Living the Dream on “Hollywood Game Night”

By Alicia Groveston, Head Coach, Grand Valley State University, @laxvesta29

Ever feel like you are destined to do something? Maybe your destiny is to cure world hunger, create world peace, invent the “next big thing,” or change young people’s lives. However, mine (in addition to shaping America’s youth through lacrosse), was to use my vast (mainly useless) knowledge of pop culture to be on NBC’s Hollywood Game Night, hosted by Jane Lynch!

When Hollywood Game Night debuted in July of 2013, I was sucked in from the start. I watched every week, playing right along with every game that they did. After the first two episodes, I kept thinking to myself, I can do this. I should absolutely be on this show. Despite that, I thought they wouldn’t want me; the process is probably super hard and I will never get selected. However, one night I thought, “who would it hurt to apply?” So I did. I filled out the 10-page application, picked my eight best Facebook pictures (sans duckface) and sent it in.

Within a week I received a call back saying they wanted to do a phone interview with me. I spoke with the casting directors about myself and played their signature game, “Celebrity Name Game.” In this game one person gives clues for the other person to guess who the celebrity is; for example, if I were to say, “SNL cast member who played Sarah Palin,” you would say “Tina Fey.” Once the phone interview was over, the casting director said “we think you could be great and we are going to move you forward to the Skype Interview.”

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A few days later I had my Skype interview. I was asked more questions about myself and then asked to play “Celebrity Name Game” once again, as well “How Do You Do Do?” This is a game where you have to sing a song using only the word ‘Do’. It is quite challenging when you are tone deaf and not musically inclined, but somehow I made it through successfully.

However, when the show announced the dates they were filming for the 2nd season, it landed smack in the middle of our GLIAC conference season. As a result, I backed out of consideration.

Fast forward a year and a half later, I am still obsessed with the show. In late September 2015, I decided it was my destiny to be on this show. So once again I filled out the application and picked updated Facebook photos (still sans duckfaces). I waited anxiously to see if they would once again like me… A few days later I got a phone call and we started the process all over again.

After the Skype interview this time, I had one final phone interview with a producer (yikes!). I knew it was almost down to the wire, so I had to be on. Fortunately, the producer I spoke with put me at ease and asked me about sports. Did I like sports? What are my favorites? Who are my favorite sports figures? We spoke for about 30 minutes on the subject and I could’ve kept going. After, we played the most challenging round of “Celebrity Name Game” I had played to date. Even though I got 9 out of 10 correct, I was upset with my performance and knew I could’ve done better. What if that one wrong answer was the difference between being in and being out? Then I took a deep breath and remembered that if they wanted me for me, I was going to be in California soon enough.

A week later I got the call that sent me hurdling toward my destiny, I was informed I would be one of the finalists for the show filming on October 27, 2015. I got my plane itinerary, packing list and further instructions. They asked for 10 wardrobe options (full body pictures) and when you live alone that isn’t always easy. So I phoned a friend and had a mini photo shoot.

As the date came closer I received my participant agreement, which banned me from saying anything to anyone about the trip except for my family and my team. Nothing could be posted anywhere and no one could know anything further about my time on the show until previews for my show aired – months later. But, still I was going to California, so I could deal with that!

So I hop off the plane at LAX, with my dream and a cardigan…but I digress.

The day of filming arrives, I wake up, work out and get ready to go! Its game day and I am so excited. However, as I get into the lobby I realize that I am not alone and there are four other people in the lobby looking how I feel: nervous, eager and thinking about how their lives could change TODAY! When Quinn, our producer, arrives I realize that my journey to being on HGN is not over yet. We have one final interview with ALL the producers.

We all pile into a black SUV (think Presidential Motorcade) and within 10 minutes arrive on the Universal Lots (yes, the place where The Voice, Ellen, The Mindy Project and many other shows are filmed) and get ready to roll!

