NBC ‘Minute To Win It’ host Guy Fieri interview

NBC is turning out a new competition game show that pits everyday people against the most innocuous, seemingly simple challenges that ladder up to a chance to win a million dollars.

The talent they chose to usher in and serve as host/coach for “Minute To Win It” is none other than Food Network star Guy Fieri, who has carved out an amazing career path by celebrating the best in American joint food.

Fieri’s “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives” is one of the top rated shows on the network, as Fieri tools all over the USA in search of unpretentious excellence in good eats. His touch is gold, and the day I was at a taping of “Minute to Win It,” the owner of San Diego (Oceanside actually) Hodads Burgers, Michael Hardin, was there too, and he told me that the visit from the Triple D has been a windfall for his business. 

He’s not the only one; many cafes, diners and pubs who get the Fieri blessing become landmarks and meccas for hungry Americans (and foreign visitors too) to plan vacations around.

Now NBC is hoping some of that delicious Fieri magic will rub off on their game show that is best described as illusory, as the Minute to Win It challenges seem easy, but they are in fact vexing and difficult, especially in front of a live audience.

Fieri is all-American, a son of Columbus Ohio who now centers in California.  Filming one primetime network game show and three Food Network series at the same time while raising two rambunctious little boys and keeping his family time sancrosect, Fieri is on fire and gets in and gets out with efficiency.  

The game show premieres Sunday, March 14th on NBC from 7:00 to 9:00 pm and it will then go into its regular time slot on March 21st from 8:00 to 9:00 pm.

Monsters and Critics had a moment to interview Guy on a conference call while he was wrangling his youngest son who was playing cars while dad dished on the NBC game show.

Three shows on Food Network and then primetime on NBC is a lot, man. I was there that day when you had the guy with the panty hose on his face and the tennis ball. And he had to be like an elephant and swing the bottles down.

Guy Fieri: Tell me it wasn’t hysterical.

There’s a bunch of different challenges; which one in your estimation is the most difficult and if you can describe it?

Guy Fieri: Oh boy. I think – now I’ve seen all of them. I haven’t played all of them.

But I’ve seen them all on video and then I’ve also seen probably I’d say about 75% of them actually physically done by people maybe not on the show but in a practice setting.

I got to say I think Ping Tac Toe is to me one of the most challenging. And that’s not getting up into the million dollar prize games that are at that point.  But I think for the general purpose games all the way across the board Ping Tac Toe where you’ve got to balance. You’ve got two different colored ping pong balls. You have orange…

You have to bounce them. Once you land one color type, you have to switch to the other color types. So you’re essentially playing tic-tac-toe against yourself.

One color type has to end up in a tic-tac-toe line, you know, straight, diagonal, whatever it may be. And that’s the thing. And I’ll tell you something, you know, it’s hard enough to bounce one and get it in the glass.

But some folks really get it and just sit there and excel at it. So I think that would be the toughest.

How did the Swedish people find you, the producers of the show?

Guy Fieri: Well you know I’ve been to Sweden. No, it wasn’t because I’ve been to Sweden. I’ve been to Norway.

You know what? It was actually a collaboration between our Executive Producer Craig Plestis, and Jason Hodes from William Morris Endeavor.

Two had met two years ago in, I believe, France. There was a conference that was going on there. And they just started to have this discussion about I’ve got this new guy that’s on the Food Network. His name is Guy Fieri, blah, blah, blah.
And that was it. I remember Jason telling me he had met this guy.

And I bet you someday we’ll have some program. Well as everybody knows in this business there’s a lot of ideas and designs and hopes and wishes and dreams.
And the fact that this has really come to fruition that it’s just, what do you say? I’m amazed. And I appreciate the opportunity because I am a chef. And a restaurant owner, a dad.

I do have other shows. I’ve got other things going on.  And to be chosen to do this,  I’ll just tell it to you this way. You couldn’t have designed a game ever that was going to be more fitting to me and my style than this.  And that’s not just a cliché statement.  I don’t know what you could have called the game. But this right here – this is me.

What is it like for you to be involved with a show that’s not food related?

Guy Fieri: Oh it was awesome, it’s funny. I’ll be walking around sometimes. I was up at the Olympics and someone walks up to me and says, what diner, drive-in and dive are you doing up here?

I’m like, ‘I’m at the Olympics dude, do you think that that’s all I do? I wake up and I’m on my quest?’

So, for me these games –  I’ll take it from the first point. One, anything that has to do with people and seeing people excel and seeing people sit in great opportunity, albeit in a diner situation where we’re highlighting our food or be it in a Minute To Win It situation where they have a chance to win a million dollars.

