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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Game Shows

     The most popular games shows in the U.S. are Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, The Price is Right and Family Feud. Who hasn't watched one of these shows and fantasized about winning a lot of money, a car and a trip to Disney World? But, like reality TV, things aren't always what they seem. 
     Home audiences see each episode on a different day, but they are shot in the same day. To give the illusion that it's a different day, the host changes his suit and tie and returning contestants change their clothes. 
     Even winning a million dollars, which most contestants will never do, is not the financial windfall it may appear.  Even that much is not enough to allow you to quit your job...there's taxes and you will still need health insurance and all that. Also, the show may substitute cash for some of the prizes people win and they don't immediately pay you any money you won; it usually takes between 90 and 150 days to receive prizes because the prize department needs to verify that you are who you say you are when you go on the show...you'd think they would do that first.
     They also make sure contestants have paid taxes on their prizes. For example, out of state contestants have to pay state taxes before accepting any prize. They aren't going to send anybody prize money and hope they pay taxes to the state in which the money was won! 
     The game show isn't the only one paying out prize money. Often the sponsor will actually cut the runners-up a check for the standard second- and third-place prize. For those that win non-cash prizes, the prize supplier has to be informed that a contestant has won the prize and informed that they have a specified amount of time to send the prize. 
     Trips aren't always worth as much as the show says they're worth. Winners are taxed on whatever they win and the amount of taxes partly depends on the value of the prizes they win. In the case of trip prizes the value announced may be different from what the player is actually taxed on, because the value announced on the show reflects the price of the trip during the sponsoring hotel's peak season. Also, trip winners can't always go when they want to because the show must honor blackout dates. A contestant's contract states that winners of trips have up to 365 days following their air date to redeem their prize, so the value of the trip can fluctuate depending on when the trip is taken and if the person actually goes on the trip, the contestant is only taxed on what they would have paid during the offseason. 
     Non-cash prizes are considered income, but the official retail value, as stated by the game show, might be significantly higher than the actual going rate. The gap between retail and real value can be especially harmful for winners who accept a prize with the intent to resell it.
     For winners, taxes are a big issue because they will owe federal and state income taxes on their total winnings and maybe more. If the prize is big enough a contestant could be bumped up into a higher tax bracket. As for state taxes, contestants will be taxed in both the state where the prize was won and then claim the taxes paid as a credit in their home state. If your home state has a lower tax rate, you won't get back the difference. For example, in my home state a $5,000 prize might pay 10.55 percent to California, but I would only get credit for 3 percent in my home state. Winners can decline to accept a prize they don't want so there's no income to report, and no tax bill owed.
     Prize winners are often fooled, thinking the money they won is the money that's going in their pocket. Also, even if a winner has enough left to purchase a big ticket item, they often fail to consider whether or not they can afford to own it. There's always taxes, insurance and upkeep. 
     Of course, game shows don't want just anybody. They want people who fit a certain type or have a unique background.  If you're boring, don't speak well or are really ugly, you won't get on.
     If one actually gets on the show, it will be an exhausting nightmare. Long waits because they can cram up to six 40-minute show tapings per day plus time for breaks and a few hours for makeup, practice games and a briefing of the rules. Contestants can spend up to 10 hours sequestered with other contestants while waiting for their taping. There will be escorts for bathroom trips and network compliance officers to make sure contestants don't talk to audience members or anyone else. The tough restrictions hew to Federal Communications Commission regulations designed to prevent cheating, plus they don't want people wandering around the studio.
     The notoriety can lead to bad things, too. Being in a spotlight gives crazy people a chance to go online and find you. That can mean hate mail, being a fraud target for scammers and being a target for identity theft. Big winners are also targeted for investment pitchmen and family members who expect them to share winnings. 
     Then there is the possibility you will be going up against professional game show contestants. Some people actually have appeared on several different game shows. Their experience gives them an edge because they're comfortable with the audition process and confidant in their performance and many regulars even meet up to test their skills. Sometimes producers recognize contestants from a memorable appearance on another show, but that does not always disqualify them. 
     Mental and physical nimbleness can be a factor, too. For example, on Jeopardy contestants have to be able to nail the timing of the buzzer which lets them ring in as the last syllable of the last word in the question is read. It's a challenge to listen to the question, think of the answer and press the buzzer all at the same time. 
     It's also important for prospective contestants to follow the rules. For example, on Wheel of Fortune they are instructed "just say, 'M,' not 'I'd like an 'M,' please." Don't do it and you won't get on the show. 
     Game shows start out with a paper test, but a lot of people who pass it aren't so hot on camera! Some people get terrified, others get distracted by all the action around them like lights, cameras and staff running around. They also want people that look really happy, have a lot of energy and being dressed in the right clothing is important, too. 
     Jeopardy contestants are told ahead of time that runners-up will get prizes instead of whatever cash they win. The reason, most people want money, not a crappy prize, so knowing that instead of getting cash, you'll get a year's supply of hotdogs encourages people to go for broke on final jeopardy and bet it all. 
     One contestant who placed second on Jeopardy turned down a vacation because taxes amounted to 40 percent of the trip's value. For example, if a $5,000 free trip to the Caribbean is going to cost you $2,000, you may not want it.   She ended up with a photo of her and Alex Trebek...at least the picture came with a frame. Another runner up didn't get cash...he got a trip to New York, a year's supply of Rice-A-Roni and a carpet cleaner.  How much Rice-A-Roni can you eat in a year?

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