As if this trip isn’t surreal enough, the first person we see when we pull up, is Jane Lynch. I am still in the car at this point and I think my face is plastered to the window, where I am grinning and waving like a child who has just seen a Disney princess for the first time. Once we get out of the car, Jane Leeves (Frasier, Hot in Cleveland) and Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly, Crowded) are milling around casually. I start to freak out a little, but kept my cool until I spot Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project, The Office). I am pretty sure if my friends/players would’ve seen me my street cred would be revoked, because I squealed like a child and started waving uncontrollably. She was very sweet and said “Hi!” and waved. It was a total star struck/fan girl moment.

Once inside, my new bff’s, aka my competitors, and I all settle in to wait for our turn to interview. I am the last to go. The interview room is right next door and you can hear Charlie Brown’s mom in the background (mwa, mwa, mwa, mwa), however it gets intimidating when you hear people start laughing. At that point you know something is going well for that person!

I only had a moderate palm sweat happening when they called my name. I entered a room of five producers and a director. They ask me about my life in Grand Rapids, the players I coach at Grand Valley, and about life in general. We then play a speed round of, you guessed it, “Celebrity Name Game.” My competitive self takes over and I kill it!

Going back into the room with my four new friends, I felt confident, happy, anxious and like I want to throw up. After a few minutes, each of us is called back a second time. When the first guy returns he says, “Oh they just had a few more questions for me.” Each person follows suit. I am second to last this time. They sit me on the coach and my bestie (producer) Quinn lets me know I have been selected to be on the show. I literally black out, cannot hear and it takes me about a minute to breathe again. This is actually happening! She tells me that we are going to be on a “sports” themed show, the first of its kind. She won’t tell me anything else except that I will be on with two former Olympians (could it be Michael Phelps or Shaun White?), two TV sports personalities (Erin Andrews or Bob Costas?) and two NFL players (maybe Ray Lewis or JJ Watt?). I could not wait to find out who was on our show!

I have to play it cool when I head back into the room, since we are not allowed to divulge our conversations. We wait for them to tell us we can pack up and head back to the car. My show competitor, Adam, and I, have to wait and leave our wardrobe options for the staff to sort through. We were trying to be covert, but it takes a bit more time than we thought, so by then the ‘jig is up’ as to who was selected for the show. However, the other three finalists who were not selected, were awesome and very congratulatory!

We went back to the hotel where I ate some lunch, take a nap and get some work done. At 4pm we head back over to the studio. It’s time for hair, makeup and wardrobe – we have to be camera ready! After some craft service (which was delicious), we play “Heads Up” to get primed for our appearance! I am in the zone when the attorneys, producers and directors come inside. They let us know we will have a handler with us at all times should we need anything, but alas no cell phones on set. Next up, they gave us the rundown of the games we will be playing and specific nuances of those games.

Finally, it is the moment Adam and I have been waiting for! On Adam’s team we have: Olympian Tara Lipinski, Host of DirecTV’s The Rich Eisen Show, Rich Eisen, and former NFL Player/NFL Network Analyst Nate Burleson. On my team we have: Olympian Apollo Ohno, NBC’s Sunday Night Football Anchor and broadcast legend Al Michaels, and former NFL player/NFL Network Analyst Maurice Jones Drew. While Adam and I pick up our jaws off the floor, we are told we only have about 15 more minutes until show time.

I am so thrilled at this point I cannot contain myself; it is about to go down! We walk over to the meet and greet area, where we have the opportunity to shake hands and chat with our celebs. All are unbelievably nice and thrilled to be there! We head to the green room, where we go over our first game. We do a few examples to get everyone on the same page and then it is TIME!

We are called onto set… My heart is pounding out of my chest while I am trying not to trip in my heels or drop my water! We are greeted with a ton of applause (so overwhelming) and a beacon. That beacon is Jane Lynch in a shiny navy jacket rocking the biggest smile! I haven’t said it before, but she is quite possibly the sweetest, most generous human being EVER. She puts us immediately at ease and they get us prepped for the real deal!

Dean Butterworth and the Scorekeepers play Jane in with the HGN theme song and we are on!

During introductions of the “regular people,” she asked me if I would pick Nate Burleson or Maurice Jones Drew to be a lacrosse player for my team. I had to go with MJD for his speed and explosiveness. In what literally feels like 30 seconds, we are ready to go!