To be the dude that gets to kick it there and kind of like participate, be the coach, be the encourager, be the whatever you want to call it is awesome.

To me it has a very similar feel in the sense that it’s me just interacting with everyday people. Just I’m just being Guy, they’re just being them. And they’re having a great experience.  But man I’ll tell you something talk about emotional.  I love going to my kid’s soccer games but this is like 12 hours of soccer game a day.

How well do you think you would do in competition? Or would you even go all the way or would you take the money and run?

Guy Fieri: Oh I don’t know. I don’t know how many times you think of Vegas and you’ve done the thing. And you’re sitting there at the craps table. Things are really going good. 

And I think you start to get a little bit of visions of grandeur,  like there’s no stopping me today. You know that kind of feeling.  So I think I would be a little hard pressed to maybe take the money and run. I hope that I would have somebody there in the audience that would be cheering me on saying ‘get out of there.’

You get in the groove. You get in the zone. And that’s what we watched on the show as we did this is we watched some people find their zone and just crush it.  So it’s hard to predict.

But I will tell you this. It’s a lot more difficult than it looks. And if people want to get on this show of course, I hope we’re going to be doing this forever. And if people want to get on the show you can go online. You can get all the rundown on the games and you can practice. That’s the cool thing about this. It’s not like in other games, we’re not going to give you the trivia questions at home. You can read those and then maybe we’re going to ask you one of them.

This show we really do. Here’s the game. Here’s exactly the dimensions of how you play the game. And play it, practice it, and then come win it.  I mean it doesn’t get any easier than that.

How many episodes did you do?

Guy Fieri: Well we shot for five days. And exactly what that material, what that turned into, I’m not quite sure. The show wasn’t set up in a way that we had to have the beginning and the ending of each, shall I call, show set up. You know sometimes there was some contestants that didn’t go as far as fast.

Sometimes there were contestants who went really far really fast.  So the show was put together in a way that they were able to put the different contestants into different spots they wanted at the different times. I know we completed our eight shows that we were after. And whether there was more past that, I’m not sure.

I’m going to tell you sometimes the intensity was so much that we did shoot over, I mean we did shoot past our scheduled time.

How nerve wracking is it for you as a host? Are you like sitting there trying to cheer people on or like helping them complete the challenges or anything like that?

Guy Fieri:   People ask me about Diners – I’m sorry. I’m going to take a little skew for this but it’s going to come back to what you wanted to hear or what’s the answer. When I do Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, number one question people ask me is do you really like everything you eat or are you just telling us?

I said here’s the deal. As a chef, as a restaurant owner, as a person, I’m not going to give you a line here.  I’m not going to sell you a bag of beans. If I don’t like it you probably won’t see it. If I don’t think it’s done right we won’t air it. That’s how that is.

The game – on Minute To Win It is the exact same thing. What you’ll see out of me — as a matter of fact I’ve seen some of the clips and I’ve gone oh my gosh, look at me. It looks like I’m watching one of my sons playing the championship soccer game because it is. Okay, we meet these people. Salt of the earth folks, I mean just great people.

Then they get into this challenge. I ask, ‘Okay, why do you want to win the money?’

They say, ‘Oh I want to buy a house. I want to take my dad on a trip around the world. I want to take my mom back to China…’  whatever these things may be.  It is never things like ‘oh I want to buy a Ferrari,’  they always have these reasons and these passions.

Okay, so now I’ve met them. Now I’ve heard their story. Now they get into the competition. And we’re not watching people lackadaisically try to bounce a ping pong ball and go oh whoops. I didn’t make it. I’ll go home now. I mean you watch people with blood, sweat and tears in this.  I into it. I’m not kidding you. I have to control myself because there’s so many times I want to tell them, “Hey here’s an idea. If you tried this,” but I can’t, you know, I can’t divulge the, you know, the trick of the game, because I want to get down there with them. And this is very much the truth. There have been some times when I’m standing there looking at people and I don’t know what the games are that are coming up. I don’t want to know what the games are. I am right there with them. I am their coach. I’m their supporter, okay. I’m the medium.

Sometimes I’ll look at them and go, come on. You’ve got a bunch of money. Go home.  But I can’t do it. I have to just stand there with them. And, you know what? I’ve been wrong. I’ve told people in my heart-to-heart, they should boogie. And they haven’t and they’ve won a lot more money. I’ve stood there and thought for sure they’re going to accomplish this next one. And they haven’t. And I’ve sat there and felt the sorrow.

But it is 100% genuine. And I think anybody that’s been involved in a game show that’s done it, that’s really had that appeal to the mass market, has had – I don’t know how they’ve done it this many years and not just feel that anguish when someone loses all the cash.  But it’s the reality of the game.

Do you bring your love of food to this game in any way?

Guy Fieri: Wow you’re on point, so food is the center. I mean, even let’s say I’m not even doing food television. I mean, owning five restaurants here in Northern California, I’m up this morning taking my son to school at 7:30 in the morning. And the thing we’re having the discussion on is what are we going to make for dinner tonight, okay, that’s what – that’s how the clock ticks.  So while we were there of course I have to eat the right things when I’m doing stuff like this. I have to eat light. You know I try to eat sushi a lot. I try to eat things because if I eat anything really heavy,  it can take a little bit of the energy away.

I think it was our third day of shooting. I called one of the places that we did Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with, a place called Hodad’s Burgers down in San Diego, California. I’m such a Hodad’s junkie. I mean I love Hodad’s.

We have this amazing relationship with our Triple-D families. I mean we’ve done over 350 locations. So I asked as a little treat because I saw everyday there’s really good catering that was going on. You know NBC they kicked down and everybody had nice food and so forth.

I said ‘you know I want to do something special for everybody.’  I want to show everybody that I’m not just a host that’s just here, standing on the side, let’s lead this charge. And so I had Hodad’s come up and cook burgers for the crew.  In the rain, in a parking structure. And they brought their whole thing up and made the famous Hodad burger where they make the crispy bacon patty and served it, and the crew went bananas.

I’ll tell you something. That’s how this team felt. It was such a team effort. I don’t know how to explain it because I’ve got four shows. All of my shows that I’ve been involved with, I’m a very connected person with the people I’m around.

The team that I was working with and the people that were there were genuinely unquestionably involved in this. I mean they were heartfelt involved in this.

And so to do the burger thing, you should have just seen us. It was like we were having some big family picnic.

How would you explain “Minute” it in a couple sentence or less?

Guy Fieri: This is a life changing show for people. You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar. You don’t have to be a world class athlete. You don’t have to have really any super professional skill or talent. You just have to have the Minute To Win It, in it to win it game attitude. And you can do this.

When I explain this to people is you take any of those games that you’ve enjoyed, be it classroom competition on a rainy day in sixth grade in Ferndale, California and the teacher set up mini indoor Olympics where you had to throw the bean bag and you would sit there and you would go, that was the greatest recess I ever had. And it was simply to win a pencil, you know.

When you think about that genuine center of people competition, not just to take the money out of it, just the genuine competition that we all possess. And now we put it in systematic games that take more – no more than 60 seconds. I mean I get bored. I watch something. Come on, I mean enough already,  get in there and do this or don’t do this. This is 60 second competitions. We get to see things take place bam, bam, bam, so it’s that same core gamer – gaming attitude or competition attitude that we have with games that are 60 seconds long. And it is completely addicting.

Where did it break big for you?

Guy Fieri:  You know first and foremost this is building this career or building this opportunity,  I’ve had my opportunity come through Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives which is more than you could ever expect.

‘Diners’ is a phenomenon in my opinion. And it’s not me, I’m just the medium, I’m just the dude that’s delivering the message.  These joints are out there across the country. So for me I’m just the dude that’s there shining the light on it. So I appreciate the enthusiasm behind it, but it is getting out of control. And I mean we are talking out of control.

We’ve had to shoot super early in the morning so we can almost sneak in there. We’ve had to ask some of the restaurants to not serve,  that’s usually the main piece now is we used to let people hang out in the restaurant while we were doing the shooting in the kitchen.  But they’re now getting to the point where it’s standing room only and you’ve got 50 cameras clicking. No flashes, just the clicking starting to mess up the audio.

So we’ve had to make some adjustments to it.

I’m now really working for the future of my kids. I mean the world is going to continue to become a more interesting place to live in. And I want to do as much as I can just to secure their future.

So that’s the balancing piece. But it’s my family, and without a question my heart is with my family first. Then my career and then Guy takes a back seat. We’ll have a few years here down the road here where Guy will start to take the lead or Guy will start to get back involved.

I’m surrounded by great people. That’s probably the key to it though. How do you pull it off, being surrounded by great people. I’ve got really great agents at William Morris Endeavor. I’ve got all the folks at NBC have been super supportive.

