Confessions of a Smart Arse – My Brilliant (Game Show) Career: Episode 4 – (Not So) Hot Seat – Buy Me A Pony

When I heard that there was a new talent show with one of the Madden brothers as a judge, and the chance to make Ricky Martin turn, I thought that this would be an ideal vehicle for my until-I-was-on-Rockwiz latent musical talents. Even more so, when I thought that it involved an ongoing battle between the Navy Seals and Delta Force as a parallel plot device.

Closer inspection of the Green Guide revealed that I would be better placed on Channel Eddie’s other potentially life-changing show, Millionaire Hot Seat.

The first hurdle, which I now wish I had fallen at, was the internet simulation of the quiz. Get 9 out of 10 and your prize is to be able to advance to the next .html stage, the application form.

Fill it in, hit “submit” and wait, which is what I did late one night in February 2012.

A few weeks later, among the daily digital deluge of my inbox was an invitation to attend an audition, to be held at the Hawthorn Campus of Melbourne Uni.

I arrived on that mid-April evening, to be herded into the former Hawthorn Institute of Education (nee State College of Victoria), here to be precise. All of the 192 seats were warmed by prospective smartarses, some smart, some arsey.

After a preliminary screening of some of the show’s highlights, it was down to the process of wheat/chaff separation.

Similar to a Year 9 topic test, or maybe a Parents and Friends Trivia night, each prospect was given a pen and an answer sheet.

Thirty questions were screened in relatively quick succession, each question requiring an A or B or C or D. In my case, the ones that made me pause for thought (e.g. which of the four boroughs mentioned contained Buckingham Palace) had me overanalysing the question, looking for the trick component or key word, resulting in a smattering of crossings out and replacements (some fortuitous, some not).

The Rodney Dangerfield allusions continued when we were instructed to swap papers with someone else. As the answer to each question was revealed the papers were marked, along with communal groans and/or cheers.

Papers were returned to their compilers. I had 23/30, well above the law of averages, but well short of what I would have backed myself for.

The next part involved a show of hands countdown.

Hands up if you got 30/30 – no hands

Hands up if you got 29/30 – still no hands

Hands up if you got 28/30 – a couple of the (non-gender specific ) clever-Richards revealed

Keep those hands up

Hands up if you got 27/30 …

After my score had been reached, about one person in six had limbs aloft.

A production assistant was keeping a cumulative total of those hands. Rather than an agreed cut-off score, it seemed that they were looking for an agreed percentile as the cutoff. Those who had scores of 18 or above were through to the next round, by my reckoning this was about 60 people.

Off to a smaller room, a classroom replete with the mandatory plastic seats and laminex tables (was there really a petrochemical crisis in the 70s?)

At this point, it was emphasised by the production assistants that we were not guaranteed a spot on the show by making it this far. Further, we could be called at any time in the future, so don’t keep asking when/if you are on. Reading between the lines, there were some demographic algorithms used to compile each episode.

This next stage involved a more detailed questionnaire including funny things that have happened to you, famous people you have met etc, and a short video audition.

I realised that my progress depended on my having a “Schtick”. What was it that I could say that would make them think that I would be a good fit?

I decided not to play the “old campaigner in a dud jumper with a crappy voice” card, but leant on my inglorious past as an (extraordinarily unlucky) three-time game show loser who just needed a break in order to regain the respect of his three daughters. Compared to some of the others, it was pretty lame, but it was all that I had.

And so I waited, and waited, eventually consigning this opportunity to the deleted items of life.

In August 2013, I received the call that I had long given up expecting.

I had been selected as a contestant, taping was to be in late August. I received a follow up email with all sorts of instructions; the most stringent of these was that all contestants would need to attend the entire day’s proceedings from 8am until 6pm.

Having mentally spent the winnings already, a dilemma arose. The taping was scheduled for the same day as my daughter’s major school concert evening, the same one that I missed in 2012 due to interstate work commitments. I rang the producers and asked how stringent the 6pm lock-in was, but before I could get my question out, I was told that the taping date had to be changed due to unforeseen circumstances (more on that later).

The day in question, a stock standard Melbourne late winter’s day, arrived. The taping was held at Nine’s Docklands Studios, a dead-end so desolate, it doubles as a tumbleweed farm, overlooked by Melbourne’s own giant Wheel of Misfortune.

As has been my habit of a lifetime, I was one of the first competitors to arrive, around the time that Red Symons signed off from his 774 breakfast shift. I dumped my belongings (spare shirt, not much else) in the sparse room reserved for males, then made my way to the utilitarian space at the end of the hall where others seemed to be gathering.