The first game we play is called “No Harm No Vowel,” where all vowels are removed and you have to guess the movie title. I am pretty pumped because this is right in my wheelhouse!

Our second game of the night was “Double Draw,” a brand-new game for Season four of HGN; where we have to draw specific items for our teams to guess. Art was never my best subject – nor for my teammates. MOVING ON!

The third game is the fan favorite ”Popped Quiz,” where we all sit around a table and answer trivia questions. If you got the question right you ended up unscathed, if you got it wrong you were hit with a cannon shot of unsalted, unbuttered popcorn; trust me I know!

Complete side note…during each break in production an ARMY of hair and makeup professional rush the stage. They make sure we look FABULOUS as the night goes on. Those men and women were heaven sent! I wish I had them in my pocket daily!

The fourth game was, “Show Me the Music,” where contestants had to put on noise-cancelling headphones and guess what songs their team was acting out. Team Good Guys (that’s my team) goes second so we have to wait for Adam’s team to perform. When it is our turn (please just imagine it if you didn’t get to see it), the legend Al Michaels, mouthing “Ra-Ra” and doing some high kicks to Omi’s song Cheerleader. PRICELESS!

Deciding the winner comes down to the final game, “Where Ya Going?” Each “regular person” picks a celebrity to drive their imaginary cab. The celebrity chosen, then has to guess the destination based on the clues they are given by their teammates. We are up first! I pick Apollo (I guess I can him that now) to be my driver. My team crushes the game, but we have to wait for Adam and his driver to play. They get stuck on Hollywood Bowl and to my surprise, I have WON!

It is unreal; a total out of body experience. You are standing there and these wonderful people, athletes and icons alike are genuinely happy for you! However, my night is not over. It is time for the money!

I have to pick two celebrities, one from each team to give me clues in the finale, “Celebrity Name Game.” You have 90 seconds to get 10 celebrities correct. If you do it, you win $25,000, and each celebrity wins $10,000 for their charity of choice. If you do not, you and your celebrity friends, would get $1,000 for every one you get correct.

I have a commercial break to think over who I am going to pick. This is a tough choice. I have watched so many episodes where the “regular person” picks the wrong clue giver. I go back and forth, back and forth between 3 people. Eventually, I decide that Apollo Ohno and Nate Burleson are going to take me to the finish line.

Jane introduces the game and we get ready to go. I take a seat on my stool, say a silent prayer and listen for the first clue. We go through the game and I am so nervous. Their clues are outstanding and are absolutely giving me the information I need to make the right guess. The game is only 90 seconds long and it goes by in the blink of an eye.

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When all is said and done Jane says that’s it. I look up and she exclaims “YOU DID IT!” I jump off my stool and run at Nate and Apollo. In my celebration, I almost take them both down. It was the most marvelously dreamlike moment of my life. I had just won $25,000, hung out with celebrities (who I almost clotheslined) and lived out one of my dreams!

Having to keep this a secret for the last four months was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I wanted to share this journey and my experience with everyone.

Appearing on Hollywood Game Night was one of the craziest, most rewarding things I have ever chosen to do. I pushed myself outside my comfort zone and learned a ton while doing it.

As strange as it seems, this experience is so similar to playing and coaching lacrosse. I had a goal; a dream and felt like I could realize it. So I went after it. Despite the obstacles, the challenges, and my self-doubt, I accomplished my goal.

When I met my HGN team, I had to prove to them I was worth fighting for and working with. This game, like so many others, is all about teamwork and finding the right pieces of the puzzle; if you have the wrong pieces you won’t get to where you want to go. I was extremely fortunate to have teammates who were knowledgeable, fun, committed and willing to fight with me.

All in all, the three days I was in California were three of my favorite days. It allowed me to live my dream, so that I could come home and help the AMAZING 35 young ladies on my team live theirs! I cannot thank them enough for their support and understanding through this process.

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One thought on “Living the Dream on “Hollywood Game Night”

  1. While this post was entertaining and hilarious and fun to read, I still kept thinking to myself, how does this relate to women’s lacrosse? Way to link it! Loved it! And congratulations, you definitely earned it.

    Like

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