Let’s take a trip down memory lane; the date was September 22, 2008 during my freshman year at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. While I was preparing to head to my first afternoon class of the day, I tuned into The Price Is Right just in time to catch the latter half of the show. Little did I realize history would be made on that day.
There were three distinct times I could vividly remember watching historic game show moments unfold before my very eyes: John Carpenter becoming the first million-dollar winner on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in 1999, Michelle Lowenstein becoming the first million-dollar winner on Wheel of Fortune in 2008 and Terry Kniess becoming the only contestant to guess the exact price of his Showcase on The Price Is Right.
The latter will be forever embedded in my mind for two reasons: my utter shock and disbelief that anyone could pull off such a nigh-impossible feat and Drew Carey’s ostensibly muted and unimpressed reaction to the incredible accomplishment. Produced by C.J. Wallis and Mallory Kennedy, Perfect Bid not only delves into the little-known details and elaborate backstory on Kniess’ perfect bid, but mainly focuses on the fascinating tale of how Ted Slauson, a middle-school teacher and math genius from San Antonio, became one of the most unique and knowledgeable contestants in the history of the long-running daytime game show.
There were so many captivating supplemental storylines and takeaways that kept me engaged throughout the award-winning documentary. From Slauson’s crush on Barker’s Beauty Holly Halstrom to realizing Terry Kniess wasn’t the only contestant who was successful under Slauson’s sagacious guidance and counsel, here are a few of my top highlights from the 72-minute film.
Warning: There are spoilers in this review.
Intricacies of Slauson’s Process
It’s one thing to see the extensive prize lists Slauson complies to prepare for each taping. The true shock and awe comes in when you not only realize the magnanimous amount of man-hours put into consistently updating the lists for more than three decades, but also when you view of the computer programs Slauson developed to simulate playing in actual games for the very first time, including a BASIC program in the 1990s and another program which solely focused on guessing the exact prices to an assortment of prizes in the 2000s. To quote Bob Barker, only “a loyal friend and true” to the show would be that dedicated to studying the show in such an extraordinary manner. (I low-key wish the former were available for public use. It looks better than any TPIR game created by Ludia.)
TPIR’s Frequency of Recycling Prizes
This was the nexus of Slauson’s success in guessing the prices to a panoply of prizes exactly right. Slauson started to notice how the show would often reuse certain prizes as early as 1973. One prime example he pointed to was how the same $789 Amana refrigerator/freezer was used on four different episodes. This led to Slauson creating a meticulously elaborate and detailed list of all the prizes given away on each show. Since contestants were – and still – not allowed to bring pricing lists into the studio, Slauson had to solely rely on his memory to guess the exact prices. It’s similar to how Michael Larson brilliantly recognized and memorized Press Your Luck’s repetitious Big Board pattern and utilized that information to his advantage back in 1984.
Switching Up Prize Strategy To Challenge Contestants More
Part of the reason of why The Price Is Right is the long-lasting, award-winning game show it has been for several decades is because it runs like a well-oiled machine with a stellar, detailed-oriented staff who work tirelessly to make sure each show runs flawlessly from start to finish. This is the same eagle-eyed staff who eventually caught on to how frequently some of the audience members, including Slauson, would guess the exact prices. According to Slauson, after he erroneously advised a contestant playing “Card Game” the incorrect price of a car, “the producer came over and spoke to Bob for a second and he said, ‘Well Theodore, Roger [Dobkowitz] just told me something interesting: he said we do have a model of that car that’s $7,659. But we put different options on them to fool people like you.’” This seemed like Dobkowitz’s not-so-subtle way of hinting “we’re on to you”, in the same sense casino security guards and personnel start to keep close tabs on players on unusual winning streaks – to protect the “House”.
Parallels To Press Your Luck
As briefly mentioned in the second takeaway, it’s difficult to deny there are similarities between Ted Slauson cracking TPIR’s formula and Michael Larson doing the same on Press Your Luck from memorizing patterns inconspicuous to the average viewer to scandals brewing stemming from their exceptional and literally unbelievable performances. Like the Larson incident, the Perfect Bid controversy dissipated relatively quickly after the conclusion had been made that no cheating or foul play occurred and the game show made strides to ensure that moment never happens again. While Press Your Luck added more random patterns to its Big Board light-bouncing sequence, TPIR added more unique prizes to the mix and started to avoid using certain prizes more frequently in hopes to prevent another “Perfect Bid”. While there’s no questions that these moments make great television, the feeling is not so mutual behind the cameras when the prize budgets take impactful hits from said moments.
