Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yes, That's My Final Answer

So, tomorrow (September 11th, of all days), I will be filming an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. As some of you may know, I have been on the syndicated version of The Weakest Link and Jeopardy! (the exclamation point is part of the title. I'm not just overly-exuberant today). I have always loved trivia games (Trivial Pursuit chief among them) because I have always had tons of useless crap in my head. I always wanted to be on Jeopardy, to the point that I actually had an electronic scorekeeper that I used nightly. I never thought I would get on Jeopardy, or anything else, though. Then, on September 9th, 2001, oddly, Weakest Link auditions were being held in NYC, and my boss at the time, who was obsessed with the show, wanted to audition, but only would if I went with him. So, I did.

These game shows audition like this: you take a 50-question test, either multiple choice (Millionaire) or just fill in the blank (Jeopardy and Weakest Link). There is a minimum number correct that you must achieve to qualify for the next round of the audition. For Jeopardy and Millionaire, I figure it was about 40 out of 50 as only 13 of the 75 people who took the Jeopardy test passed and about the same for Millionaire. For WL, half the people passed, so it must have been about 25-30 out of 50. Jeopardy had the added wrinkle that as you filled in the answer blanks, you couldn't erase or cross out your answer. Anyway, after they clear out all the people who didn't pass the test, for Jeopardy and WL, the remaining auditionees play a mock version of the game. This is solely to see your personality and whether you would be good on TV. Essentially, if you are auditioning, you want to stand out, but not in a ridiculous way. Here is what I did for WL:

There was a guy, let's call him Phil (because I don't remember his name). He was a HUGE Jets fan. September 9th, 2001 was the opening day for that year's football season. The entire time we were all together in the room, both pre- and post-test, he complained that he really wanted to hurry the process up, because he wanted to get home for the Jets game. Well, during my turn at the mock game, Phil was one of my fellow "contestants." If you are unfamiliar with WL, after a round of questions that the group answers in turn, each contestant votes off another contestant. When you reveal your vote, you give a reason why you're voting for that person. Well, I voted for Phil and gave the reason: "Phil. Because he really wants to get home to watch the Jets game, and I think we should oblige." This sent the room, including the contestant coordinators, into hysterics as everyone was annoyed with this guy. I stood out, but for something funny, improvised and not something idiotic. Essentially, I was good TV.

Anyway, after the mock game, audtionees are interviewed by production staff to get their life-story (Millionaire goes straight to this, without a mock game). This is another attempt to make sure you're not a kook. Pass this, and you are told you are in the "Contestant Pool." Being in the Pool means there is no guarantee you will be invited to be on the show, but more likely than not, you will, eventually. For WL, I was called within a couple weeks and flew out a couple weeks later. For Jeopardy, I didn't hear anything for 18 months! In theory, I should have been dismissed from the Pool after a year, but because of the Ken Jennings phenomenon and the Ultimate Tournament of Champions they held, they didn't use the normal number of contestants they usually do in a season, so they advanced me to the next season's pool. For Millionaire, I got called two years after my most recent audition. I had auditioned before, and was put in the pool, and was called to be on, but it was literally two hours after I booked my ticket to Jeopardy. It was my childhood dream to be on Jeopardy, so I chose that, and was placed back in the Millionaire Pool. Having not heard from them again, I reauditioned and was told I was still in the Pool. Two years after that, I was called last month.

OK, back to my appearance on WL, in short, I was done in by my own lips. As WL is played in timed rounds, speed is a virtue. I tried to quickly say the name "Cameron Diaz" (Who voiced Princess Fiona in Shrek?) to beat the clock, but it came out "Carmenen Diaz." Since we had to stop the whole game to check the tape to see if I got it right (consecutive correct answers build up the money won in the round), the spotlight was white hot on me. I was ruled incorrect, and was voted out. Lame, as I knew the answer, but at least the winner took everyone out for steak dinner that night.

Jeopardy was fantastic, insofar as it was always my dream to be on the show. Jeopardy tapes five shows a day, so 11 people are brought in to be on those five shows (three contestants per episode, with usually one player returning each ep as Champion). Ten people are used throughout the day, with the 11th person there for emergencies and returning the next taping date if not used. The order of players is chosen at random (literally names in a hat). Prior to this though, after everyone is in make-up and briefed by the contestant coordinators, you actually go on stage and play a mock version of the game so you become comfortable under the lights, the distance of the game board, and, most importantly, the buzzer. When Alex finishes reading a question, a series of lights around the game board illuminated a beat after the question is completed. You can't see this at home on TV, but it is very clear to the contestants. If you buzz too early, you are locked out for a quarter of a second. That seems like nothing, but it is crucially important. Further, if Contestants 1 and 2 buzz at the same time, they lock each other out, and Contestant 3 is a tad slower, Contestant 3 is recognized by Alex! This was my downfall. There were a number of times that I knew the answer, but just got beat out on the buzzer. Them's the breaks. I came in third place, but finished with $11,601 (which would have won any other episode that week), and got two Daily Doubles and the Final Jeopardy correct. Listen, just being in Final Jeopardy and not finishing Double Jeopardy in the red (if you finish the second round with negative dollars, you don't get to play in Final Jeopardy) was, seriously, my only real goal. All in all, a very rewarding experience.

