Image: Drew Carey, host of the game show 'The Price is Right' © Kevork Djansezian, AP

I'm a member of Mensa, but people are much more impressed by the fact that I was once on "Jeopardy."

Love 'em or loathe 'em, game shows are an integral part of our culture. Sitting on the couch yelling answers is our national sport: "It's 'St. Peter's Basilica,' you idiot! I would so kick butt at this game!"

It's not easy to get on a game show. But Cleveland radio personality Dave Ramos has been on three: "The Price Is Right" and "Wheel of Fortune," on which he won a combined $63,000 plus noncash prizes, and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (his episode hasn't aired yet, so he can't say how he did).

Of course, you might not win anything except a copy of the home game. It's even possible to lose money. Los Angeleno Megan Albertus didn't earn a dime on a game/reality show hybrid called "Momma's Boys" and had to pay to board her cats during the multiday shoot.

Even if you do win fabulous prizes, the tax ramifications can be sobering. (See "Win a game show? That'll cost you.") Or that $500 consolation prize may come in the form of gift cards to places you wouldn't have chosen on your own.

Image: Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman

That said, it's exciting to realize you're no longer a member of the home audience -- the home audience is playing along with you. If you've always thought you could compete, here's how to do it.

Getting there

No all-inclusive clearinghouse exists just for game-show auditions, but here are a few ways to get started:

● "Jeopardy"
● "Family Feud"
● "The Price Is Right"
● "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"
● "Wipeout"
● "Wheel of Fortune"
● "Let's Make a Deal"

Search online for other programs' websites for contestant information, including regional tryouts. Casting directors sometimes go on the road rather than draw only from people within studio driving distance.

Plenty of options exist: classic game shows, brand-new programs that may not make it past one season, Americanized versions of international shows, hybrids like "Momma's Boys" (which, incidentally, didn't get a second year). How do you choose which show to try for?

"The one you feel most comfortable playing at home," says Bev Pomerantz, a casting director for game shows.

For 25 years she's found contestants for programs such as "Family Feud," "Catch 21," "Lingo," "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" and "Don't Forget the Lyrics." Although the shows are varied, the same contestant qualities are needed: energy, enthusiasm and the ability not just to play the game well but to enjoy doing it.

"If you're having fun," Pomerantz says, "the audience is having fun."

A typical tryout includes some kind of written test, maybe a practice game or two and a personal interview that will likely be videotaped. The producers want to see how you come across onscreen, so channel the outgoing, confident person you become at parties or get-togethers with friends.

"Be really funny and articulate, but don't try too hard. Be the best version of yourself," says Albertus, who has been on about a dozen game shows and won small amounts of cash, never more than $500.

Be lucky -- and smart

At least one program, "The Price Is Right," doesn't have auditions: Contestants are pulled from the audience. Before the doors open, producers chat up everyone in line.

In a group of 300 hopefuls, Ramos doubted he would stand out. A lifelong game-show fanatic -- "When other kids were watching cartoons, I was watching game shows" -- he went to a 2001 taping just for the thrill of being (relatively) close to Bob Barker (see pictures of Barker here).

To his shock, he was called to compete, winning $22,000. Six years later, he appeared on "Wheel of Fortune" and won $41,000 and a trip to Jamaica. His still-to-air appearance on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" was taped in September.

Would-be contestants need to think about the financial fallout, according to Ramos. "The tax burden is hard," because anything you get, including noncash prizes, is taxable. And that cabin cruiser you might win -- are you prepared to moor and maintain it and maybe pay state personal property taxes on it?

His other advice? "Be yourself. Be genuine."

Well, as genuine as you can be in a medium that creates its own reality. Amy Mucken of Los Angeles was asked to wear her wedding gown and pretend she was going from a game show straight to the altar. That's because it was Brides Week on "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"

Mucken wasn't actually getting married for three months, but she played along. To get ready for the program, she bought a bunch of elementary-school textbooks: "You don't want to look like a buffoon for not knowing something an 8-year-old knows."

It worked. She was up to $25,000 when the final category was announced: world geography, not her strong suit. Mucken chose the "drop out" option, which allowed her to leave with the money -- but not before making a statement to the camera.

"This is the happiest day of my life," she said, referring to the wedding gown. "But I am unhappy to say I'm not smarter than a fifth-grader."

Her winnings embellished the honeymoon and plumped up a retirement account. But she still wishes she knew what that geography question would have been. A correct answer would've won her an additional $250,000.