) on a flattop desk.

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He'd make it all the way to the Showcase Showdown before high-balling a $26,368 prize package that, yes, included a sports car, by just $132.  

Some 13 years later, it still stung, Paul lamenting to Jay Leno during an appearance on The Tonight Show, "You have no idea; I was depressed for many, many months."

But that's just the way the Plinkko chips fall on America's longest-running game show, its history stretching all the way back to 1956 when NBC aired a version with just four bidders vying for items that let viewers mail in their best guesses on the retail price via postcard in the hopes of winning big. 

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The more modern version premiered on CBS exactly 48 years ago with Barker, announcer Roooooood Roddy and all the Clock Game, Lucky Seven and Cliff Hangers contests we've come to know and love. And though Barker stepped down in 2007, handing over his skinny microphone to comedian Drew Carey, the wheel has kept on spinning. (Save for the current shutdown in production, caused by the coronavirus pandemic.) 

So let's celebrate the timeless classic that's given us a use for our grocery shopping skills. Read on to discover everything you've ever wanted to know from how they determine those actual retail prices to where they stash all those new cars. And don't forget to help control the pet population by having your pet spayed or neutered. 

1. Aaron Paul isn't the only famous face that came on down to The Price Is Right stage. Paralympic silver medal-winning snowboarder Amy Purdy and E!'s own Giuliana Rancic each her their hand at guest modeling for the series. "I have been watching Price Is Right since I was a little girl. I'm obsessed with Price Is Right, so I know exactly what they do," Rancic said ahead of her 2013 appearance, which featured only breast cancer survivors in the crowd. "It's hand on the hip like this. The whole thing, I got it down."

2. Plus a whole slew of eager celebs have taken a spin at winning money for charity with everyone from Seth Rogen to Kristen Bell to Snoop Dogg donning the price tag-shaped name tags.  

3. Venerable host Bob Barker attributes the series' longevity to two things. For starters, the opportunity for audience engagement is a big factor. "The minute we put something up for bid and the contestant makes a bid, the viewer is involved. Once you become involved, we have accomplished what the producer of every game show wants—viewer involvement," he explained to the Los Angeles Times in 1990. "The Price Is Right has that to the nth degree." 

4. The rest he attributes to a good hair day, telling the paper ratings began to climb after he embraced his silver streaks. "I began to gray at my temples, and I guess it could be that technology at that time was not what it is today, but I didn't look good," he told the paper. So producers suggested he tint it, which worked for a bit, until the tint turned his strands blue. When he began dyeing his locks, they turned red. "I went on vacation and I just let it go," he said. "When I came home the people on the show said, 'You look better this way than you do with it dyed or tinted. Why don't you leave it this way?'"

However, because of the magic of television, his first silver fox episode aired the day after one featuring his darker locks. "We taped ahead," he explained. "So let's say on the Wednesday show I had dark hair, but when we taped the next show I had gray hair and that show aired on Thursday. I got a letter from a fellow who said, 'Bob, you must have had one hell of a night.'"

5. Not everyone drives away from set in their shiny new car. Since winners have to pay taxes on any prizes that they've nabbed upfront—one redditor told site-goers that he had to shell out roughly $20,000 for his $57,000 worth of prizes—they sometimes leave empty-handed. And then there's a case of one $10,000 recipient who turned down the cash because he didn't want to give half to his ex-wife! Though in 2016, then-executive producer Mike Richards told The New York Times that they send a tax letter to every winner informing them how much they need to pay, and since he took over in 2008, every Showcase Showdown winner had claimed their package. 

6. Most prizes are ready and waiting to be shipped out, Richards sharing in an interview that all those dinette sets and exercise bikes are stockpiled in three huge warehouses on the CBS Television City lot. As for the cars, they have upwards of 37 on hand in a private lot. 

7. Awkward moments? There have been a few, including the time model Manuela Arbelaez accidentally gave away a $21,960 car. "I thought, A: This is my last day at work. B: They're going to take it out of my paycheck every week. I thought that was it for me," the six-year vet told Inside Edition of the 2015 mistake. Thankfully, "Drew could not have been more supportive. Same with the producers." And, of course, there was the time a contestant was in, as Barker put it, "the little girls' room" when her name was called. But the situation Barker labeled "the most talked about single incident in the history of the show" came in 1977 when a woman got so excited to come on down she jumped out of her tube top.

8. Another exchange could have been extra cringe-inducing if the contestant didn't have a winning sense of humor. When announcers revealed comedian Danielle Perez, who uses a wheelchair, was playing for a walk-in sauna and a treadmill during a 2015 episode, the audience hesitated. She later shared with People, "I just thought, 'Oh this is perfect, you cannot write this, you cannot make this up.' It's not even that I'm in a wheelchair, it's that I literally don't have feet." Nonetheless she was still determined to emerge victorious: "I was so hopped up on all the cash and prizes and endorphins. You go and you just want to win. It doesn't matter what it is."

9. Though some of the 73 pricing games have received a 21st century makeover, many are still operated in an old-fashioned crank-and-pulley manner. Carey has even made it a habit of introducing the crank operator who hides behind the Freeze Frame set-up as union rules dictate that if an employee's face is shown, they must receive more cash. 

10. For continuity's sake, those actual retail prices are taken from actual California-based retailers. And, no, producers aren't about to spill on which ones. 

11. That earworm of a theme song that you're probably humming to yourself right now was composed by one Edd Kalehoffthe same man who crafted the themes for Nickelodeon's Double Dare and ABC's Monday Night Football

12. Good things come in threes? Perhaps. Because in a 2017 episode, three (contestants) were a crowd at the Big Wheel when each one of them managed to get exactly $1 during their spins. Though rules dictate there must be a tiebreaker to gain entry into the Showcase Showdown, they all pocketed $10,000 and when they spun a second time, two contestants hit $1 again, winning an additional $25,000 each. 

13. Maybe they all studied The Royal Economic Society's "To Spin or Not to Spin?" guide, which devoted actual research money into trying to crack the code of the famed wheel. 

14. With contestant favorite Plinko, named, as you might imagine, for the "plink, plink, plink" sounds the chips make as they drop, players can nab up to $25,000. But the chips may be just as valuable, with CBS revealing there are just 10 Plinko chips in creation and they're considered so special that they're locked away after each use. 

15. And according to a redditor, one person truly got the luck of the draw when they happened to play the game just after it'd been used for an ad, an invisible fishing line inserted so that the chip would be directed to the $10,000 slot. After the contestant won $30,000 ("Everybody's screaming, Drew is literally jumping up and down," the redditor recalled), a producer bolted out just as she dropped her fourth chip "and SLAMS his hand against the token as it falls," the witness wrote. Having figured out the mishap, producers reshot the segment, but the Plinko player still pocketed her $30,000, plus an extra $3,000 she won in the do-over. 

16. The games got a bit easier with Carey's takeover in 2007, albeit, temporarily. In a blog post, producer Roger Dobkowitz revealed that as viewers adjusted to a new host, he "felt it was extremely important for the first couple of months of the show to have plenty of winners." So, he shared, "I completely ignored the prize budget for the first couple of months. I scheduled easy games with obvious right and wrong price combinations so that more contestants could go home as winners." He just accomplished his mission a little too well. "By January 2008, I was about $700,000 over budget!" he revealed, and with the network unwilling to fork over more cash, "We went into a period where we were forced to use tougher games and smaller cars."

17. Of course, Carey had his own fool-proof plan to engender goodwill. When a player earned their way out of Contestant's Row by making a perfect bid on an item, he'd give them $500 cash out of his own pocket. As of 2017, CBS estimated he'd handed over at least $187,000. 

18. Yet it was Barker who tended to rack up kisses on the cheek from contestants, with CBS guessing he'd received some 22,000. 

19. One man nailed an exact bid on his showcase and lived to tell the story in a 2010 interview with Esquire. With his eye for patterns and her aptitude for math, former TV weatherman Terry Kneiss and wife Linda studied episodes of the show for months. So he knew exactly what to bid for the Big Green Egg smoker and grill ($1,175) and could give a very educated guess on the karaoke machine, pool table and 17-foot camper in his prize package ($23,743), adding that extra 743 as a nod to the PIN number both he and Linda used. The situation having never occurred before in the show's history (and mere weeks after they'd let go of producer Dobkowitz), Carey and the rest of the team assumed it was a fix—leading to changes in the prizes they offer. (For example, they now frequently switch out the options on cars to keep prices irregular.) Still, Terry told Esquire, "I have no regrets, but there have been times I've wondered, What have I done?" 

20. Filming can be an interesting experience, with one former winner telling the AV Club they waited four-and-a-half hours before entering the studio and spent another 90 minutes taping. And with everyone battling to appear excitable, the shrieks can get so loud that PAs have to wave cue cards with the names of contestants invited to come on down, as they usually can't hear the announcer. 

21. And yet the production is quite organized. In his blog, Dobkowitz bragged about how their 11-person staff was "able to produce 6 outstanding hours of first-class programming every week in just four days. None of us had more than 8-10 hour days (including studio hours)." Even better, he continued, Our operations were so efficient that we had three-day weekends every week and we enjoyed 20 weeks off each year! Needless to say, we were quite a contented staff!"

22. Those looking to come on down need only impress one man: producer Stan Blits. Contrary to what most people believe, contestants aren't chosen at random, rather they're hand-selected by Blits, who relies on his four decades of experience to pick a winner. "I jump around like a court jester out there," he told the New York Post of his process in 2013. "I am looking for energy, sincerity and potential humor. And if they can equal my energy or exceed it and maintain it, they are at the top of the list." For those hoping to make the cut, he said, "Look like you're having fun," but don't attempt anything too crazy: "Some people think jumping up and down or waving their fist will help. But it doesn't."

23. And, remember, you're competing against participants who are really committed to making it on air. "I was talking to the audience once during a break and a young woman in the audience began to have a baby," Barker told the Los Angeles Times back in 1990. "I turned to the pages and said, 'Will you help her out?' This woman said, 'I don't want to go, you might call my name.' Now can you believe it? I said, 'Madam, we are not going to call any more names until you are on your way to the hospital.'"

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