Zoom at 8, Hollywood at 9: App State student gets gig on Ellen’s Game of Games


Max Correa

Justin Marks, pictured here at his home, was a guest on Ellen Degeneres’ game show, Game of Games.

Emily Broyles, Reporter

Driving from the Florida Keys up the mountain, an App State student applied to 20 different game shows in a day on a whim. Two years later, they got a call back from NBC.

Senior Justin Marks didn’t think anything of his girlfriend filming his 3-minute audition videos in the car, but his episode of Ellen’s Game of Games, “Fake It Til’ You Make It Rain,” aired March 14 – almost eight months after he knew about the gig. 

“I was like, ‘wait, what? Oh gosh. Alright, keep your mouth shut.’ That was really hard because I just wanted to tell everybody, you know?” Marks said. “All my buddies were like, ‘where are you going?’”

Ellen’s Game of Games premiered in 2017 and is in its fourth season. In the show, host Ellen DeGeneres guides show contestants in “outrageously fun games” to win a cash prize, according to its website. 

During his segment, Marks introduced himself as college student majoring in sustainable development, wanting “to save the world.”

“We need more of you. Thank you for doing that. We need to save the world,” DeGeneres said after Marks introduced himself on the show. 

Marks got the call while working a dishwasher shift at Moon Thai in Blowing Rock.

“I only worked there for a month, but then that was like the biggest part of my job, was that day I got that call,” Marks said.

The sustainable development major had to go through rounds of Zoom auditions with a professional to show how “loud and fun and spunky I could be.” He made it to the second round of auditions, and the show offered Marks to bring his dad. Marks’ father was eventually cut from auditions, leaving Marks to not only appear on the show solo but travel the same. 

“That was brutal because I’d never traveled alone, and I’d never been to California,” Marks said. “There were some people that had their partners ‘cause there’s like partner, family game shows … and I was like ‘dang, that would be nice to have somebody to talk to.’ Cause I was pretty nervous.”

Marks could not bring his father because of the COVID-19 guidelines the show was following. Once in Hollywood, contestants could not talk with each other within their hotel or leave the building. They also had to get tested for COVID-19 2-3 times a day. 

Marks knew about the testing but thought visiting La La Land was up for grabs.  

“I ran around the city. I was exploring everything,” Marks said. “I didn’t have a car or anything because I flew out there and I’m too young to rent a car, so I just used those Bird scooters and was going all over L.A. and made it to Venice Beach.”

A month before Marks’ journey to stardom, Buzzfeed released an article detailing DeGeneres’ workplace environment as “toxic.” This caused the long-time host of “The Ellen Show,” who ends her shows with “be kind to one another,” to address the allegations in a staff letter

“The show shows it as about 10 minutes, but we were probably in that studio for close to an hour,” Marks said. “She’s really nice, but she’s definitely a strong leader, and she likes things done her way. I was a little nervy, you know, being 10 feet away from her.”

Marks said he was supposed to win “See Ya Later, Alligator,” the game that aired Sunday night. He said after fellow contestant Laura missed a word trying to guess a riddle completely made up of pictures, he could have stolen. 

“Ellen and the producers ended up getting in a really big debate because you could kind of tell, I was very bad at the game, Marks said. “Ellen kind of blocked my steal. She was just like, ‘wait. No. no. no. no. He did not have it. Let’s get a new riddle.’”

After contestants missed the riddle, they were jolted up in the air with a harness. Marks said this wasn’t rehearsed, but waved his hands in the air “loved it.”

“I couldn’t fake being scared, they told us to act really, really afraid, but I was just so happy to be there,” Marks said. “Just trying to express my gratitude to Ellen for letting me come out and have that experience, and she just ‘yeeted’ me up there while I was still saying thank you. I was very happy my cowboy hat stayed on.”

Along with his only piece of personal fashion showcased on-air, Marks was proud to represent App State as a student and its sustainable development program. He said his favorite part about the university is the community and professors in the field.

“I just wanted to show that there’s good energy and good people in Boone. I wanted to invite Ellen to come out, but I don’t know if that’s her style,” Marks said.

Marks missed class for the taping of the show. Sustainable development chair Richard Rheingans, Marks’ professor at the time, wrote in an email that his appearance was funny and is glad he got to stay on the segment longer. 

“We know each other fairly well. Somehow I wasn’t actually surprised,” Rheingans said. 

Marks said that after two years, his dream of being on a game show came true. Now, he wants to run the “game show gauntlet” and possibly make a career out of it.

“My biggest lesson from all of this is no dream is too big. You can shoot for the stars and land among Mars,” Marks said. “I never thought that these types of experiences happen to just normal little people like me, and I got the opportunity of a lifetime.”