Yours truly will be one of the Season 1 contestants. I might be making a cameo appearance during the season premiere, but I will definitely be playing a major role in Episode 7, which airs on Tuesday April 30.
You probably have questions. Fortunately, I have answers!
Q: What is Mental Samurai?
A: It’s a televised competition (apparently, I’m not supposed to use the term “game show”) from the same company that produces American Ninja Warrior (ANW). It’s essentially a mental version of ANW’s physical obstacle course, with similar dynamics. Competitors (almost slipped and typed “contestants”) have five minutes to answer 12 questions correctly. If they miss a single question, they’re eliminated. But it’s a lot less painful than losing your grip and falling into a pool of water. Of course, this is television, so they strap the competitors into a giant robot arm, and swing them around wildly to disorient them between questions.
Q: How did you end up on the show?
A: Five years ago, my sister (who used to work in the entertainment business) forwarded me an email from a new televised competition looking for “America’s Brightest.” Since I had a book (The Alliance) coming out, I figured I could use the extra publicity, and I applied. I did a number of Skype auditions, but nothing ever came of them because the show never got beyond the concept phase. But, the casting director who worked with me mentioned me to the Mental Samurai casting team, and they reached out to me. Many, many Skype auditions later, I got word that they had cast me for Season 1 while I was in New York on the book tour for my next book, Blitzscaling. Ironically enough, I had just made an unexpected cameo on CBS This Morning that morning (thanks Gayle King!) so I guess I was having a “good TV day.” (I also randomly ran into Dwight Howard and Ringo Starr at my hotel that week.) The timing was tight; we filmed the show during the only half-week I had free that entire 6-week period (the rest was filled with book tour activities and all the stuff I had deferred in the run-up to the release of Blitzscaling).
Q: When can I watch this show?
A: Tuesdays at 9 PM on Fox, right after MasterChef Junior. Never before in my life have I rooted as hard for Gordon Ramsey. I want a good lead-in!
Q: What was it like on the set?
A: It was grueling, with a lot of late nights and early mornings. We weren’t allowed to have access to our phones or computers, and we had to spend most of our time waiting around in various uncomfortable lounges. We even had security escorts when we went to the restrooms. I guess America takes the integrity of its televised competitions very seriously!
That being said, I enjoyed the experience a great deal. My fellow competitors were a phenomenally accomplished bunch, both in life, and on the competition circuit. They included two memory champions, a three-time Jeopardy champion, a former major league baseball player, and an astronaut. One competitor was a Miss Florida runner-up, champion power lifter, and Harvard Medical School graduate–talk about disparate talents!
One of the crew even mentioned that our shoot was a lot more interesting than the ANW shoots. “You guys are talking, playing games, singing songs….the Ninjas just sit around and say things like, ‘I’m going to crush it out there!'” (We actually had to get special permission from the production lawyers to play Cards Against Humanity.)
Q: Did you get to meet Rob Lowe?
A: Only while I was strapped into the chair and competing. But the competitors all got a chance to chat with Rob before starting their run. And yes, he is really handsome in person. I think Rob was probably a bit distracted though; the Dodgers were in the World Series when we were shooting, and Rob is die-hard fan.
Q: Can you tell me who wins?
A: Nope, all of us signed a bunch of contracts saying we couldn’t reveal anything about the outcomes of the show. The penalties for breaching those contracts are HEFTY.
Q: Why did you do this?
A: I love trying new things. Besides, you know I love the spotlight. What spotlight am I likely to get that is brighter than a national television audience? I just hope I don’t make a fool of myself.
Q: Where can I watch the previews of the show?
A: It’s a sign of the times that the show’s Facebook Page is far more up to date than its website. If you have a sharp eye, you can spot me a couple of times. I’m the only Chinese-American guy on the show, so I’m hard to miss.
Q: What can I do to support you?
A: I’m glad you asked! (Or more precisely, I’m glad that I asked me on your behalf!) Of course you should watch the show and tell your friends and family to do the same. Hey, how often does someone from the startup world go on a televised competition where he or she is strapped into a giant robotic arm and flung about while bantering with Rob Lowe?
But the other key thing is that I would like to hold a big watch party on April 30. I’m looking for pointers to good venues to hold such a party, media partners to publicize the event, and corporate sponsors (since I’m still a cheap bastard and don’t want to pay for it myself). If you have any good ideas on these fronts, let me know! Or if you have other great ideas, also let me know!
I’ll be watching the premiere (Tuesday March 19, 9 PM, on FOX) from Dan Gordon’s in Palo Alto. Stop by and hear me comment on the show and dish dirt on my fellow contestants!
The details for my April 30 watch party are set! Come party in Palo Alto! Get your tickets here: