Local game show fans may have spotted a familiar face on TV last Sunday night — a young woman flying through the air in a harness, and later getting dropped down a chute into a pile of giant foam cubes. The contestant in question was Laura McDonald, an Edgemont High School grad, class of 2006, and she was competing on “Ellen’s Game of Games”hosted by Ellen DeGeneres on Sundays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
Though McDonald had kept silent about her upcoming appearance until last Friday, when she announced her news via an Instagram post, a considerable Edgemont contingent soon materialized to cheer her on. “I heard from too many friends to count,” she said. “I was texting with my former A-school teacher, and I even heard from a couple of friends’ parents, which is really fun.””
“Fun,” in fact, is how the 32-year-old Los Angeles resident would describe her entire experience with “Game of Games,”an adventure that started to unfold almost a year ago.
“A friend of mine from college — I went to Colgate University — somehow auditioned for the show, and when she was auditioning, she recommended me to the producers,” McDonald said. “Then they reached out to me.”
Yet her appearance was far from a done deal. After an initial phone interview last April, “I had an on-camera, 30-minute-long interview-slash-audition tape, and then I had a final-round phone interview,” she said. “They just kind of want to know what your story is, what you do for work,” (McDonald owns Rad Max Vintage, which sells vintage sportswear online at www.radmaxvintage.com.) “They really just want to see your personality, your energy.”
Apparently the show’s producers liked what they saw; in May, McDonald learned she had been selected as a contestant. Her segment was scheduled to be filmed last June, but was delayed until August due to COVID-19 concerns. “We had to do a full week of quarantine beforehand in a really nice hotel,” she shared. “It was beautiful outside, so I just laid by the pool. We weren’t allowed to talk to the other contestants, because some people had already played their games and some people had won, and they didn’t want to give anyone an advantage. So it was just a lot of people at a pool, not speaking to each other!”
This left McDonald plenty of time to prepare to meet the challenges of the show’s unique format. For those unfamiliar with “Game of Games,” it requires contestants to play in one of four initial competitions, which could be anything from “Blindfolded Musical Chairs” to “Master Blaster,” during which harnessed contestants must solve a jigsawlike puzzle, and losers are “blasted” into the air. The winner of each game proceeds to a semi-final round of questions called “Know or Go,” while the last standing player competes in a game called “Hotter Hands” for the chance at $100,000.
At the hotel, “I was doing fitness all day, trying to prepare, even though I hadn’t worked out during quarantine,” McDonald remembered. Previously, she had also watched every “Game of Games”episode available for viewing.
“You don’t know which game you’re going to be playing beforehand,” she said. “Some games are very cerebral, but other games are completely physical, where you’re climbing up a blow-up mountain with tomato juice flying at you.”
Ultimately, McDonald’s initial game turned out to be a word game “that then sent you flying into space on a harness,” she said. Happily, she won that round. “I crushed my first game,” she said proudly. Unfortunately, however, she lost the next game, “Know or Go.”
“The question was, ‘What caffeine company’s logo is a mermaid?’” she said. “People who go to Starbucks and drink coffee know the answer right away, but I don’t drink coffee, and I could not get out of my head. I was like, ‘What soda company has a mermaid?’”
With a press of a button, Ellen sent McDonald down a 30-foot chute, where she landed in the aforementioned foam blocks. Was it scary? “No, it was so fun,” she insisted. “I mean, the country had been in quarantine for five months, and here I was given this opportunity to put on a harness and talk around lots of people, and put on makeup. I was so happy.”
Performance comes naturally to McDonald, who had always participated in musical theater productions at Edgemont and in college. After graduating from Colgate with a degree in educational studies, she moved to New York for a time, and worked as an actress and comedienne. She appeared on an episode of the series “30 Rock,”playing Alec Baldwin’s girlfriend, and is known worldwide for her YouTube videos imitating the moody actress Kristen Stewart.
It was her childhood that gave McDonald the confidence and creativity to pursue such bold goals. “I loved growing up in Edgemont,” she said. “My house is right on the driveway of Seely Place. I obviously got to walk to school, and I would always parade my friends home to my house, because it was so close, after school. And every time I was sick at home, I would just watch my friends from my window at recess.”
High school was an outstanding experience as well, she said. “I was in the alternative school, and that is always and forever going to be my favorite part of Edgemont, and why I majored in education. I played soccer and lacrosse, and I’m still really close with pretty much all of my friends from growing up. I still talk to a couple of my teachers, too, so I’m really ingrained.”
Will locals see her on more game shows in the future? “I hope so, I loved it!” McDonald said without hesitation. Though she didn’t win “Game of Games”’$100,000 prize, she still considers herself fortunate. “I’ve lived such a fun way — I’ve done so many great, fun things,” she reflected. “This was just another fun thing that I got to be part of. How lucky am I?”