A Dream Come True
If you are not already familiar with his TPIR backstory, watching Slauson’s quixotic quest to kiss Barker’s Beauty Holly Halstrom is actually quite sweet once you see the entire story unfold. It’s one of those semi-sentimental stories one would see in a sitcom or a romantic comedy. Who would have thought Slauson would go from being someone whose pipe dreams were dashed of even stepping on stage to get close enough to Holly to not only receiving two kisses from Holly while playing Punch-A-Bunch, but also having a rare opportunity to talk to her after the show and receiving an autographed headshot his favorite model? Certainly not Slauson when he won is way on stage when he was finally selected as a contestant in 1992 while attending his 24th taping. I love happy endings.
Slauson’s Seemingly Ubiquitous and Effective Presence
Not only did he help Kniess win his Showcase and make game show history, Slauson also divulges how often he helped other contestants in Contestants’ Row achieve perfect bids and aided in a few pricing games as well. The most successful person to follow Slauson’s advice besides Kniess was an enthusiastic contestant named Brandon, whom Slauson met while attending his 26th taping. Brandon proceeded to earn a $500 for a perfect bid, become one of the first contestants to play and win Let ‘Em Roll, win a $1,000 bonus in the Showcase Showdown and win his Showcase, which included a new car. Brandon won nearly $40,000 in prizes including two new cars during his episode, which aired on June 22, 2002 during the show’s 30th season. I had no idea how much of a positive impact Slauson had with several contestants prior to this documentary.
The REAL Story About Terry Kniess
This was the segment that truly surprised me. Several questions were answered during this part of the documentary: why Carey seemed unimpressed with the moment, what happened behind the scenes after the bid was made, and why Kniess was wrong to take full credit for the perfect bid. Once you watch the segment “The Day The Price Was Exactly Right”, you will have a thorough and a more sympathetic understanding as to why Carey acted in such a muted manner. Listening to Carey and Slauson recount of the details of the immediate fallout and chaos which occurred backstage seconds after Kniess placed his bid is once again similar to the legal concerns and worries about another major game show cheating scandal arising on Press Your Luck after Michael Larson’s six-figure win.
As far as Kniess is concerned, while he took credit for guessing the Showcase price, I don’t believe he would have achieved that feat if he had never met Slauson while waiting in line. Even though Slauson, attending his 36th taping, seemed unbothered with Kniess surprisingly and erroneously omitting the fact he helped him with his perfect bids in Contestants’ Row and in the Showcase bids, you could tell that it slightly irked him that Kniess wasn’t completely truthful and forthcoming about the infamous episode. This portion of the movie makes the overall story even more intriguing than it already was.
Perfect Bid is a well-produced and poignant documentary which brilliantly takes the viewer on an intricate journey through Slauson’s experiences watching, attending and competing on The Price Is Right. Outside of my main takeaways, my favorite minor details within this documentary are the graphics thematically designed to resemble various TPIR elements, down to the clever and brief narration card font change from ArTarumianErevan to Dom Casual after Dobkowitz mentioned how diehard fans would discuss the minute, season-to-season changes while waiting in line. There is a wealth of information to be gained from watching this movie that the most ardent and adamant game show fan would appreciate; facts like Dobkowitz writing his graduate school dissertation on game shows while attending San Francisco State College and insights on what to do and not do to increase your chances of the producers selecting you to become a contestant to “COME ON DOWN!”.
Speaking of Dobkowitz, it was a real treat being able to listen to him and Bob Barker tell excerpts of the story from their point of view. It would have also been great to see former TPIR producer Kathy Greco, who worked on the show during the Perfect Bid episode, give a firsthand account of the incident – but I digress. It’s no surprise to see this film featured in several film festivals during its nationwide screening tour last year, win an award for Best Documentary at the 2017 Orlando Film Festival and rank number one among best-selling documentaries on Amazon and iTunes earlier this year.
You can purchase Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much now on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes and YouTube. The documentary will be screened at the Traverse City Film Festival on July 30, August 3 and August 5.