The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Interview: The Ladies of Cheetara(h)

By Chris Karr in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 25, 2006 5:51PM

The dog days of summer typically mark a point in time where our favorite shows are on their summer break and we’re flooded with reruns from the last season and can’t wait for the fall to arrive so that we can get back to watching the shows we know and love. (We can’t stand how long we have to wait for the resolution to the BSG cliffhanger.) While the major shows are off-line over the summer months, creative networks and programmers find interesting new things to test and experiment with.

Cheetarah One such show was VH1’s “World Series of Pop Culture”. VH1 held tryouts around the country and brought teams from all over to compete over the summer to see who really was pop culture trivia wizards of our time. Chicago fielded a few teams, including one group of improv performers who call themselves “Cheetara”. These three ladies have been performing locally in improv joints for the past six years and recently made a name for themselves while competing on VH1’s show.

We sat down with them a couple of weeks ago to talk about their experience.

Chicagoist: So, what is the “World Series of Pop Culture”?
Erin Davidson: It’s a sixteen team competition with teams from around the country – much like the March Madness and NCAA with the brackets. They compete in teams of three to get one final team who will win a quarter of a million dollars.
Katherine Gotsick: And it’s sponsored by VH1 and Entertainment Weekly.
Erin: And Alltel wireless, yes.
Katherine: It’s just a summer replacement series.
Erin: That’s already been picked up for next season.

Chicagoist: Will you be showing up next season?
Katherine: I don’t know if we’re allowed to. We would love to be involved somehow.
Erin: Obviously our ideal would to do something like write the questions or do color commentary.
Amber Tillett: Color commentary would be great.
Katherine: Backstage interviews.
Amber: Nervous breakdowns. Something like that.

(More after the jump.)

Chicagoist: Was this a single elimination contest?
Katherine: Oh yeah.
Erin: When you’re out – you’re out.

Chicagoist: You made it through two rounds, is that correct?
Erin: We got to two rounds. We got out in the second round. So we started with sixteen and won that and when it got down to eight, we lost that. We made it to the semi-finals.
Katherine: The team that beat us just lost in the quarters.

Chicagoist: Which team was that?
Erin: Velvet Rope Revolution. And I told them that if they beat us, they’d better win the whole thing.
Katherine: And they didn’t.
Erin: So I have to fly to California and whoop some booty.
Cheetara: (Laughter)

Chicagoist: When we watched the show, it seemed like each member had their respective specialties. What were each of yours?
Katherine: Amber is our music person.
Erin: And people in the news, too.
Amber: People and scandals.
Katherine: I’d say that Erin and I are similar with movies and TV. I know some of the older stuff than she does.
Erin: And I know more of the teen stuff.
Katherine: Right. Like anything that’s on the WB.
Erin: I know it all and…
Katherine: I don’t know anything.
Erin: But Katherine was an expert on “Laguna Beach”.
Katherine: That’s a joke.
Amber: Her and Kristin Cavallari are real close.
Cheetara: (Laughter)

Chicagoist: So, what were the questions that ultimately knocked you out?
Katherine: The one that killed me – I got eliminated twice because I got eliminated in the first round – I was involved in a tie-breaker where we had to name Nicholas Cage movies until we were stumped. And I got stumped before the other guy. On the second one, I couldn’t come up with Ice Cube as the rapper to some lyrics that they gave us. Which I couldn’t repeat, because I don’t know mean rappers. I know nice rappers. If they’d given me Will Smith, I’d have been all over it. But I got Ice Cube.
Erin: I like that clarification.
Katherine: In my head, I was like, “Come on, Fresh Prince.”
Erin: No Ice T?
Katherine: No Ice T. No “Cop Killers”. No Eminem – he’s rude. I don’t like him. Yeah, I know the nice rappers.
Erin: Jamie Foxx?
Katherine: I’ll take him.
Erin: He really doesn’t rap.
Katherine: Not really. But that’s why I knew “Bust a Move”. It’s a nice rap song.
Amber: My most shameful loss was the SNL category in the second round. I went up doing the wild-and-crazy-guys dance, but not really that confident about it. I haven’t watched SNL regularly for ten years, probably. I’m not saying anything bad about what they do, but I just haven’t seen them in a while. And the questions were exactly during those years that I have not been watching. And the guy that I went up against from Velvet Rope Revolution was pathetic, just like me. It was awful how bad we both were. No one stole anything. We both got our first ones right and that was it. Then there was an awful tiebreaker. In the tiebreakers, they don’t just ask in open territory – they limit it by years and give one answer in the question. When you’re up there pressure-thinking, it throws you immediately. And my question was “Comedy Leading Male Emmy Nominees” from a certain period.
Katherine: It was in the nineties.
Amber: And I said Eric McCormack. And that show’s been on forever, but he was only recently nominated and won. I said Eric McCormack first and got out.
Erin: I got one question wrong.
Katherine: And it was unfortunately, an important question.
Erin: The last question of the competition was the “Bosom Buddies” question. Some people would come up to me and say, “Come on! It was Buffy and Jodie!” and I’m like, “Actually, that’s Family Affair, and it wasn’t Buffy and Jodie.” Luckily other people would come up to me and tell me that they knew one, but not both names. I felt pretty good about that. I’ve only had two people come up to me and say that they knew that answer. I did know that answer at one point in my life. It was Buffy and Hildegarde.
Amber: That was such a moment. They did the drama of that moment and it was pretty riveting. From the sidelines, we thought that she was joking with the guy and taunting him. We thought that she knew it. And it seemed like they gave more time to it.
Erin: It was the last essential question. It was disappointing.

Chicagoist: How do you prepare for a competition like this?
Erin: For six weeks, we studied every day for at least two hours. On our own and in study groups. I filled out two hundred index cards on trivia. She wrote an entire notebook of trivia…
Amber: One pen completely ran out of ink, I wrote so much. I studied at my desk all day.
Erin: She’d come down to my desk and we would study.
Katherine: I bought a ton of stuff on Amazon. What was fun and what we got into was when we’d make ourselves quizzes. So, Erin made a quiz about pets …
Erin: You had to match the name with the owner and the name of the show. She did jobs – the character, where they worked, and the TV show. Amber did a lot of music quizzes for us.
Katherine: The one hit wonder quiz. And there was the movie tagline quiz.
Erin: We did a lot. We studied a lot.

Chicagoist: Where did the “Cheetara” name come from?
Erin: The original name was the name of our improv group – Cheetarah. So, when it came to choose the name for the game show, I said, “Let’s just do Cheetarah”. We don’t have to think of a clever name – we’ll just do one we already know. But there were some really clever names. They were real cutsey with play-on-words, and I hate puns. So, we just kept it real simple.
Katherine: Cheetara is the girl Thundercat.
Erin: And there’s a pop culture reference.
Amber: And our group is named after a real life Cheetarah. And her Cheetarah is spelled with an “h” at the end, but the Thundercat is not. So, that’s the differentiator. That girl, Cheetarah – wherever she is – I pray someday to meet her. I really do. We should fly her in.


“The World Series of Pop Culture” is finished for this season, but Cheetarah will be performing next month at The Playground Theatre on September 16, 23, and 30.

(And if you were wondering about the variations in spelling, "Cheetarah" is the team in live improv mode, while "Cheetara" (sans "h") is their moniker when on television.)