‘Game Changer’ Host Sam Reich On Keeping The Series “Consistently Original” & Recruiting The Perfect Ratfish: “Couldn’t Ask For A Wilder Wildcard”

Spoiler Alert for “Ratfish (Part 1)”: Coming out in 2019 after the success of unscripted content for Dropout, Game Changer was an instant hit on the platform. Now, six seasons later, host Sam Reich is still working to bring “consistently original” ideas to the show with no signs of stopping. “Every season, I feel like I fly a little closer to the sun,” says Reich. “And every season, the response I get from the audience is like, ‘This was the best yet,’ which is a very dangerous thing to tell me as I push it more and more, further and further.”

Hosted by Reich, Dropout’s Game Changer is a game show where the premise changes every episode and the contestants must learn the rules as they play. Among the assortment of games, season 6 has seen contestants search for buzzers in a simple trivia game-turned-scavenger hunt for “Beat the Buzzer”, trapped in a time loop of an episode for “Deja Vu” and even brought into a parody of reality show The Circle for the season finale, titled “Ratfish”. Reich recruited Eric Wareheim, of comedy duo Tim & Eric, as the “comedy wildcard” to play the titular Ratfish in the season finale.

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Game Changer
Vic Michaelis, Jacob Wysocki and Lou Wilson in “Sam Says 3”

DEADLINE: What prompted you to enter multiple Dropout series, like Game Changer, into the Emmy race this year?

SAM REICH: In reality, I appreciate that our odds are a little distant in the sense of if you look at Game Changer versus the other likely nominees in its category, we stand out in a lot of un-strategic ways. We’re talking about in the case of Family FeudWheel of FortuneJeopardy… shows that have been around for decades on network television. And to the extent that the Emmys are an awareness battle, we’ve got a hell of an uphill climb. But I think that all the respect in the world to those shows that have been around for so long, and many of which have inspired me or inspired Game Changer, I think that there are ways in which our show is more modern and cutting edge and imaginative, and I think that the category is ripe for disruption. So, the mischief maker in me couldn’t resist. Then of course, if we do get nominated, it’s great for the visibility of Dropout, the platform. I do think, it turns out, the trying to get nominated is also really good. I almost feel like we’ve reaped the rewards of being nominated already.

Mike Trapp, Ify Nwadiwe and Siobhan Thompson on “Deja Vu”
Mike Trapp, Ify Nwadiwe and Siobhan Thompson on “Deja Vu”

DEADLINE: Where did the idea for Game Changer originally come from?

REICH: Unscripted content turned out to be remarkably, unpredictably popular on the Dropout platform in early 2019, so we were all of a sudden in need of more of it, but the problem was that we had a writer’s room full of scripted comedy writers. All of us were sort of having to pivot to think about something that wasn’t our primary skill set. I had this idea because I’ve always been attracted to a comedy in a suit, especially like absurdist comedy, but in a suit. I think it was being raised by a British mother and watching Monty Python that did that to me.

So, I had this idea sitting around in a file somewhere. Originally it was called What the What, and I think the second incarnation of its name was Game Show Show, and I pitched it to the writers as something that someone else could champion, who wasn’t me, and no one was into it. Which makes a certain amount of sense, it’s an odd idea and no one could really wrap their heads around it. But I was under so much pressure from my bosses to come up with things quickly that I said, “Okay, I’ll take this particular ball and run with it and see how far I can take it.”

DEADLINE: So, once you took that ball and started running with it, what was the reaction to that first season?

REICH: It was pretty immediately great. I think when you have a show that’s not quite connecting with people, it’s pretty clear pretty quickly. And when you have a show that is really connecting with people, it’s pretty clear pretty quickly. The danger is always in the middle zone where it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe if we gave this some more time,’ or, ‘Maybe we didn’t nail the marketing,’ or, ‘Maybe if we tweaked this or that about the format.’ The indicators were critical and the social media chatter from the fans was effusively positive, so the feeling was like we got something here. That was season one, and I think by the time we were airing season two, we were just starting to flirt with vertical video a little bit, and we realized just what a great fit Game Changer was for that medium, and that’s when things really started to take off.

DEADLINE: Now you’re at the point where you’re constantly one-upping yourself with these episodes. At the beginning of the season in the writer’s room, what is that process of coming up with these episode ideas?

