Image Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC; Chuck ZlotnickAron Ralston, whose experiences and book served as the basis for 127 Hours, will be putting his great-outdoors-honed skills to the test on the task-oriented NBC game show Minute to Win It, airing tonight at 8 p.m. ET. We talked with him about taking on ping-pong balls and Guy Fieri for charity, the wonder of Double Dare, and his plans to attend the Oscars.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did they approach you to do Minute to Win It?
ARON RALSTON: One of the producers just reached out and he laid out their thoughts. I guess they do these celebrity shows for charity from time to time, and the way they explained it was that I’d get to pick the non-profit that the money would go to and that I could play and win up to a million dollars, and I was like, “That sounds pretty sweet.” For two days worth of time out in Los Angeles? I played for a group that I’ve been on the board of for about five years now called the Wilderness Workshop. They work to preserve wild pristine country, especially in central Colorado, that is under a variety of threats such as oil and gas drilling. It’s trying to keep our wilderness as it is.
Had you ever been on a game show before?
No, I definitely never have. It was really fun. It was just everything that I would have hoped it would be, and I did really well too, which was a bonus. My mom and my sister got to come out and see me play and the host, Guy Fieri, was fun. I don’t know if you remember, but back when I was in middle school there was this show called Double Dare…
I always wanted to be on Double Dare. I would have always taken the physical challenge.
Right? My sister and I were talking about this over the months of getting it put together, and we were reminiscing about watching that show. This was about as close as I would come to living out my fantasy of being on Double Dare.
The one thing I remember was that everyone would always lose at the giant nose because they couldn’t find the flag.
Yeah. That nose!
So what do they have you doing on the show?
For me they picked a slate of games that they knew I would be able to do given that I only have one hand and a prosthetic so they purposely steered away from stuff that was more oriented towards two-handed play. They gave me a list of things and they told me that they would pick games from that list, and that was about four days before the taping. So I got to preview their blueprints online and set up my own little home-versions of them, which is the same thing they do for contestants that are playing for themselves and not for charity. I was able to figure out that there are a few games that aren’t worth my time practicing because they are impossible, there are a few games that aren’t worth practicing because I got them on my first try, and then there were the games in the middle. So I was traveling and in hotel rooms around the country and in Canada, setting up games, and calling up the housekeeping and having them send up, like, nine water glasses.
Did you bring your own ping-pong balls?
Yeah, I brought my own ping-pong balls! And I set up the water glasses to play the Ping Tac Toe, which was one of the harder games. And I did beat it once in practice, but just barely. It was a real clock-beater.
Whenever I watch Jeopardy, I always end up yelling at the contestants and thinking that I’d do better, but I know if I were I were ever on it, I’d probably choke and be at negative $3,000 in about five minutes. Were you more nervous than you thought you’d be?
It’s funny. The anxiety cycle kicks in, and you get aware that you’re nervous and that makes you more nervous, and now you’re aware that you’re aware and you’re screwing up. That happened at one point in the earlier games, and I had to get over that. It was very dramatic. The producers told me they were jumping up and down in their production trailers and they were watching the footage coming in, biting their nails.
You’re set to go to the Oscars too this week, right?
Yeah. I’ll be flying into L.A. on Friday. It’s very exciting. I think my wife is even more excited about it than I am, because she’s working with a dress designer to come up with a dress for her to wear, and she gets to go shopping and pick up shoes and handbags and necklaces. She’s being loaned jewelry that’s way out of our price range, so we’ll fit in quite nicely on the red carpet.
Do you know who you’ll be sitting next to?
No idea. I imagine we’re going to be back with some of the technical people, or probably with the 127 Hours people, like Simon Beaufoy or A.R. Rahman. I don’t know, we could be in the far corner of the balcony for all I know, but it really doesn’t matter. I’m just hoping we don’t get stuck in the middle of a row where we have to step on forty people to go to the bathroom.
Or behind Liam Neeson or some actor who’s really, really tall.
I was thinking Will Ferrell. He’s really tall too. Although, I would love to sit behind Will Ferrell. If there’s one guy during this whole crazy trip that I haven’t been able to meet that I’d like to, it’d be him.
If 127 Hours wins or if James Franco wins, how will you celebrate?
At the party afterwards. It’ll just be a little more exciting than it would be otherwise, I guess. We don’t have any plans to go to Disney World or anything. I guess it’ll give me something else to rehearse when I end playing James in the biopic of his life.
And then he can support you when you’re up for the Oscar.
[Laughs] Yeah, James likes that meta stuff.