"Come on down": Stephen Wylie's Price is Right obsession

    Stephen Wylie holds his homemade skinny mic and a sign a friend made for his hallway. Photo by John Meguerian / North by Northwestern.

    A sign on the stairs leading up to Stephen Wylie’s third floor room in his Garnett house reads “Warning: This area contains high levels of The Price is Right. If you are allergic to Bob Barker, Showcase Showdowns, Plinko, or The Big Wheel, stay away from this area.”

    In his room, Wylie has laid out his “collection,” a number of vintage The Price is Right board games he acquired from eBay. On one wall is a cabinet containing his impressive collection of hundreds of episodes of the game show, recorded onto tapes and DVDs. Wylie himself stands in the center of the room, holding a replica skinny mic he fashioned out of an eBay-acquired microphone and an old radio antenna. He grins and with his parted brown hair, he almost looks like he was born to hold that mic.

    Plenty of people have a fondness for The Price is Right, the go-to daytime show for children home sick from school. But Wylie, a McCormick senior, is a downright aficionado with an encyclopedic knowledge of the history and inner workings of the show. Wylie’s obsession started in his preschool years.

    “My mom was a big CBS fan, so I watched it a lot,” he said. “I think it was the flashing colors and a fascination with how television works as a kid that drew me in.”

    When he started kindergarten, Wylie was dismayed to find out that he had to be at school while The Price is Right aired.

    “The worst is that I had recess from 11-12 [when the show aired], but the teachers wouldn’t let me watch, they made me go outside and play,” Wylie said bitterly.

    His mom taped the episodes for him to watch later, which led him into the habit of saving episodes. Wylie taped any show he missed and after awhile, he started seeking out particularly interesting moments to add to his collection.

    “I tend to like to find episodes where something rare happens, like all three people get a dollar on the big wheel or Bob gets chased around by a big fat lady,” Wylie said.

    In January, 2005, Wylie was first approached online by a fellow collector looking to trade tapes. By now, he has traded almost 700 hours of the show through his website. Wylie’s website also hosts a Big Wheel he designed in Flash, trivia about the show and dozens of his favorite clips.

    “Sometimes things happen that are so unbelievable that not even a screenwriter could have come up with them,” Wylie said.

    As Wylie shows me some of his favorite moments, he narrates them perfectly, pausing the clips at moments to excitedly set up what’s going to happen next. As we watch his favorite clip, “Pauline Chases Bob”, he tells me how the game is played, how Pauline did on the show and then chuckles loudly as Pauline begins chasing Barker around the stage. Wylie keeps giggling, despite having seen the clip dozens of times before, and then marvels at the way Barker laughs the whole thing off.

    Wylie’s obsession with The Price is Right hasn’t tapered since coming to college. Weinberg senior Evan Gray, who lived in Shepard Residential College with Wylie during his freshman and sophomore year, said he could tell first hand how fascinated Wylie was with the show.

    “He lived next to me and even through the wall, I’d hear him watching the show and listening to music,” Gray said. “It was like Price is Right every day.”

    Wylie has used his knowledge to help Special Olympics plan The Price is Right games for two years. He also designed games to use as training exercises for Academic Technologies, going beyond his staple and creating games based on The Joker’s Wild and another personal favorite, the 1970’s Alex Trebek-hosted Double Dare.

    But Wylie’s true passion is The Price is Right, evidenced in his pedantic knowledge of the show. He can tell you when pricing games started and were retired, who the various announcers have been and came name any number of unseen crew members on the show.

    That knowledge came in handy in 2007 when he joined a group of Northwestern students and lived a dream by attending a taping of the show. When Barker announced his retirement on Halloween of 2006, Wylie knew he had to go. Bethany Marzewski, a then-sophomore in Medill, was organizing a trip and invited Wylie after hearing about him (“You can’t get through too many people on campus talking about The Price is Right without hearing my name,” Wylie said).

    The shirts Wylie and his friends designed for their trip to L.A. Photo by John Meguerian / North by Northwestern.

    Once tickets were booked, Wylie started hosting training sessions for the 20 students that were going, including Gray. Gray said that only after seeing Wylie host the training sessions did he understand just how deep his obsession was.

    “He just would pick several games and would talk strategy,” Gray said. “If you’re guessing the price of a car, he knew what numbers to pick first. He had some statistics on some of the games, too. He knew a lot of the ins and outs of how the games worked.”

    Finally, over spring break in March, Wylie and the other students made it to L.A. They lined up for more than 21 hours before the taping started, guaranteeing that they would get the first spots in line.

    “We made sure that when they came out to give us our priority tickets, he was at the very front so that he could get the one that said ‘1,’” Gray said. “The whole thing was like a pilgrimage for him. It was special to be first in line for the show.”

    Wylie said the experience was overwhelming and fast-paced, just about what you’d expect from a show that bills itself as “the most exciting hour on television.” After waiting in line all night (Wylie, of course, didn’t sleep) and getting through an interview with revered Price is Right musical director Stan Blits, Wylie and his friends found themselves being led into the studio, finally looking at the neon curtains and Big Door in person.

    “I know everybody says this, but the set looked a lot smaller in person,” he said without a hint of disappointment. “And it looked a lot tackier in real life.”

    Wylie barely had time to soak it in before a drum roll echoed through the studio and the trademark flashing light border appeared on the screen. It all happened so fast, Wylie didn’t even see Barker make his entrance through the Big Door.

    The show itself was memorable, thanks to two historic moments that occurred while Wylie was in the audience (watch them here and here). However, the real thrill came before the fourth pricing game, when Wylie got a chance to shake Barker’s hand. During a commercial break, Barker noted the group, who were all wearing purple shirts they had made for the occasion with the slogan “Northwestern goes Wild for Bob” on the front. They sang a modified fight song and afterward, Wylie went up to give Barker one of the shirts. The moment was so overwhelming, Wylie even lost sight of his knowledge of the show.

    “I know that they keep a list of all the pricing games they’re going to play and I knew what corner of the set it was in, so when I went up I knew exactly where to look,” Wylie said. “By the time I got back to my seat, I had already forgotten what the next three games they were going to play were. The rush of shaking his hand and just the excitement of being in the studio overwhelmed all of my rational thought.”

    In the end, Wylie never got called up, but he wasn’t doing very well as he played in his head (Wylie says he is better at the games on the shows from the ’70s and ’80s anyways). After the show, while others in his group went to sleep or explored the city, Wylie got ready to board a plane back home. What else could he do that would top that experience?

    “Other people stayed in L.A., but I went home after the show,” Wylie said. “My strict purpose was to see The Price is Right.”


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