Photo by Lena Geller. 

On Good Friday, crowds flocked to the church of DPAC, mourned the loss of their Lord and savior, Bob Barker, and prayed for the chance to win a brand new car.

It was the Price is Right Live!, and it was a religious experience.

The staged production is based on the televised game show that airs weekday mornings on CBS. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the concept is simple: contestants in the audience are selected at random to stand at a podium and guess the price of everyday items like groceries, pain relievers, and cleaning supplies. If a contestant gets close to the price without going over, they’ll receive an advantage when they play one of the show’s hundred-plus games, where they can win cash, merchandise, or a trip.

I discovered The Price is Right during a bad bout of the flu in second grade. Since my family had basic cable, PBS shows were my main source of entertainment, but I was terrified of Barney, which came on at 11 a.m. Flipping through channels in search of an alternative, I discovered a brightly colored show where everyone seemed really excited. After two weeks, I was hooked; my mom walked in on me screaming “ONE DOLLAR!” at the TV and decided I was well enough to return to school.

I’d always fantasized about seeing the show in person, but I didn’t believe it could actually happen until the summer of 2020, when The Price itself summoned me to sit in Its Audience. Jobless and quarantined, I’d choreographed a dance to the show’s theme song and posted it on TikTok. Within the hour, the official Price is Right account had left a comment bidding me to “Come On Down!”

Two years later, I got my chance.

I arrived at DPAC three hours before the show to register as a contestant. When I got there, the line was already a quarter-mile long. As on the televised show, fans were dressed in hand-decorated T-shirts that said things like “My Horse Ate My Paycheck So I Need To Win The Showcase Showdown” and “Let’s Party Like It’s $19.99.” (I was wearing a shirt emblazoned with an image of my favorite game, Cliffhanger.) One woman had commissioned a balloon artist to twist together a replica of the Price is Right podium, complete with a huge blow-up microphone. She didn’t need to be called down—she was already there.

The women standing behind me in line were pondering how folks might dress up for other DPAC shows—at Hamilton, they wondered, will people show up in petticoats and colonial wigs?

I can confidently say that the Hamilton crowd, despite being one of the most fanatic in history, will pale in comparison to this bunch.

Photo by Lena Geller

The Price is Right is in its fiftieth season; it premiered in 1972 and has held the title of America’s longest-running game show since 1990. 

Part of the show’s success comes from the accessibility of its premise; unlike Jeopardy! or Cash Cab, which favor upper-class, degree-holding contestants, The Price is Right rewards those who pay close attention to how much money they’re spending on groceries.

The DPAC production attracted the most diverse crowd I’d ever seen at the venue, and the most enthused. It was clear that many attendees had been watching the show religiously since it came on the air.

After signing up to be called down, we found our seats, took communion (soft pretzels and sippy cups of Chardonnay), and danced to pop hits until the show began.

While the televised show is hosted by Drew Carey, the live production features celebrity guest hosts; at the DPAC show, the announcer was Todd Newton, who’s hosted a smattering of game shows you probably wouldn’t recognize, and the host was Bob Goen, best known for his work interviewing Hollywood stars on Entertainment Tonight.

The show started with a lengthy montage dedicated to The Price is Right’s former host, Bob Barker—who, though you wouldn’t know it from the sniffles in the audience, is actually still alive—and then it was time to play.

“When you get called down, I need you to go crazy,” Newton said. “Let the holy spirit carry you.”

The first contestant, Wanda, took Newton’s words to heart: after correctly guessing the price of a treadmill, she sprinted onto the stage, screamed, and promptly knocked the microphone out of Goen’s hand. After strutting around and playing an air guitar for the next few minutes, she calmed down enough to successfully name the prices of a bottle of Windex, a can of soup, and a package of red solo cups, earning her an extra three “punches” in a game called Punch-a-Bunch. In Punch-a-Bunch, contestants are presented with what is essentially a giant Connect 4 set where the holes are covered with paper circles. If you punch the right hole, you might end up like Wanda, who danced off the stage $500 richer to a chorus of “Amens.”

Some contestants struck out—no one ended up winning a car—but most went home with at least one prize: a trip to Cancun, a year’s supply of Ben & Jerry’s, a Nintendo Switch.

Like everyone else, I was positive I would be called down. Like almost everyone else, I wasn’t.

But you can’t really lose on The Price is Right. The audience is the heart of the production; like on TV, the crowd was encouraged to help contestants by screaming suggested prices at the top of our lungs. At one point, I yelled “one dollar” after the rest of the audience had quieted down, and the contestant on stage actually listened to me. 

Called down or not, I felt that my prayers had been answered: the show I’d only ever watched alone was happening all around me. I’ve never been more proud to find myself in a crowd of such joyous, Bob-fearing individuals.

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