My youngest sister Kelly was the one who found the ad on Craigslist and forwarded to my mom, my sister Lauren, my brother Gunnar, and me:
Got a family with tons of energy and enthusiasm? Ever dream of being on a gameshow? Does possibly winning $100,000 and a new car appeal to you? Family Feud will be holding a casting call in Chicago on Saturday and Sunday, March 10th and 11th. This is your once-in-a-lifetime chance to be on the long-running game show hosted by Steve Harvey!!!
The family response was mixed, like with most suggested outings; getting all 6 of us to show up in the same place and on time could be tricky. And this particular occasion would require driving to a suburb early on a Sunday morning, when quality together-time took lower priority to sleeping in and drinking Bloody Marys.
I’ll give you a better picture of my family: my dad grew up in Skokie and my mom was born and raised in Manila. With a blond, blue-eyed Irish-Swedish father and a Filipino mother, the 4 of us kids ended up somewhere on the ethnically ambiguous spectrum, like a stock photo of a business meeting. My parents met while my mom was in art school and my dad was working as a freelance artist. With his first ever paycheck, my dad bought a glow-in-the-dark chicken and a rubber skull. Both his creative tendencies and “free-spirited” attitude towards adult responsibility carried over to his offspring. At the time of our Family Feud audition, my siblings and I ranged in age from our late 20’s to mid-30’s. Our artistic aspirations included: writer, Etsy entrepreneur, painter, and musician. Our actual daytime jobs were: office manager, startup flunky, restaurant hostess, and warehouse worker who unboxed doggie chew toys made of dried-up bull urethras. While our aspirations varied, we shared common hobbies like: day-drinking, binge-watching bit-torrented TV shows, and flaking out on lame obligations.
Most of us were feeling noncommittal towards the game show thing. But Kelly pushed for it; it would be fun! It would make a great story. And who knows, we might actually do well and get chosen. Grudgingly, each of us came around to the idea.
And so my parents, siblings, and I found ourselves in the conference center of a chain hotel one March morning, 4 out of 6 of us hung over. We were surrounded by hordes of families decked out in homemade t-shirts or matching Bears jerseys with nicknames embroidered on the back. These were families that have their shit together enough to coordinate outfits.
We were herded like cattle into 4 different meeting rooms separated by moveable partitions. Steve Harvey was not in any of them. Our room’s auditions were run by an energetic young P.A. with tattooed forearms who obviously wished that he was working on a much cooler TV show. He walked us through the rules of the game and showed us the order-up bells we’d be using in place of the buzzers from the TV show.
“Most importantly,” he stressed to us all, “be as enthusiastic and outgoing as possible. Play to the camera. You’re excited to be here!” He gestured to the camcorder recording the audition sessions.
Upon hearing this, I decided to myself that during our family’s turn, if I guessed an answer that wasn’t on the board, I would drop to my knees with my fists in the air, screaming a resounding “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” from the bottom of my soul.
Every family on The Feud needs a leader. This is less of an authority-figure/wise-guide-who-leads-you-out-of-the-desert type leader, but more of a willing-to-be-humiliated-in-High-Definition sort of role. Look to the family member who is most likely to hog the microphone at a karaoke night while everyone else sighs and waits for them to get all of that Pat Benatar out of their system. In the Nelson family, this person is me.
Once we had our team order figured out, my family and I sat back and watched the auditions, waiting our turn. For. Three. Hours. That’s 180 minutes of watching people trying to top the cleverness of the preceding family’s team intros, resulting in alliteration hell: “This is my scintillating sister Shelley, my glimmering niece Gertie, and my bro-tastic brother-in-law-Barney.” Three hours of people panicking under pressure and losing the ability to come up with answers to questions as simple as “Which states have two words in their name?”. Meanwhile the audience’s heads practically exploded from their desire to shout out one of many obvious answers. We were a room of hundreds of backseat drivers, biting our tongues to keep from screaming “North Dakota, you idiots!”
As the hours dragged on, our impatience with the situation grew. Gunnar, the most hungover of us, was started to turn as green. Whispers circulated amongst our row. Maybe we should get up and leave. The family was split down the middle; those that wanted to stick it out, and those who preferred to call it quits.
But before family mutiny broke out, we were finally called up to the stage. I lined up first behind the folding table substituting as the iconic Family Feud banquette, followed by my lazy sister Lauren, cantankerous sister Kelly, gassy brother Gunnar, tubular mother Tracy, and fuzzy father Fred.
I took the leader position and looked at my opponent: a petite, adorable grandmother. I was ready to annihilate her. The P.A. standing in for Steve Harvey read our first question from his notecard: “100 people were surveyed, and we are looking for the top 10 answers: what only appears at night?” My opponent beat me to the bell, but immediately froze under pressure and burst out with a terrible answer.
“Umm, the lake?” she said, flustered. Her family hung their heads in disappointment. She choked harder than Pierce Brosnan in Mrs. Doubtfire.
I slammed my hand on the bell, shouting “VAMPIRES!” I could hear my siblings laugh at me, but screw them because my answer was number 4 on the list. I was saved by the popularity of Twilight.
Next, my sister Lauren responded with “the moon,” which was a much more popular answer (though not scientifically correct). We worked our way down the line. Gunnar tried to think outside the box and answered with “your own drool,” earning us our first strike. As we circled through the panel twice, the obvious answers were quickly checked off the board: possums, ghosts, stars, bats, the Bogeyman. We struggled over the final unguessed clue. After our third strike, the other team had the opportunity to steal. We watched them circle the wagons, and got into our own huddle to pre-plan our television-friendly reaction to whatever came next.
Their team leader took her place back at the head of the table and shared their desperate Hail Mary of an answer, but it was not on the board. Nelsons win! We jumped, high-fived, and whooped it up to the best of our ability, even the hungover ones.
After our successful audition, we had lunch at Benihana, the official home of the Suburban Family Celebration. Giddy from our fake victory, we discussed the possibility of the family trip to Atlanta for filming week. We could become the most famous Filipino/Irish family ever! Who would get to keep the car? The world was full of possibilities, and we let ourselves dream big.
An older couple was seated at the end of our table and politely asked us what we were celebrating, so we told them about our audition.
“Oh, that’s so great! I’m sure you’ll get picked. You are a beautiful family,” the woman said kindly.
It was a sweet thing for her to say. I looked around the table at their faces leaning over their giant Buddha mugs and felt great love and affection for everyone there. My siblings and I tell the story of our parents, which is not just an immigrant story, or a typical suburban family story. It goes beyond the shade of our eyes and hair. We inherited our talents, our issues, and also our artistic (if not always practical) way of looking at the world. Through the smoke coming from our little onion volcanoes, I could see the people who had shaped me into who I am today. The people who best get my weirdo sense of humor because they have it too. Maybe we were all stumbling through life, trying to figure it out and floating from one dream to the next, but we each had each other’s backs. When we’re together, we’re a team, and we help each other through everything from hard times and loss to running the Family Feud table on some suckers from Rockford.
We didn’t get selected for the show, but that’s OK. Not all wins look the same.