In the early 90s, I was on a revised version of the TV show To Tell The Truth. I was in the Air Force and lived in San Bernardino, only an hour or so from Burbank, where the TV studio was located, so I didn’t hesitate to apply when I saw an ad in the newspaper. I never dreamed I would be selected to come in for an interview.
The story they pitched to me was about a married woman with three children who decided to become a surrogate. Her name was Patty Nowakowski. This was around the beginning of the whole surrogate thing and all the legal issues had not been worked out. This surrogate discovered she was carrying twins…a boy and a girl. The father and his wife decided they did not want a boy and told the surrogate that they would put him up for adoption. The surrogate couldn’t allow the babies to be split up, so she went to court to keep both of them. She won and a few years later, there was a television movie made about her called A Moment of Truth: A Child Too Many.
A few days later, the studio called and asked me if I wanted to pretend to be the real surrogate on the game show. They would be taping the show the following weekend.
I had to arrive at the set location at 5am…and since I had to drive an hour after getting ready, that meant getting up around 3am. Anyone who knows me can attest that I am not a morning person!
After finding the correct lot and finding a parking spot, I entered the building and got checked in. There were a lot of us…the network tapes five episodes at a time and each episode has three different stories. There are three people for each story…the real person and two fakes.
We were introduced to Patty so we could talk to her, ask questions, and get a good feel for the story so that we could think about how we would answer. Patty looked like the all-American cheerleader…blonde hair, perfect complexion….definitely not somebody you would think to be a surrogate mother.
The first half of the day was rehearsal. It involved a lot of waiting around and watching the other stories rehearse before finally getting called. We rehearsed with the real stars after being introduced to me…Orsen Bean, Kitty Carlisle, both older than dirt, and Tom Villard, who was one of the leads in a short-lived TV show called We Got It Maid. All of them had on makeup and inch thick! Kitty’s perfume was so strong, it made my eyes sting!
After a catered lunch, they started taping the episodes in order. My episode was to air on a Friday, so we were one of the last ones to be taped. I hadn’t been nervous during rehearsal, but now that it was the real thing, I felt tongue-tied. The next five minutes were a blur and soon it was time for the celebrity panel to vote on who they thought was telling the truth. All three thought it was me! I didn’t know I could be such a convincing liar!
The prize wasn’t spectacular – just $3000 that had to be split between the surrogate, me and the other fake (if we had fooled only two celebrities, the prize pot would have been $2000…fool only one and only $1000 to split amongst us).
The day ended around 6pm and I was exhausted (and still had an hour to drive back home). I decided right then and there that I didn’t have the stamina to be on TV for a living.
One thing the experience did do, was get me to start thinking about what I wanted to do after I left the military. Graphic design didn’t immediately pop into my head, but it did put me on the path that lead me to where I am today. Being able to convince others is a skill I often use when I’m designing something for a client. They may be a tiny company of one, but I can make them look very professional and someone others want to do business with!