Ski-U-Mah Life is a weekly feature from GopherSports.com that highlights some of the more than 700 Minnesota student-athletes outside of their athletic accomplishments. This week, in honor of Homecoming, alum David Plummer is featured for his recent television work. Watch the USA Swimming vs. USA Gymnastics episode here (beginning at the 21:28 mark).
Top five answers on the board – name a Gopher alum who appeared on primetime television recently.
Sure, there are plenty of Gopher athletes starring in the NFL, NHL and WNBA, and you may have caught some of the more distinguished graduates of political science, fine arts and more while surfing through myriad cable channels.
But if you were tuned into ABC on Sunday, Sept. 24, you might have noticed former Gopher student-athlete turned athletic department intern – not to mention two-time Olympic medalist – David Plummer on your screen.
Plummer was the anchor of the five-person USA Swimming team that competed against USA Gymnastics on Celebrity Family Feud, the game show that’s in its fifth decade on the small screen.
The U.S. Olympic Team is selected on the basis of fastest times in the pool. Not so much for primetime game shows.
“I have a good friend, John Martin, who works in communications for USA Swimming,” said Plummer. “We just had a good relationship and he was like, ‘Hey they’re looking to do this. Want to come out for a weekend?’”
“David’s story as a first-time Olympian at age 30 and father of two really resonated during last year’s Games, and we thought he would be a great fit for the Family Feud opportunity,” Martin explained. “He’s a fun personality and is well respected by his teammates.”
So Plummer headed out to Los Angeles and met up with his teammates one weekend last March. A showdown with the USA Gymnastics team awaited, but first, Plummer had to overcome being star struck.
“We didn’t know who was on the gymnastics team right away,” he explained. “When I found out, I kind of freaked out because I am a huge Shannon Miller fan. We both grew up in Oklahoma, and when I was little she was in the Olympics. I got a picture with her and it was like the coolest thing ever.”
Plummer even had a taste of Ski-U-Mah in Hollywood, bumping into former Gopher basketball player Ralph Sampson III who was finishing a taping of his own, where his family defeated Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s.
The USA showdown took place on a full day of taping, so Plummer’s squad headed to the studio, got their hair and makeup done and waited in the green room. They had to decide their order on stage, who was going to take part in the “Fast Money” championship round and learn the rules.
“The big ones are one hand on [the buzzer], one hand back,” he explained. “The other one is as soon as you start answering a question, Steve Harvey is going to stop talking, and you may have no idea what the end of that question is. So as soon as you jump in, you’re responsible for whatever is about to come out of your mouth, which usually makes for good TV.”
In the introduction of the show, Harvey, the host, met Plummer on camera and asked him about going to the Olympics in his 30s, and whether he’d go back.
“I'm done, I'm done. I don't need any more of that,” Plummer answered to huge laughs.
The lineup was set, and Plummer was in the fifth and final spot on the team. He didn’t have a chance to test his buzzer skills, much to his relief.
“I was actually okay with it,” Plummer explained. “I feel like that’s a lot of stress. But, the caveat is if you go into overtime, it’s a double or nothing, all or nothing situation. So I was really stressed out the whole time that I was going to go up there. It was close.”
How does the stress of preparing for a swim meet compare with preparing for a game show?
“Give me a Speedo and goggles any day,” he asserted. “I had one where I didn’t answer the question—I had a blank. It was so stressful to not have anything to say. So I’d much rather get ready for something that I know, something that I’m ready to do, rather than something where I have no idea what is coming next.”
Plummer comported himself well though, contributing the number one, two and three answers during the course of the show. He blanked on of the more salacious questions in the show, but was overall pleased with his performance.
The whole show took under an hour to tape, which Plummer partially credits to the comical nature of the show.
“It was hilarious – honestly, I feel like they edited out a lot of laughing,” Plummer said. “It was a fun experience throughout. The people on my team were some of my good friends on USA Swimming. In that moment, it was a lot of fun and enjoyment. We were playing a goofy game for charity.”
Plummer’s team claimed victory, but he wasn’t selected as one of the two contestants to play Fast Money.
“Here’s how we made the decision – we were playing for the USA Swimming Foundation, and Nathan is the spokesman for the foundation, so he can rattle off everything, so we decided he should be up there,” Plummer explained. “Then Allison Schmitt, who’s the other one who played, she’s seen almost every episode of Family Feud. Like, this is her go-to show if she’s going to binge-watch some television. So we all felt it was her life-long dream to be up there, and we needed to be respectful of that. I would’ve loved to go up there, but at the same time it just felt right. You go with what you need to do.”
At the end of the day, Plummer had a chance to have some fun in California with his wife, and raise money for a good cause.
“The USA Swimming Foundation does a lot of learn-to-swim for at-risk kids—programming, financial support, things like that,” he said. “It’s all about teaching kids how to swim. Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death among children. The amount of kids that don’t know how to swim is appalling when you get into the actual percentages.”
“Swimmers are no doubt competitive, and I think this group definitely showed that on the Family Feud,” Martin added. “It was great they were able to win and support the USA Swimming Foundation in the process, but this was more about having fun and creating a memorable experience for the athletes. I think they had a blast.”
Plummer was sworn to secrecy on the nature of his trip to the West Coast. But when the episode aired, there was no big watch party or chance to fête the new TV star.
“I did let my kids stay up a little past bedtime to watch it, but my wife was at work,” he said of the airing.
He’s perfectly happy to let his celebrity status fade away, returning to normal life routines at work and at home.
“I feel like people may remember when I swam in the Olympics, but they don’t really remember me, which is as I’d prefer it, to be honest,” Plummer said. “I’ve hung out with [Michael] Phelps before, and seen him walk around and be recognized by everyone. I don’t want even a small taste of that. It seems terrible. It seems like the worst.”
For now, Plummer’s happy in retirement from competition, whether on stage or in the pool. There is just one thing that could draw him back, though.
“You know, I’d come out of retirement to go on ‘The Price is Right,’” he said. “That’s a lifelong dream. I want to play Plinko. I want to spin the big wheel. That’s what I want. I’m not closing that door yet.”
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