I got an envelope in the mail. The sender was some sort of media Production Company I had never heard of. It said I was randomly selected to be an audience member in a game show they would be launching soon in a well-known cable network; it was called “The Million Dollar Question.”
They were going to record an episode next Thursday afternoon, and being unemployed at the time, I really had nothing better to do, so I thought I might as well try something new, as mundane as being an audience member in a game show might sound.
Thursday came, and I followed the directions on the map that came in the letter. I found myself in a street that had nothing but warehouses left and right, with only cramped, decadent alleyways separating each building. I looked for warehouse 17, the one marked in the map. It was on the opposite end of the street from where I was, so I had to walk through the entirety of this disgusting place that from the looks of it wasn’t even cleaned in years, and you could understand why, nothing but junkies and guys that looked ready to pounce at the first dude that walked by to take whatever they could from him, even if it meant taking their lives along with the spare change. At this point, the part of me that was screaming to leave that shitty place as fast as possible was close to outweighing the part of me that needed to keep myself entertained in any way possible (unemployment can be very damaging to your mental well-being), but looking slightly ahead I saw the huge brick complex labeled ‘Warehouse 17’, so I quickened my pace and got inside.
As I closed the rusty door behind me I felt a slight sense of relief for being out of reach from all of those less-than-friendly looking folks outside. Now a bit calmer, I looked around only to find a building interior exactly like one you would expect in a place like this: Mold popping out in every corner, cracked cement walls, two or three rusted chairs that looked like they would give in the moment a cockroach stepped on them, and at the far end of this inviting area, a desk. Behind said desk was a middle-aged bald guy looking at a small TV screen, eating weird looking snacks. I went up to him and asked about the game show recording, first he looked at me like I was saying something absurd but in a split second his face changed, he acknowledged the recording and lead me out of the entrance area into a side hallway. Now of course I was finding all of this ridiculously suspicious, I mean there weren't even people walking by the hallway he was leading me through, and I would imagine a TV production set would be a busy place, with people rushing all over the place. When I formed a question that contained all of these doubts and presented it to the guy, he mumbled through some words only to explain in the end that the recording had already started, quiet in the set and all that, and I was the last one to arrive.
He opened a double door that lead into a large area. Inside there was in fact, a typical game show set, but it couldn't look crappier. There was a single row of chairs for the audience, only six seats, five of which were already occupied by the rest of the people that went there to be the studio audience. In front of that, a little staff area, where two amateur cameras stood in a couple of tripods with four beefy guys standing around them, and finally at the other end of the room, the stage. It had a couple of stands, one for the host and the other for the participant. You could see from afar that they were just cheap cardboard cutouts that were crudely painted to look like a sturdy construction. It virtually had nothing else, just these cutouts. To the sides, black curtains that I assumed lead backstage. This was where I started to seriously question the legitimacy of all this.
Nevertheless the bald guy told me to sit on the only empty seat, and honestly this whole place got me just as scared as the street outside, so I complied without a word.
I asked the girl that was sitting to my right if she knew anything about the show and stuff like that. She said that at that moment they were actually taking a five minute break, and apparently they had already shot the first half of the episode. By the way she talked you could tell she was a nice person who could barely insult something, no matter how bad it was, so she was choosing her words carefully when explaining that the first half had been awful and pathetic, and the whole thing didn't look real. We kept talking for a bit, at one point even joking that we were probably on a hidden camera show, but were interrupted by the host, who appeared from behind one of the curtains I mentioned. He was a tall guy in a shirt and jeans, which I found weird since game show hosts are usually well dressed, but the really weird thing about him was: He looked pissed off.
He was looking at the staff with menacing eyes, like they fucked something up, and they were gesturing back to him in a way I couldn't understand what they were trying to tell him. After a few seconds of this he regained composure, but his face was still one of anger. No game participant was on stage, so now in a hushed voice, since they were already recording again, I again turned to the girl next to me and asked about the participant. She said that the guy in the first half had won, and the host told him to go out back to sign some papers to accept his prizes.
