JACKSON TWP — It will be a full house Easter night at Juanita Kratochvil's home.
Not only will her five children and 11 grandchildren be there to celebrate both the holiday and her husband Leo's 70th birthday, but after the festivities they will all settle in to watch Juanita compete on “Ellen's Game of Games.”
“It's a really popular show,” said Karen Lah, the creative services director for Pittsburgh television station WPXI which airs “Ellen's Game of Games” at 8 p.m. Sunday. “It should be even more popular because it's on Easter night.”
The retired Gatan Inc. employee's journey from her Rock Lake Drive home to the NBC game show began last January.
Kratochvil said, “I'm a fan of 'Game of Games.' I love that show. I was watching back in January, and they said if you'd like to be a contestant, send a video in.
“I did a five-minute video in January (2020) where I said, 'Hi, Ellen, it's 6 p.m. and I'm in my Costco pajamas. Can you get me off the couch and onto your show.' And that was it,” she said.
About three weeks later, after she sent in the video, Kratochvil said she got a call from the show asking her if she was still interested.
She said the show asked her to send in pictures and videos that “expressed my personality.”
After that came a flurry of paperwork to be filled out and signed.
“They basically said you cannot sue the show,” said Kratochvil. “They asked me if there was any game I didn't want to play.”
Kratochvil said she wanted no part of the “Dizzy Dash” competition where contestants are spun around in chairs and then must run to a podium and grab a ball before they can answer a trivia question.
After that came a two-hour Zoom interview that included playing a game of charades “to see my personality,” followed by a security check.
At the end of August, she was flown to North Hollywood and put up in a hotel with other “Game of Games” contestants.
There were a lot of contestants.
“They film about 20 shows in two weeks,” said Kratochvil.
She said she and other contestants for that day's taping were taken to the studio and put up in individual trailers to await their turn on stage.
COVID precautions were in place. Contestants were tested every 24 hours. She said one day she was supposed to play was scrapped when contestants' temperatures were too high.
When her turn finally came, Kratochvil said, “They took us in golf carts through the Warner Brothers studio. Once we got to the stage, they hooked us up to a mike, and before we went on we took our masks off. It was exciting.”
Kratochvil was chosen to participate in “Burst of Knowledge,” a contest where three players stand around a triangular platform as a balloon being filled with air is passed among them.
If the players answer a question correctly, they pass the balloon to the next person in line. The contestant who is in possession of the balloon as it pops will be eliminated.
Kratochvil said her first question was a cinch for a Western Pennsylvanian: What kind of animal predicts the weather? The answer, of course, was the groundhog.
The winner goes on to play the next game, “Know or Go.” Whether she went on to brave a 30-foot drop for a chance at $100,000, will have to be left for viewers Sunday night.
But Kratochvil did share some other facts about her time as a game show contestant.
While the contestants were all kept at the same hotel enjoying free meals and the pool, they were discouraged from becoming too social with each other to reduce the chances of them collaborating.
While she was told to bring two outfits to wear, one of her choices was nixed by the show's producers. She was given a blouse to wear for one segment, which she got to keep.
Different game segments are filled at the same time and then edited into to different shows.
For example, Kratochvil said, the set for the “Mt. Saint Ellen” game where three players climb a tilting and shaking ramp, is so massive that four sets of contestants play the contest one after another. Then the set is taken down. The four contests are edited into four different shows.
Resetting the games also gave Kratochvil a chance to talk with the host.
“It takes 10 to 15 minutes to reset for the next round,” she said about her game. “So we were chatting with Ellen. She's beautiful. She was very pleasant.”
The whole experience was very pleasant for Kratochvil. She received free air fare to California, a nine-day free stay in a hotel with meals included and three makeup bags, in addition to any money she may have won.
Whether she made it to the $100,000 Hotter Hands grand finale is something people will have to tune in Sunday night to see.