One of my fellow contestants seemed familiar, but the rest seemed anonymous enough. As the day progressed, I would know some a little better, some I wouldn’t know if they sat next to me tomorrow on the train.

The first formality was the signing of the release forms. I was amused when, after having read through them and signed them, several contestants were surprised to learn that if the show did not make it to air, then the producers were not obliged to hand over any of the prize money. Didn’t you read what you just signed, I muttered inwardly. Then I remembered that I had misread the emailed instructions and paid to park miles away when it was clearly stated on those instructions that there was free parking available at the studio site. Another clause that I didn’t like, was that by appearing on this show, I was now not permitted to apply for any other show in the Millionaire franchise in the future. No attempt was made to provide us with a copy of what we had just signed.

Those unforeseen circumstances that forced the change of dates, turned out to be the decision to shoot a number of extra shows where the contestants were useful members of society such as ambos, firepersons, nurses and such-like. We obviously lacked the feelgood factor that the ratings required.

Next, we gathered in a larger room where the Gen-X production assistant gave us further riding instructions. We had to say a bit more about ourselves to the other 35 punters (there were six shows being compiled that day). The crucial detail of which show and which chair we were assigned to was then revealed. Once that was known, it was easier to decide who your potential enemies were and who you could talk to freely. There was one older lady for whom the word eccentric didn’t do justice. She insisted on wearing an odd-looking hat and making inappropriate interruptions along the way. The production staff thought that they were onto something with her and shuffled her to the first seat of her episode to obtain maximum impact.

The next stage was odd. In shifts, we were given a fullish rehearsal of the game itself. A faux Eddie took us through various iterations of intros and questions, but the pressure element was missing as there was no audience and he prompted us along the way.

My question concerned the points value of the black ball in snooker (5, 6, 7 or 8?). It was a long time since I had visited the Elizabeth Snooker Hall with future Australian cricketer Glenn Bishop and even then it was to play the Playboy themed pinnies rather than risk damaging the 12×6 baize coverings. Not that it mattered, but I was pretty sure it was seven, which I confirmed mentally by reconstructing a maximum 147 break.

He seemed more likeable and down to earth than the real Eddie, but looked more like Barney Rubble than the smooth wide boy from Melbourne’s (as opposed to the even more down at heel Elizabeth, SA version) Broadmeadows.

Around this time, you start to latch onto certain people and make judgements about others. My favourite was the burly thirtysomething Queenslander who travelled down with his wife, leaving the kids with the grandparents, all expenses paid. When I found out that he was employed in the prison system as a teacher to the inmates, I felt that he was truly deserving of success. On the other hand, there was the blowhard who took great delight in shouting his answers to all and leg-byes when we were observing the rehearsals.

The guy I thought I recognised earlier in the day turned out to be the cove that was made briefly famous when Adam Hills arranged for him to have his own Comedy Festival gig in 2012, singing his unfunny tunes about iPods and toilets.

Another chap told me that he had waited for more than four years before getting the call. Ersatz Eddie’s line of questioning revealed that he was retired from the defence forces, with more than a hint of espionage involved, which was not denied.

Rehearsals over, we returned to our designated mess hall where were provided with a sub-Smorgy’s collation, the likes of which I hadn’t had to put up with since enrolling in some dodgy mid-80’s systems analysis courses.

Finally it was wardrobe, my mainly white with stripey checked shirt passed muster and the video flaring test. Hair and makeup was more like yeah and giveup in my case.

Each contestant was allowed one support person, and they arrived, along with a busload of OAPs from Bendigo at around midday. Mine was the long-suffering but always supportive Mrs Swish.

Show 1 for the day commenced, with the remaining thirty of us and support crew watching on from the mess hall.

Yes, Mr Blowhard was there in full voice, but I tried to retreat into the zone, the zone that held me in such good stead on It’s Academic, Wheel of Fortune and Rockwiz. Not.

I remember nothing of the first episode whatsoever, but as it was finished, I half skipped, half trudged onwards towards my fate.

I was in seat five for game two. A tricky spot, the chances of passing and getting back around again were slim from there. On the other hand, by the time I landed in the Hot Seat (if at all), there wouldn’t be that many questions left.

Each show’s proceedings were preceded by the antics of the warmup man, Michael Pope. He had a job to do, but as a contestant I was not really in the mood for levity. In hindsight, I was uptight.

As the floor manager counted the show in, I could feel a presence to my right entering the arena. For the umpteenth time, the spotlights were on HRH Eddie. He skilfully announced each of us (i.e. read from the teleprompter) including a brief anecdote.

