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.