As she finished explaining this to me, the host said he was going to choose a random member of the audience to play next. The cameras were pointed back towards us, and just focused on the audience for a long time. A weirdly long time. It wasn't even awkward; it was just a plain creepy moment. While this was happening I noticed that in the staff zone, a guy was looking at his laptop very focused, occasionally looking up at us, then quickly back down. This happened several times. Eventually, me and the laptop guy made eye contact, I glanced somewhere else to avoid his gaze but he just kept looking at me intensely. I noticed him giving a signal to the host, and the host quickly pointed at me, to go down and play the game. Of course, for obvious reasons, I hesitated to get up and make my way to the stage but the guy from the desk that lead me to the set was behind me, and tapped me on the shoulder with a bit more pressure than you usually would use just to get someone’s attention. I nervously got down on stage and shook hands with the host who whispered ‘Smile to the cameras’ while the fake clapping audio track rolled in the background. He then started asking me the usual questions you see in shows like these, like my name, my job, my hobbies and mundane stuff like that. Afterwards, he started to explain the game to me; it basically followed the simple question and answer format where I would collect money with every right answer, and if I answered incorrectly I would be out of the game. He said the game only had five questions, because they wanted to get as many people from the audience to play as possible. I nervously nodded and agreed with everything he said.
As he announced that the game would start, he looked at the guy with the laptop again, who gave him an easy to understand ‘okay’ sign. He then turned to me and asked me a simple question: ‘Who was the first president of the United States of America?’ Of course anyone could guess that one right and I so did. In a noticeably sarcastic tone he cheered for my correct answer and quickly jumped to question number two: ‘What is the capital of England?’ Another very easy question that I guessed right, another round of fake low quality clapping audio track.
Before asking question number three, he started some more small-talk, like game show hosts usually do to prolong the air time, only this time, the question got weird. He asked me if I had any close friends or a significant other, how close I was to my family, and at one point asked ‘If you went on a cruise ship for a long time, would a lot of people miss you?’. Truth be told ever since I lost my job I became a loner since I was uneasy with the thought of all my friends having jobs and me just mooching off social security. I gave vague answers, to which he smiled in a suspicious way, like he knew the answers even if I lied. Just before presenting question number three, the guy in the laptop gave him yet another signal, the one where you pass your hand through your neck in a slicing fashion, to signal someone to stop. Acknowledging the laptop guy, the host turned to the cameras and said: ‘We will now take a short break but we’ll be right back after this, stay tuned’. While some staff members messed around with the two cameras, the host (who now had the same angry expression he had when he came in) rushed towards the laptop guy and started to talk to him in angry, overly-loud whispers. The only thing I heard clearly coming from them was: ‘The client logged out, save him for later’. Turning back towards me the host, now trying to hide his anger, told me to go wait backstage while they solved some technical issues.
Scared out of my mind, in large part due to what I heard and couldn't understand the meaning of, I struggled to move my legs, but one of the members of the staff grabbed my arm and dragged me backstage. I wanted to scream but couldn't. After the curtains flew past me the only thing I can remember is being choked out with a white handkerchief that had a very strong smell that filled my mind until I was ready to collapse.
I don’t know how long I was out, I just know I woke up to the voice of a cop in front of me, and another one behind me untying my hands from a rope. After the haziness dissipated I looked around to see a lot of policeman and paramedics. Both the officers that were around me lifted me up on their shoulders, since I still couldn't walk properly, and dragged me out of the warehouse, through the hallway I came in. Passing by the door that led to the stage I caught a glimpse of the stage, and all the blood in it. Blood, bodies both in and out of body bags, and rusted tools scattered all over the place. The laptop and the two cameras where still there, just like they were. One of the officers noticed I was looking at that horrifying scene and told me to look away. I looked down to my feet, very close to throwing up. The other cop then turned to me and said: ‘You got very lucky, kid’.
I was the sole survivor of a snuff film being live-streamed.