Now, tomorrow, I will be taping Millionaire. I'm relatively calm at the moment, and have been doing a little bit of studying (not that you can really study for 15 questions covering all the world), mostly Presidents, composers and authors. I'm hoping I go relatively early; if I sit around all day thinking about how I might have a brain fart, I'll probably pull my hair out before I get on the show. I have a partial strategy: use the Ask the Audience lifeline by $25,000 (the chance a clear majority of the audience knows the very hard top five questions is highly unlikely), don't leave any lifelines on the table, and TAKE MY TIME. Yes, there is a time-limit for each question, but I need to make sure I don't spit out something fast and wrong. The game is weird: sometimes I know the answers without blinking straight through $250,000; sometimes, I get stumped at $16,000. Let's hope I get questions I know.

OK, good return to the blog. Long post. Feel free to comment and ask me more about my game show appearances and audition tips. I'll post here tomorrow about how I did and when you can catch the episode on TV. Thanks for reading, and hopefully we'll chat some more soon.


  1. Hey, thanks for the background on all the trivia shows. My fiance and I tried out for Millionaire's Wedding Week audition. Still waiting to hear back whether we made it to the contestant pool. We were one of 5 people (out of 60) that passed the written test. Then we were the only couple to get videotaped. How long did you have to wait for the postcard? It's been nearly 4 weeks for us. The suspense is a killer!

  2. Congrats on passing the test! If you were videotaped, you will definitely be in the contestant pool. I think I got my post card approximately 6 weeks after I auditioned. Then again, a woman who was at my tape date yesterday (I didn't get on and go back on the 16th to tape), NEVER received a post card. The card just says that you are in the Pool. It has no other info. I know from being there on Friday that they will finish taping the fall season by the end of September, and that those episodes will air through November. The Wedding Week, I believe, airs around Valentine's Day (February sweeps), so they probably won't tape until early next year, so I wouldn't worry about not getting a call or post card in the near future. If you have any other questions, please let me know.

  3. Hey Mike, thanks for the reply. Still waiting for the postcard. My fiance is getting worried. On the website they say that they tenatively will be taping sometime before November 23rd, but you're probably right. It probably won't be until much later. Hope your taping went well!

  4. Hello Anonymous (so you have a screen name, or regular name?). I was thinking about it: because Wedding Week is so particular, they may not send out the typical Contestant Pool post card. They may just call you right before they tape that week. I know that they finish taping for the entire 2009-2010 season by Thanksgiving so, if they do Wedding Week, it will tape before then. At this rate, I don't think they'll tape WW until the middle of October, so hopefully they will be calling soon! Thanks for reading the blog. I hope you enjoy some of the other stuff on here.

  5. Hey Mike, sorry about the anonymous. My name is Jason. I appreciate the insight you have given me with regards to the contestant pool. I think you might be right about the timeline for the taping. When we tried out they told us one of the conditions was that we had to still be engaged (and not already married) as of the taping date which was tenatively schedule for "sometime before" the third week in November. Given what you've said about them completing the taping of the regular shows by the end of September, they'll probably do all the speciality shows in October. Fingers crossed. You know it's funny, I found your blog because I googled "Millionaire". I've actually found a lot of your none Millionaire posts very entertaining. I'm a lawyer myself practicing in NYC your thoughts on the industry and its current state are something I like to read. Also, as I'm sure you probably were as well, I was raised on television and contiue to love it so I like your thoughts on the shows, espcially Lost which I think is the best thing ever to be on television, even more than the Sopranos or MacGyver.

  6. Hey Jason. Yeah, like I said Above, Wedding Week will probably shoot mid-October, and air mid-February (Valentine's Day and February sweeps). As soon as my episode airs on October 19th, I'm going to write a post detailing my experience, which will hopefully be somewhat instructive if you get on the show. Thanks for finding the blog relatively entertaining (no pun intended). You're a lawyer too? I'm sorry! Glad to hear you actually have a job. I'm doing document review out in Newark. Do you work for a firm? The City? I've got a deadline this week for about 12,000 docs so I probably won't get to write much on the blog, but I will be happy to write something on what I think about the legal industry when I get a chance. Glad you enjoy TV too, because I think a lot of this blog will be about that. I intended to write a lot about politics/current affairs, but I was soooo deep into the election for the two years leading up to it, that I jsut feel kind of exhausted by the whole thing. I'm addicted to political news, and I get into constant debates here at work with a diametrically opposed co-worker, but I just don't know if I have the energy to write about it at the moment. Anyway, thanks again for reading.

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