Growing up in Connecticut, Christian Carrion loved watching TV game shows such as “Press Your Luck” and “Wheel of Fortune” with his mother. He dreamed of being on one of those shows someday: not as a contestant; as the host.
“It’s a form of TV that I idolized for a really long time,” says Carrion, a Leola resident. “It wasn’t until I was older that I realized, ‘Oh, I can actually go on a show as a contestant.’ ”
Wednesday night, Carrion made his sixth appearance on a game show when he was seen on ABC’s “Match Game.”
He won $5,000 by matching an answer ("iPad") given by actor and comedian Mario Cantone. However, he failed to match Cantone's answer — Carrion said "tug of war," Cantone wrote "tugboat" — in the next round of play that could have earned him $25,000.
Carrion told host Alec Baldwin that he likes to go thrift shopping, and that the '70s-style outfit he wore on the show was a vintage-store find.
The show was taped about a year ago, says Carrion, who works as a front-desk agent at a local hotel.
But he has distinct memories of being on the show. He says he was more comfortable being on “Match Game” than during any of his previous appearances.
“I was excited, but not so excited that I lost control of my senses,” Carrion says. “I’m a very excitable person, but somehow I felt very at home there. During the commercials, we were just having conversation.”
Of the six celebrities he interacted with on the venerable game show, “Mario Cantone became very important in my life that day.”
Carrion also remembers Baldwin getting right up to his face with the famous long-handled “Match Game” microphone.
“That’s one of the most surreal things I’ve ever been through,” Carrion says. “I’ll never forget that vision. Alec Baldwin — right there in front of my face.”
He can also attest that singer Wayne Newton wasn’t an especially funny panelist on the show.
“He didn’t understand the game at all,” Carrion says with a laugh. “But he was clearly having the time of his life. ... He’s someone I just never thought I’d get to see in person.”
‘Come on down!’
Carrion, 30, watched the original versions of classic game shows via Game Show Network reruns.
He remembers the day the network dedicated to his favorite TV genre premiered.
“That was a game-changer for me,” he says, “because that introduced me to a lot of shows I’d never heard of that were classics at that point.”
Carrion’s string of game show appearances started when he was 18.
For his birthday present, he asked his parents for air fare to go see “The Price is Right” in Los Angeles.
“That was about a month before Bob Barker retired,” Carrion recalls. “I camped out ... for a little over three days in line to get into that show.
“I made a lot of friends that day,” he says. “Meeting the people who like the show as much as you do is life-changing. I met people I’m still in contact with to this day.
“At the very beginning of the show, they said, ‘Christian Carrion, come on down!’ I think about that probably every other day.
“Once you’re up there and you realize where you are,” Carrion says, “it’s the most surreal thing. It’s like being dropped into the TV. ... The excitement just takes over.
“I did win a sofa,” which Carrion says he no longer has.
In early 2010, Carrion’s appearance on the Meredith Vieira-hosted “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” aired.
“I won $15,000 on ‘Millionaire,’ and that came in handy during my freshman year in college,” Carrion says.
An appearance on “Hip Hop Squares,” an MTV version of “Hollywood Squares” featuring rappers as the celebrities, followed in 2012. He won $1,000.
In 2013, he was on Game Show Network’s “The Chase,” in which teams competed against one very smart man, Mark Labbett.
Carrion’s team lost to Labbett. But he got to have the experience of having a game show pick up the tab for his trip — air fare, hotel room, limo from the airport.
Though he didn’t win any money, he was also a contestant — via Skype, from home — on “Let’s Ask America,” a short-lived syndicated show on which contestants predicted what “most people said ... in survey questions.”
Carrion, who majored in broadcast journalism at Southen Connecticut State University, says being a game show host is still his dream job.
He loves his hotel job because it has something in common with game-show hosting.
“I get to wear a suit, I get to meet strangers and talk to them,” he says. “And sometimes I get to bring them things.
“There’s a certain generation of TV performer that I grew up watching on those shows,” Carrion says. “And it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really exist in that form anymore.”
The hosts were “very witty and well-dressed and funny and they had swagger and charisma,” he says. “That’s what I aspired to be.”
He gets to step into that role every spring, when he and his fellow game show fan friends host a 24-hour game show marathon, which streams live online. They’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars for a charity that funds games, books and toys for kids in hospitals.
Carrion also writes for Buzzer Blog, a blog about game shows. And he has started a podcast called “Stranger Than Christian.”
He puts out a call on social media for anyone who wants to call and talk to him, about anything, for as long as they want. And he records the phone conversation from his apartment as a podcast.
Carrion planned to be in the company of a few friends Wednesday night while watching himself on “Match Game” — watching himself hug Cantone so hard after winning the $5,000 that Cantone mock-escaped from him by crawling across the top of the table at which the celebrities sit.
"Match Game" is, Carrion says, a show both he and his father loved when he was a kid.
“Game Show Network, in general, came at a very important time in my life, when I was starting to formulate all these ideas of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be and what I wanted to be like,” Carrion says.
“I’m meant to talk to people,” he says. “I’m meant to communicate with people. I’m meant to make them smile.
“A lot of those people (on early game shows) informed those choices that I made in my life,” he adds, “and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”