I mean talk about knocking stuff out. We were setting times up of five days to rock this show. So  it’s not me just being some heroic father marching into the battle zone.  I’ve been surrounded by a real core group of people.

My two boys are very involved. They’ve been on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives quite a few times.  And as a matter of fact my wife flew down for the day with the kids just to come, you know, be able to see the set. I think it’s important, I don’t want to do this without them having a real true involvement of knowing what it is.

They can travel. They want to go. Let them feel the adventure.

Minute To Win It has drawn some comparisons to another game show, a British one called The Cube in that, you know, the contestants have a timed limit to complete simple tasks.  What do you think makes Minute To Win It different? Or do you think they’re somewhat similar?

Guy Fieri: Well I’ve heard the same comparison. And to be very honest with you and not to seem naïve, I haven’t seen The Cube.  I try not to muddy my vision or my creativity, sometimes you see something and think okay, well I can’t do that now because that’s already been done.
So I just try to went in and did this dry, I just kind of went into it without any expectation of how I would say it or what I would do or, what would go on.

I think there’s been a lot of sharing of styles of games and so forth throughout the years between countries and within the United States.  I think if The Cube did good and it had some similarities to it, then that’s great news. This show from what I’ve been told people that have seen The Cube and have seen other competition type,  shows like this, challenge shows, we’re going to rock.

I mean this show is about as compelling as anybody could imagine and here’s why. Here’s what I think the simple basic of it is. I think you can sit there when my 13 year old son sits there and watches the competition, and as soon as the competition is over, he bumps me and says hey, during commercial can I go do that?

So we’ve got it set up for the next one, but I get you. And when they can feel that, and when people watch these sizzle reels and they go now explain to me, what’s so difficult about that?

Okay, well here you go, let me put this paper bag on the ground and without using your hands bend down and pick it up with your mouth.  You have 15 of my buddies standing around at the Super Bowl, I see someone pick up this lunch bag on the ground without hands- go try to do it!

I mean there could be comparisons and similarities but I will tell you Minute To Win It is in its own world and  I think it’s just going to blow people away.  As a matter of fact we should start the show off with saying to watch today’s show, please have available 19 ping pong balls, 14 paper bags, something like that I think that would be a great way for them to get the feeling.

How do you like your time slot?

Guy Fieri: Well I think [that’s my little guy Ryder in the background, I was gone for the week in Florida shooting Diners, Drive Ins and Dives because he is hot on my trail all morning.]

Here is my real feeling on that. I think that Sunday nights are a great family night. You know you’ve had a big weekend, there’s a lot going on and the way we’re going to wrap up our weekend is to sit down and watch this.

I don’t know about you but Sundays for me are usually a good food day, we cook, we hang out and the last part of the day is usually some type of family,  watch a movie or whatever it may be.

So here’s the kicker, kids are going to back to school on Mondays and, you know, parents are going to go to work on Monday and they’re going to say did you see Minute To Win It last night?

He had the ping pong ball and he bounced it, dude that guy seriously… I thought he had it, so close!  And then you know what’s going to happen? There’s going to be lunchroom competitions.

There’s going to be office cooler Olympics. I’m thrilled with the time slot and I think it’s going to be in a real open mind space, I think we’re going to rock them.

[I’m sorry, this is my son Ryder is hot on my trail, I was hidden back in my office and he’s now discovered me, so, he’s showing me his cars.]

How do the family members in the audience react?

Guy Fieri: These family members were as wild as our competitors and their enthusiasm was just contagious. And the pictures, some of the still photos that I’ve seen, and I mean I remember everybody and I see his wife cheering,  the exuberance.   I will tell you the ones that really got me were the kids, when the kids came and knowing what it’s like to be a dad and the dad or the mom performing in front of their children.

Kids – their emotions, oh, I’m going tell you something, but that was a real key to it. You know that was one of the things – I got to have a lot of creative in this and it was so neat because I think we all really saw eye to eye on these points.  Of course you need to have your family members there, that’s what a lot of this is for is to throw that extra boost into the family economic profile.

The real salt of the earth folks.  I don’t think there was one person that at the end of the show, whenever they were finished with their piece that there wasn’t a big hug afterwards and a stand down in the dressing room and take pictures and sign books and do that.

I mean just all of them just were just such great people, I’ve got to really hand it to the NBC team for their casting or involvement.

What’s the schedule like for you?

