"Bart Lerner, come on down!"
And with those words, West Coast University-Ontario Academic Dean Bart Lerner became the next contestant on "The Price is Right."
"I’ve watched the show forever but I’ve never been on one, never done anything like this before. Somebody here at work — her friend gets tickets and they always go together — and they said, ‘You should go with us sometime!’" Lerner said.
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"Everyone asks if it’s heavy and it really wasn’t that heavy. To me, at least. It was just a really cool thing to be able to spin it."
“At first I was thinking, ‘I’m not going to spin it that hard. But then I thought, ‘You know what? I’ve got nothing to lose so I’m just going to let it rip.' So I just grabbed it and pulled and hoped for the best.”
Eventually, "sometime" became "we’ve got tickets," and despite his reservations about missing work or putting off those proverbial "things to do," Lerner found himself saying "Alright, I’ll go."
Once the trio arrived at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, Lerner discovered that before being on "The Price is Right," you have to play "The Waiting Game."
“It was an all-day event. We got down there about 10:30 in the morning and it didn’t tape until 4 o’ clock," Lerner said. "We were literally in line in these different areas throughout the whole day."
After the doors opened, everyone was given a number and asked to fill out some forms and releases. Next, they waited while groups of about 20 at a time were interviewed to see if they would make good contestants.
When it was finally his turn, Lerner and a producer chatted for a few seconds about Lerner's hometown, his profession and if he had a favorite game on the show. Lerner said he liked the classic "Cliff Hanger." When asked why, he admitted it was because of the music.
“I just love that song,” he told the producer, and of course, began yodeling.
"And then he said, ‘You’re on the wrong show. You should be on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ And that was it. He went to the next person and that was all my time,” Lerner said.
After the interviews, Lerner's group filed into another waiting area. While there, one of the other audience members leaned over and told Lerner, "They liked your answers because we saw this lady writing down some stuff."
Eventually, the audience was seated in the Bob Barker Studio and Lerner's co-worker told him, "You’re going to get on." Lerner disagreed, but less than 60 seconds into the taping, he was running down the aisle to take his place on Contestant's Row.
“The energy in that room is so electric," Lerner said. "It’s amazing. Everyone is cheering, we’re giving out high-fives and we don’t know each other at all. They seat the contestants in this other area in the front row and we’re talking to one another going, ‘What the heck just happened?’ It was really wild.”
Three items after being called, Lerner had won a smartphone and one-year plan worth $1,500. Moments later, he was standing onstage next to Drew Carey and a huge sign flashing "$100,000" was being lowered from the ceiling.
Lerner had watched a few episodes as homework in case he got on. If he wasn't going to get "Cliff Hanger," Lerner had hoped for a simple game where you say "higher" or "lower" or roll some comically large dice. Instead, he had to play "Pay the Rent."
"Pay the Rent" involves putting six items — in Lerner's case: a can of peas, cookies, pie crust, cold medicine, coffee and birdseed — in a specific order and combination on four tiers, so that each level has a progressively greater price than lower ones. A single item is placed on the first and fourth tier, while two items go on the second and third. Arguably the show's most complicated contest, it's also one of the most lucrative.
“I just bought cold medicine for my son about a month ago and paid a fortune for it, so I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s got to be expensive’ but it was only $6.59," he said. "I wouldn’t expect birdseed was the second-most expensive. How much are sunflower seeds and little nuts kinds of things? But it was a bigger bag so that’s what kind of threw me.”
While Lerner didn't win the grand prize, he did walk away with $10,000 — and some priceless memories.
“Even if I didn’t get on, it was an amazing experience just being in that audience. That’s about the one game, maybe between that and ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ where the audience is a real part it. Because I’m looking out to the audience and I’m seeing everybody — and there was this one guy literally who was like spreading his wings and yelling at me ‘Birdseed! Birdseed!’ It was very funny."