Come on Down! Celebrities Who Started Out as Game Show Contestants
For decades, game shows have offered a quick way to win prizes and cash — if you make it onto the show. From making some money to making a date, everyone hopes to walk away a winner.
For some celebrities, game shows were a cool way to show off their looks and skills in hopes of gaining national attention. The goal was to use game shows as a stepping stone to bigger things, and the gamble paid off. Let’s take a look at some surprising celebrities who appeared on game shows well before finding fame in their respective fields.
When it comes to reality competitions, Simon Cowell is king. With the introduction of American Idol, he became an overnight sensation worldwide. His harsh comments to contestants earned him the nickname Judge Dread. He followed Idol with two other successful series: The X Factor and America's Got Talent.
Tom Selleck's big break came with Magnum, P.I. in the 1980s. Behind the scenes, the Detroit native turned down the role of Indiana Jones due to his contract with the show. The popular crime drama earned the Army veteran a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his performance.
After years on Broadway, Cynthia Nixon gained national attention as Miranda Hobbes on Sex and the City. The series reunited her with My Body, My Child actress Sarah Jessica Parker. In 2004, Nixon earned the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.
At 5-foot, 7 inches tall, Marcus Stroman is one of the shortest baseball pitchers playing the game today. His gameplay earned him the Gold Glove Award and World Baseball Classic MVP in 2017. With the Toronto Blue Jays, he made his All-Star game debut in 2019.
Linda Cardellini first gained the public's attention on the beloved NBC sitcom Freaks and Geeks. Then the California native stuck around the popular network for a six-year stint on E.R. With her appearance on Mad Men, she nabbed her first Emmy nomination.
In the '70s, Billy Crystal made people laugh in a range of comedy clubs in New York. His act impressed Lorne Michaels so much, he was scheduled to be on the first Saturday Night Live episode. Unfortunately, his sketch was cut at the last minute.
Paul Reubens is known worldwide as the lovable Pee-wee Herman. The New York native got the idea for the character while training with The Groundlings. Reubens brought Herman from The Roxy Theatre to movie theaters with Pee-wee's Big Adventure.
Actress Heather Graham gained critical acclaim for her work in 1997's Boogie Nights. Following its release, the Wisconsin native landed roles in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Bobby and The Hangover. Aside from acting, Graham was a producer for Emily's Reasons Why Not.
William Shatner owes his entire career to Star Trek. The sci-fi series turned the Canadian actor into a pop culture icon. In 1983, his portrayal of Captain Kirk earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1989, Shatner settled into the director's chair for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
From 1960 to her death in 2013, Joyce Brothers was one of the most beloved columnists in the world. As a psychologist, the Brooklyn native shared advice on her long-running TV and radio shows. In fact, she was one of the first people to host a weekly advice show.
Every boy growing up in the '70s fell hard for Suzanne Somers. The actress turned heads as secretary Chrissy Snow in the hit sitcom Three's Company. Somers got the role after actresses Susan Lanier and Suzanne Zenor were turned down by the studio.
In the '70s, Lindsay Wagner gained fame as Jaime Sommers in The Bionic Woman. She was originally slated for one episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, but audience reactions changed the producers’ minds. Wagner earned two Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy win for her time on The Bionic Woman, which lasted three seasons.
While Jenny Lewis started out as a child actress, she eventually dropped the scripts for a guitar. In 1998, she formed the indie rock band Rilo Kiley with then-boyfriend Blake Sennett. The band toured the world with Coldplay and Bright Eyes before disbanding in 2013.
Grammy-nominated comedian Bob Saget had to trade his adult humor for something cleaner with 1987's Full House. The show put the Philadelphia native in the spotlight along with fellow comedian Dave Coulier. Saget continued delivering laughs as host of America's Funniest Home Videos from 1989 to 1997.
Candice Bergen's work as Murphy Brown broke new ground by showcasing working single mothers. The California native earned five Emmy wins for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. A mere 20 years after its finale, CBS brought the show back for another season in 2018, but it only lasted for one year before being canceled.
Everybody Loves Raymond actor Brad Garrett appeared on a slew of game shows while working in minor acting roles. In 1984, he appeared on Body Language and the Family Feud clone Hot Potato. In 1987, he appeared on four episodes of Super Password. He closed out the '80s with Win, Lose or Draw and The New Hollywood Squares.
Richard Dawson became a game show staple in the '70s with appearances on Match Game and Family Feud. His work as the original Family Feud host earned him an Emmy for Outstanding Game Show Host, and his talent influenced a slew of future hosts.
Three-time Emmy-winning actress Sally Field made her TV debut as the titular character in Gidget, but having a new face in the starring role didn't help the series gain ratings. Following the show’s cancellation, Field continued acting with roles in Hey, Landlord and The Flying Nun.
He was born in Brooklyn, but singer Joey Fatone spent his teen years living in Orlando. Following high school, he started working at Universal Studios as a performer along with Chris Kirkpatrick. In 1995, he landed the fourth spot in the then-upcoming boy band NSYNC.
Louisiana native Hunter Hayes sang anywhere he could as a kid. Being able to sing in both English and French made him a hot commodity in the local scene. At the age of six, he got his first guitar from Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall.
Before he became Don Draper, Jon Hamm was a fresh face in Hollywood. The St. Louis native moved to Los Angeles in 1995 with only $150 in hand. He was determined to make it in Hollywood, and he took several odd jobs to make ends meet.
As a teen, Lady Gaga already had her sights set on being a music star. In 2003, she studied music at New York University's Collaborative Arts Project 21. Two years later, she dropped out of school to focus more on her music career.
In 1969, Arnold Schwarzenegger landed the title role in Hercules in New York. At the age of 22, he hoped this would be his big break in Hollywood. Unfortunately, the film had a lackluster run at the box office. It didn’t help that his lines had to be dubbed because of his strong accent.
At 21 years old, Farrah Fawcett moved to Hollywood for a new gig with Screen Gems. With a weekly paycheck of $350, the actress lived comfortably in her brand new town. Fawcett landed commercial gigs as well as minor roles in I Dream of Jeannie and Mayberry R.F.D.
In college, Steve Martin was turned on to the world of comedy. By the late '60s, he had piled up writing credits as a budding comedian. Aside from writing jokes for others, Martin had several stand up appearances of his own both on-screen and off-screen.
As a former student body president, John Ritter originally had a career in politics in his sights. While studying at the University of Southern California, he changed his mind and pursued an acting career. While attending USC School of Dramatic Arts, he took part in numerous plays on campus.
Before earning accolades for Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul competed on The Price Is Right. Things were going fine for Paul until the Showcase Showdown. The actor lost it all after overbidding on a sports car. A friend who came with him managed to win the Showcase Showdown at the following taping.
As a kid, A.J. McLean focused on tightening his skills in dancing, singing and acting. With 1986's Truth or Dare?, he got his foot in the door in Hollywood. Instead of heading to Los Angeles, he moved to Florida to attend the Florida Academy of Dramatic Arts.
In the late '80s, Kirstie Alley became a TV star on Cheers. Her portrayal of Rebecca Howe earned her an Emmy and Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. The Kansas native also became a part of Star Trek history as Saavik in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, although she did not reprise the role in the films that followed.
Before Wheel of Fortune, Vanna White appeared on a 1980 episode of The Price Is Right. The South Carolina native was scolded by Bob Barker for looking at herself on the monitor. "I wasn’t looking at myself in the monitor! I was looking at my friend to get an answer from her," White told Yahoo.