“Mark Schwerdt once took alcohol to a breakfast meeting when working in Tokyo” was mine and I did my best to look at the correct camera while producing the mandatory dorky salute.

First cab off the rank was a bubbly single mum whose “Schtick” was that she was learning the flying trapeze (are there any other sorts?). She was a natural at the repartee and rapport biz, getting the show off to a lively start. After a couple of questions, she elected to strategically pass.

Next was the tattooed (aren’t they all) Gen-Y girl. Nothing memorable, again a couple of questions and a pass.

Pleasant young chap did the same as well, the $1,000,000 still in play.

Contestant four was an older than me lady who was a volunteer radio operator for the coastguard, her grandson as her “hello Eddie, good thanks”.

She snagged the cooking related question that had been hospital handballed to her by PYC. The next question’s topic was that staple of 1960s childhood enlightenment, the Seven Wonders of the (Ancient) World. I was briefly taken back to a series of Kellogg’s Corn Flake packets that had the SWot(A)W emblazoned on the back. Realising that I was next, I scrambled to remember that Alexandria’s claim to fame was, of the four choices presented, a Lighthouse. But rather than another pass, her incorrect response meant that I was now up.

The Hot Seat itself is actually a rickety bar-stool arrangement, probably purchased from Jeff’s Shed (the Camberwell version). The ultimate “anxious seat”.

After exchanging a clumsy handshake/sit down manoeuvre, Eddie commenced a gentle interrogation, making small talk about my employer (me), then, in a bonsai version of the first 75% of this quadrilogy, became quite animated at the idea of Sandy Roberts hosting It’s Academic. The look he gave me was the same that he (probably) gave Sharrod Wellingham’s manager when his contract renewal log of claims included $750k per annum for 10 years, plus the gigs as the Pies’ TAC and Mensa Awareness ambassadors. Burgo and Julia got a re-run too.

After Mrs Swish’s five seconds of fame, it was time for my first question. It stared down at the small screen in front of me, mesmerised by the equation – six questions, $250,000. What could be easier, I thought?

The $6,000 question flashed up, and I had my own personal Michael Cole at the 1973 Logies moment – “Oh shit”.

I reminded myself earlier in the day that I shouldn’t go looking for the trick question, to trust my instinct but think it through if there was any doubt.

The question was a sporting one, but not one that I had ever taken part in, even as a casual observer.

“How many players in a Polo team”

A – 3 B – 4
C – 5 D – 6

At first I hoped that I had misheard the question, and that the answer “Richmond and St Kilda” would have given me the bickies. Then I recalled the scene in Pretty Woman where George Costanza had hair and they stomped down divots and other (steaming) objects; no help there either.

And since phone-a-friend was no longer part of the Millionaire tactics, Gillon’s number would remain unnecessary.

So I went with the first thought that popped into my scone – never before had I been so certain of something about which I had no idea.

5, er C Eddie, lock in C, 5.

His eyes betrayed his lips, as Eddie feigned sorrow. Nah mate, the answer is 4. Now piss off, or words to that effect.

Another clumsy handshake, exit stage right. Failure^4.

Next up was the “aspiring filmmaker”, whose unique conversational proposition was that he was a waiter at Eddie’s 40th Birthday bash at the Stokehouse (naturally).

Cecil B’s first question was, to quote Jebediah, “like a harpoon in my heart”. I can’t remember the alternatives, but essentially he was asked which band Debra Harry was lead singer for. If ever there was a question written for me, that was it. I sat transfixed in 1977 when Countdown erroneously played Blondie’s “In The Flesh” clip instead of the A-side “X-Offender”, although it took a while to catch on that Blondie was a group and not the name of the lead singer. Their cover of The Nerves Hanging On The Telephone was the perfect opener to the perfect Parallel Lines album, although I still prefer Plastic Letters.

From now on, it was a personal game of “how would I have gone” as I undertook mental self-flagellation for the remaining questions.

The prize pool fell to $50,000 after the next question. Whether I would have known that Holbrook was the last town to be bypassed by the Hume Highway is irrelevant, but Eddie’s erstwhile hors d’oeuvres holder certainly didn’t.

Which brought back our leadoff batter, the aspiring aerialist. Her task now was three questions for $20k, but she failed on the last question which required her to nominate the most populous US state, leaving her with the $1,000 consolation prize.

Hmm, no lives changed there, at least not for the better in my case. Game over. Career over.

