Published on August 9th, 2012 |
by Molly Martin
TV Game Shows Taxes: The Financial Literacy Failure We Never Saw Coming
Everything I needed to know I learned from childhood sick days and TV game shows.
The quilt from my bed.
- You can’t spend your whole life afraid to stay “stop.” Let the Whammies come as they might.
- Always outbid the next guy by $1. Sure, you might lose your chance to play for that Jack Tripper garage sale bedroom set but you’ve asserted your dominance over the rest of Contestant’s Row and that’s all the matters when the lights go down and the knives come out.
- When in doubt, always take the physical challenge.
- The grass is not always greener…especially if there’s a powerboat involved. If what you just revealed has a boat or a car or a spa, that next door or showcase or shopping spree will probably have a Dirt Devil and his-and-her nose hair trimmers. You will be undone by your desperate quest for another better, bigger, non-KIA “neeeewwwwwww car!”
Let’s hope so.
Press Your Luck, The Prices Is Right, High Rollers, Card Sharks, Name That Tune, Let’s Make a Deal, The $64,000 Pyramid. Screw the fact that I had wise, nurturing parents. Their parting gifts were about knowing your values and being compassionate. My gurus had actual. Parting. Gifts.
One thing the Barkers, Wooleries, Sajaks, Travelinas, and Halls didn’t spell out for me, though, was that, yes, game show prizes are income. As in “in comes that ugly-ass reversible poker table to your home if you’re good at guessing how much to pay for a box of Kix.” Whether you win $1,000 (SPARKLY DOLLAR SPIN Y’ALL!) or 1,000 tube socks on a game show, you’ll have taxes to pay on the cash or retail value of the prize. Federal and state taxes. The taxes you owe may be withheld for you before you ever get a check. Your taxes may be expected of you once Pat Sajak calls his buddies at the IRS to tell them you won a Kenmore.
I call mine “Lady Kenmore” IF YA KNOW WHAT I MEAN.
And, for some reason, some people are a little irate about the idea that winning the Showcase Showdown means winning it tax-free. Right now in this country we’re debating whether U.S. Olympians should be taxed on the prize money that accompanies a medal win. Cries of “Of course…it’s income” and “If I have to pay taxes on my lottery winnings…” with the occasional non sequitur peppered in for good measure (“The President’s black!”). Yet, according to an incredulous, bizarrely-timed piece courtesy of ABC News blogger Alan Farnham, from Reddit to Facebook to consumer bloggers, people can’t fathom that a good day at Plinko means you might owe a little something in return.
I mean, it’s not like it’s a good day at Cliffhangers. A good day at Cliffhangers SAVES LIVES.
Really? I’m not trying to be condescending and awful but is this seriously something people didn’t know? Did we need Bob Barker to tell us a “A Hawaiian Getaway! And $20,000 in federal tax liability!” to not be surprised by the idea that making money by ridiculous means is still making money and, therefore, is accompanied by a little scratch for Uncle Sam? And by scratch, I mean money for schools, cops, firefighters, roads, healthcare…all that “price of admission for living in a lovely place” stuff.
I understand that it’s a bit of a buzzkill: once you come down from the high of someone giving you a giant cardboard check, you realize that the check you’ll actually receive will be about 30% smaller. But, as a PA for a syndicated game show told me when her colleagues made a sad face for a college kid who “faceplanted” and won only about a grand in prize money: ”I didn’t get $300 today for getting free food and a make-up job. Did you?”
This is the financial literacy question I didn’t know we needed to address in this country. The one I never saw coming. It isn’t about mortgaging more than you can afford in three lifetimes. It isn’t about being wary of credit card debt. It isn’t even about knowing to never cosign for a car for someone who wears suspenders. It’s about not expecting a TV game show to solve your problems, no strings attached.
Let’s get three things straight: I’m not unsympathetic to people who are hoping against hope for a bail-out…many of whom likely deserve it due to the structural barriers in this country to getting ahead. I’m also terrible with money; it has taken me to age 34 to mostly stop being a jackass. Mostly. And, finally, I’m not throwing stones from the outside. I’m a glass house resident, bitches.
I have appeared on two game shows (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and VH1′s World Series of Pop Culture). I may be an extrovert through and through, but I loathe playing games in front of people (public pity, flop sweat) — I ended up on these shows because I’m a trivia nerd at heart. Sure, I wanted to see what we could win. And we did win some money so, yes, there were taxes. Add that to the fact that, from my experience and understanding, most game shows do not pay travel your expenses.
I mean, ya gotta pay to play. We need to keep Alex in floor wax.
Going on a game show could very well leave you in the red and that’s a risk you have to understand and be willing to take. Seeing as it can take years to actually land on the show, you have time to think about whether or not it’s the gamble for you. You pass a test, you pass another test, they look at your picture, they interview you, they see if they need contestants who look like you/live where you live/have a story like yours. By the time you get word that your turn is up, to come and film one of a bajillion episodes they’re filming that Wednesday, you’ve had time to (1) stop relying on the imaginary cash you haven’t won yet and (2) you’ve had time to decide if you can afford the airfare or hotel in scenic _________.
And you’d be surprised: while it’s tons of fun to go on these shows, it’s not especially romantic. In most cases you have to sit in empty green rooms and talk to strangers from Poughkeepsie. You can’t use phones, read magazines, or go the bathroom without a chaperone. In some cases you can’t even watch while other episodes are filmed.
Thanks for the extra regulation, jackwagon.
You’re just…there. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast and I love having the stories to tell but the industrial vibe of the backstage game show experience does a decent job of dulling your fantasy of tax-free cash raining from the rafters. The Price Is Right looks a bit different, sure, since they’re essentially using a carnival model: picking audience members from a crowd to play games of chance. But still: I’m certain that’s a long day of filming, with a lot of waivers, warnings, fits, and starts.
Emphasis on the fits.
Hey, a lot of people in this country are in dire straits. And I can see how desperate times would help you make the leap from “If I get lucky enough to called to come on down then surely I’ll get lucky enough to…” But can we please add this to the list of things we teach kids: to please not pin hopes on incredible strokes of luck? I still get teary when I think of the woman who stood next to me in line for the Millionaire test. She was there because her SIX ATTEMPTS TO GET ON WHEEL OF FORTUNE HAD FAILED AND SHE WAS LOSING HER HOUSE. Ten bucks says if she has been able to make it on a game show since, the [understandable and fair] tax burden would have left her back where she started, if not worse off. And that’s ten bucks I would have gladly donated to some nonprofit to expand financial literacy campaigns in this country to make sure we don’t start to conflate games with opportunity.