REICH: Panic. [laughs] No, our process now looks something like this. We have a legion of people that we reach out to for pitches, and those pitches are super important because usually the ideas that I’m looking for are novel in the sense that I want the show to feel original, consistently original, whatever that means, but also elegant in their simplicity. And that’s tough because chances are, we’ve heard the idea before.

This year we’re weeding through 70 ideas, and some of those spark something within us immediately, others we Frankenstein into each other and certainly some ideas don’t quite pass scrutiny. But that process informs the later stage of the writing process, which is one that’s powered chiefly by my teeny tiny writer’s room, which is me, Paul Robalino, Ryan Creamer and Chloe Badner. Justin Cyrul and Kyle Rohrbach are also there looking a little scared as representatives and Sam Geer, my director and editor, is there as well. It’s this question of, ‘Does this check enough boxes to feel like a Game Changer game at this point?’ It’s a lot of boxes, and with every season I feel like the list grows and we try not to put ourselves in a position where every episode needs to check every box. It’s more like every box needs to be checked over the course of a season. Sometimes we’re going to have an episode that focuses only on one player. Sometimes we’re going to do a straight up reality show parody. Last season we started dipping a little bit into horror for the first time, and now that’s something that we will probably try to do at least once a season. So, it’s that sort of exercise.

Game Changer
Grant O’Brien, Katie Marovitch, Ally Beardsley and Jessica Ross in “Ratfish (Part 1)”

DEADLINE: What is it like having Sam Geer come on as the director for season 6, in addition to being the editor?

REICH: Sam is a really important part of the show and, actually he knows this now so I can tell you, we just promoted him and he’s now EP of the show as of this season. Sam has a kind of stoicism about him, which is hugely important to Game Changer, because you can’t really weird him out, and he’s very quick to wrap his mind technically around very vague and unpredictable premises. That’s very important on set and in the post-production process. There is a post right now in the Dropout subreddit of someone being like, ‘Can we take a moment to appreciate the “Ratfish” editors?’ And there was only one of them. There was, in fact, Sam and also a very talented story producer, Sabrina Brody. She was a lifesaver who helped us comb through the footage and put moments together, but think about what Sam had on his plate this season. He was fundamentally the season’s sole editor. I think we had a little bit of help on one or two episodes from another very talented editor in our stable Eve Hinz, but “Bingo” was an episode that took place over the course of three locations simultaneously, often in split screen, all of the VHS repetition in “Deja Vu” where Sam took moments from prior runs and plugged them into later ones so that the repetition would seem more authentic. “Ratfish”, which was just a criminally absurd number of cameras… I mean, just a really impressive character, really good at what he does. He’s a musician and I think that great editors have a language for the music of editing that’s super important.

DEADLINE: You mentioned “Ratfish”, and I’m very excited for the second part to come out next week. How did that idea come about?

REICH: So much of Game Changer, especially the pieces that feel more arbitrary to the viewers, is just because I like something. I’ve watched almost every season of The Circle, and I was really attracted to the format because, again, I felt like it was elegant in its simplicity. So, I was looking for ways to do a tribute to it. We originally thought of this last season and we could not for the life of us figure out a way to do it that wouldn’t blow the budget. We would have needed to keep it in the studio for it to work with season five’s budget, and we thought about maybe putting everybody in isolation booths, and then by the time we had explored that, not only was that going to be very expensive, but it’s going to mean that our players are really, really restricted in terms of movement. So, I went into season six telling my producer, “Please, we’ve got to hold onto enough money in order to make this work. I really want to do it this season.” It’s the first time we’ve left the studio entirely for an episode. I’ll be honest, I was a little scared that the audience would feel like there was something missing with this episode. The studio and the set at this point is so much a character of the show, but so far the response has been really mostly positive.

DEADLINE: And how did Eric Wareheim get involved as the Ratfish?

REICH: This was a tricky one, because I wanted the Ratfish to be someone from the outside, but if the comedic conceit of the game is, ‘Can you tell the person by their comedic voice?’ then it needed to be someone whose comedic voice was very distinct and there simply aren’t a whole lot of people that fall into that category, especially the category of comedy wildcard. It’s a pretty limited pool of people. The short answer to your question is I messaged him on Instagram and I said, “Would you please do this?” I was delighted and surprised that he responded in the affirmative so quickly. He was coming back from France the night before, and arrived on our set a little loopy from jet lag, which was perfect. Couldn’t ask for a wilder wildcard. He was so into it too. You’ll see the next episode, he’s so high on the power.

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