Guy Fieri:  ‘Diners’ I shoot every other week, I’ll be gone for four days.  One of my crew members said to me the other day, you always take the redeye on Sunday nights and show up Monday and then shoot a 12 hour day with four hours of sleep under your belt.  Why do you do that? And I said because I get to be there at home, put my kids to bed on Sunday night. And in their mind Sunday was a full day. And Monday I’m at work and I do Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and I come home Thursday night.

To me, I will work as much as I can in those days to make sure that I’m home as often as I can be.

And  if we’re going to go do something, like for instance we’ll go do an event for Disney, I do a cooking demo for Disney for their big food and wine fest, oh my kids love that one because that means carte blanche for Disney.

So get the kids involved in it as much as possible and this is about a lot of good mentors in my life like Marc Summers who does Unwrapped on Food Network and did Double Dare.  And the comment he always says is make sure that you don’t burn up going through the tunnel.  Make sure when you come out through this whole thing that it’s set up the right way. So there is a lot of college fund devotion going on right now.

In this great country that you canvas for wonderful food, what region has the tastiest diners and dives?

Guy Fieri: Now being the host of the number one show on Food Network, this show has been rocking it for almost two years now, and being a guy that is a mega fan of food, and all these other things, I would really love to give you some prolific statement that you could just bullet point.

‘He names da, da, da the king of all food states,’ it’s impossible. I will tell you I’ve tried to do it.  I have tried to categorize it, I have tried to say that you have to go to the south to get great barbeque. Wait a second, there’s a place called Smoke in Chicago, some of the best barbeque I’ve ever had.

Oh yeah, and then there’s Wilson’s Barbeque up in Connecticut, so okay that doesn’t work. I’ll try to tell you that the greatest tacos come from southern California and they’ve got a – oh but wait a second, hang on, there’s California Taco over in Omaha Nebraska with Brad Ogden.

So I can’t give it to you but I will tell you this. This is the simplest, this is the best thing I can say, is that when you roll into town and the town is, you know, set with a main street, of course that’s the higher rent area, of course that’s the most popular place to be.

Of course that’s where your chains are going to jump in. Pull off the beaten path. Drive up to – insurance, I always say go to an insurance office. Insurance agents always eat lunch, at least I know mine do.

Stop in there and say where’s some of the best food? What are you guys known for around here? Do a little bit of investigation, maybe before you even go on your trip.  Do a little investigation. We have the greatest eateries in the world, and talk about a mixed bag of nuts, I mean we have got it all in all of the craziest places.

So I wish I could say there was one set area. I love my food in the south, got to dig the Midwest. The east coast is jam packed, California is my home state all the way up to Washington and across down through the bottom of the panhandle.

You know all of it, I just can’t give you one and that’s not some cliché line I’m giving you. I have wished, prayed I could give you a definitive answer. But it’s not there.

Dang, it’s hard to be skinny in the USA.

Guy Fieri: Listen, I jog between locations or something, you’re telling me. People say how do you – here, my favorite line is you’re not as fat as you look on TV.

Oh that’s nice, first of all TV does none of us any justice. And second of all I have to be very judicious about what I eat and I have to make sure that I keep myself in the gym.

Because if not, it’s not going to be a convertible I’m driving around, it’s going to be a dump truck. So I’m down with you on that.

But this cross pollinating, and this is a great point you just brought up, the cross pollinating between Minute To Win It and my other life, you know, my other project with Diners has so much cross pollination.

And one of the unique pieces is it’s every day people. It’s America. It’s the land of opportunity and you will begin to see more of it happening. One, I will feed my crew at the show.

I’ve probably had 15 other of my diner people, you know, chime in and say dude I’ll bring the taco truck, you know.

So there will be more of that happening and hopefully we’ll have a celebrity game. I was just hanging out with my boy Emeril the other day and I asked Emeril and I asked Paula Dean if they would come on a celebrity show and they said for sure.

So hopefully we’ll see a nice marriage going on with all that.

Here is a sneal peek with Guy:


Triple Pong Plop Slow motion reveals that some times you’ve just got to accept the way the ball bounces.

Can He Keep It Up? Even in slow motion, keeping balloons aloft is harder than it looks.

Everybody Plays Some visitors to Universal Studios Hollywood take their shots at the games of Minute to Win It.

BTS: Game Gurus Backstage, Guy interviews the two Swedish masterminds who invent Minute to Win It’s challenges.

BTS: Behind the Curtain Get a fly on the wall view as Guy, stagehands, and friends prep a game.

BTS: Game Agents Petra and Ling give us an agent’s-eye view of the show.

BTS: Stage Tour Guy gives the ultimate insiders tour of the Minute to Win It stage.


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