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I’m a ‘Shark Tank’ superfan who went to an open casting call

The first “Shark Tank” episode I watched featured an entrepreneur pitching the Mensch on a Bench.

The Mensch (a Yiddish word that roughly translates to “a person of integrity and honor”) was designed as a Jewish alternative to the Christmas-inspired Elf on a Shelf. And what might have been viewed as a gimmick had enough potential that the entrepreneur behind it walked away with a $150,000 investment.

From that December night nearly five years ago, I was hooked. Each week I’d tune in to find out: Who would wind up dead to Mr. Wonderful? Whose prototype would break during the pitch? Who would wind up embracing Barbara Corcoran in a bear hug when she promised to propel them to success?

As a reporter for Business Insider, I’ve had the chance to interview several “Shark Tank” alums, whether the founders of Bombas socks or the high-school sweethearts behind Lollacup, and it always feels like meeting an international celebrity. I mean, these people have been in the tank. What have I done with my life?

Then, last week, dreams came true. I attended an open casting call for “Shark Tank” in New York City, where 600 entrepreneurs (representing about 350 companies) had the chance to pitch their business in hopes of making it on the show. That’s 600 near-celebrities!

After a few hours there, I felt emotionally exhausted — and I hadn’t pitched a thing. Here are the parts of the experience that surprised me most:

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