Engineering freshman takes on ‘Hollywood Squares’

By Bonnie Powell


hollywood squares

Hollywood Squares executive producer Whoopi Goldberg, Berkeley engineering student Woody Hartman, and host Tom Bergeron.

27 February 2002 | When audition staff at “Hollywood Squares” asked Woody Hartman to pose for a Polaroid, he decided he wouldn’t be chosen for the game show’s fourth annual college tournament, airing Feb. 11 to 22.

“I thought a photo would completely negate my chances,” says the freshman mechanical engineering major, whose extracurricular activities include the Berkeley Rally Committee, student government and snowboarding club. “I don’t look like the stereotypical Berkeley student — no piercings, dreds or tie-dyed shirts.”

But in a practice game with corporate representatives — in which the potential contestants were judged on their smiles, energy and grasp of the game’s tic-tac-toe-plus-trivia strategy — Hartman apparently made up for his fresh-scrubbed looks.

A week after winter break, he was on his way to Burbank, Calif., to compete for cash, a car and scholarship money. “Hollywood Squares” put Hartman and 13 other U.S. college students up in a nice hotel, chartered limos and provided spending money for four days “so we could live it up a little,” he says.

Off camera, the student contestants jettisoned their television rivalry and hung out together on Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards. Star sightings included a reunion of the Chicago cast of MTV’s “Real World,” held at the Cheesecake Factory. Hartman also enjoyed watching Carmen Electra and Gena Lee Nolin tape their “Hollywood Squares” segments. Show regular Whoopi Goldberg, he says, “is genuinely funny in person, and also very short.”

Alas, when tic came to tac, Hartman tip-toed. He won the first game of his show, lost the second, and when the tie-breaking third was called early, he got only two squares to his opponent’s three.

Hartman walked away with $2,000, while his University of Pennsylvania opponent went on to rack up $23,000. The tournament’s overall winner took home $69,000.

In hindsight, of course, “there were so many things I could have done differently,” Hartman sighs. “I should have gone for winning the game, rather than getting distracted by trying to find the secret square.”

A little miffed that the round was called early, after his rival had had one more chance to win a square than he had, Harman was philosophical. “I told myself beforehand that I didn’t need to win a lot of money to look favorably on the experience. I decided I’d be satisfied if I won a game, which I did.”


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