As Eddie sprinted past us at show’s end, he paused as an afterthought to chat briefly with Cecil B, reminiscing about that night in late 2004 where Melbourne’s A-list was gathered to pay tribute to the then-future Channel 9 CEO. (It seemed that, like his predecessor David Gyngell, Eddie wasn’t afraid to punch out of his weight division.) There probably weren’t any shit sandwiches served on Jacka Boulevard that night, and no doubt the quail had been boned. But that was three or four chins ago. (Glad I’m not bitter about this).

Two shows down, four more to sit through. Let me tell you, it was hard going, sitting in the mess hall pretending to care about the remaining shows.

Mr Blowhard was still at it, but we also met a new friend, Mr Nervous Nelly, who was panicking, asking pointless questions like “what if I get asked something I don’t know”, as if that possibility had just dawned on him.

We were joined at our table by a contestant from Adelaide who was in the “fine wine industry”. She made sure that we knew that she lived in Walkerville, one of Adelaide’s better locales.

When her turn with Eddie came around, I cacked myself when she was introduced as coming from Vale Park. This was the equivalent of a Bentleigh resident announcing themselves as coming from Brighton (not that any self-respecting Bentleighite would fall for that trap).

She was oblivious to Eddie’s mickey-taking when she proclaimed her love of “Shirarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrzzzzzzz”. “Is that anything like Sherazz?” he smirked, and for the first time that day, I warmed to his patter.

Justice prevailed in subsequent shows, where Mr Qld Prison teacher took off a cool $100k after correctly nominating the correct James Bond movie, and Mr Might Have Been A Spy ended up with $10k.

Mr Blowhard proved to be Mr Blowsoft, by passing even thought it was clear that he wouldn’t get back around, and Mr Nervous Nelly’s fears were well founded. Even Old Mother Eccentric had an attack of the dries when she went on. So much for the last minute seat shuffling on Game 4.

Around 4:30ish it became clear that the 6pm lock-in was not being enforced and the unlucky losers slunk out early, no doubt wanting to wallow in self pity in the privacy of their own four walls, like me.

As I made my way out of the Docklands complex, I tripped and fell flat on my face in front of the other departing losers, a physical rendition of my earlier performance.


Of course, my daughters all knew the answer to the question that I had failed to answer correctly. “Didn’t you ever watch Saddle Club, dad? That was easy. What a loser. Don’t bother embarrassing us any more.”

Every adult acquaintance that I’ve asked would have also answered with five, cold comfort.

And when the episode was screened a few weeks later, my screentime was reduced to the barest possible. Not even Sandy Roberts got a mention.

But apparently there is a new show on Channel 7 that might be worth a go at …

About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right


  1. Swish

    Brilliant and very very funny. What’s left? Not many quiz shows anymore, more long reality show competitions. Big Brother maybe? Or can you cook?

    Will you have a go at that new 7 one before the news?

    I work at the same place that you did the audtions, and every few months, we are inundated with hopefuls lining the corridors. I often think about sneaking in.

    Your summary very much mirrorred my 2001 Sale of the Century experience, through applications, auditions, testing, waiting list and eventually, invitation, hanging around the studio preparing then getting my head on telly.

    I hope you have a go at another show, these stories have been great

    Well done


  2. Very engaging story well told Swish. I always thought that contestants not getting their dough if the show isn’t screened is the height of dodginess.

    Where can I read about your Rockwiz experience?

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Very entertaining again Swish pretty unlucky with a polo question enjoyed your , Walkerville , Vale Park line . You’re series of articles has been a good education about the quiz show process thanks Swish

  4. Swish- agree that the stationary trapeze is lacking as a circus act. Sharrod Wellingham’s manager once played golf with Bob Hope. Or so I’m told.
    Another televisual opportunity awaits: have you had an acerbic tweet flash across the Q & A ticker?
    Another great yarn.

  5. Swish, love the bloke who had been waiting for four years, I have been waiting for eighteen months. Hoping to win lotto in the meantime and sending an email saying do not want to be on the show anymore. Oh well, probably another two years after that.

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks all for your kind remarks.

    Sean – in the words of tattooed juvenile Canadian philosopher J Bieber, Never Say Never

    JD – my sad history, inc Rockwiz can be found in earlier Almanac pieces

    ‘Book – nothing wrong with Vale Park per se, I think a certain B Robran has resided there at some point

    Mickey – re Q&A, to paraphrase and mangle TISM, I might be a w*nker, but I’m not a …

    saint66 – hope you get on, work on your schtick

  7. Chris Rees says

    Swish you might want to have a crack at the dire Think Tank, I believe you could take home a stuffed Banana in Pyjama and Luke McGregor.

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