We knew that if the cell phone rang, it was going to be someone from the show (that or a wrong number), because nobody else had the number. About an hour and a half after I finished the round, the cell phone rang!!!! After a momentary breathing stoppage and a vault from my chair through the ceiling, I answered it...NOBODY WAS THERE!!!!! In fact, the weirdest thing happened...my in-laws' answering machine started playing on the other end. I nearly panicked, thinking that I had somehow programmed the cell-phone to forward all calls to my in-laws' number (of course, I didn't bring the manual for the phone to change it). I immediately started kicking myself, thinking that I had blown it.
Sheri, who was asleep when the phone rang, sat up, questioning the stunned look on my face as I frantically decided what to do. I was especially stunned because they said that they would call one time. I hung up, told Sheri what had happened, and said a silent prayer for them to call back.
I think I broke the record for answering a phone when it rang again. I managed to mutter a "hello?" into the phone, fully expecting "Hi, you have reached the Miller residence. We can't come to the phone right now..." Alas! There was a human voice on the other end asking for me. He identified himself as a producer from 'Millionaire' and immediately asked if I was close to a land line. I gave him the hotel and room number, hung up, looked at Sheri, and, as though nothing had happened, said, "It's Millionaire."
I cannot tell you what Sheri said after that.
After approximately 14,000 questions on qualifications, the joyful words "Congratulations! You are now a finalist for 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' were finally heard. The same 14,000 questions were asked to Sheri, as she was to be my companion for the trip.
After about 45 minutes of talking with the producer, I called my parents. My mother was not home. I called my father's house and broke the news. My step-mother let out a little scream and told my sisters, who had just gotten home from school. The next thing I heard in the background was Casey, my youngest sister (in 8th grade), saying "NO WAY!" This was shortly followed by my middle sister (Jamie...a sophomore in high school) asking if I could take her to New York. She promised to wear her cheerleading outfit and root for me on the side during the fastest finger questions.
We then called Sheri's folks, who also were not home. Sheri left a message to have them give us a call (emphasizing that it was NOT an emergency and that everything was okay).
Since the tape date was in the middle of the following week, I needed to start planning on getting my classes covered. The tape date was going to be squeezed in to an already packed schedule. We were to get back from Orlando on the 18th., leave for New York on the 20th., return on the 22nd., and close on our new house and move on the 23rd.
I called Illinois State University and talked to them for a good half hour. I started with the Department of Economics, who let me know what all needed to be done for my job. I then had them transfer me to the Graduate School, where I left a message with Pat Schnitker, advisor for the Graduate Student Association and friend. I was then forwarded to the President's office to let Vic Boschini, ISU President, know that he was going to get a little free publicity on national television. He was out of town, but I talked with his secretary and asked her to forward me to the Provost's phone so I could ask him to be a phone-a-friend. He was not there, so I asked his secretary to forward me to media relations to give them a heads-up in case anyone contacted them about it. Jay Groves, media relations director was not in, so I left a message and then FINALLY ended one hell of an intense phone call.
About fifteen minutes later, Pat calls back from the graduate school, screaming with delight. She let the entire office know, and everyone else was screaming in the background. I got off the phone with her, and the phone immediately rang again...it was Jay Groves this time. Jay congratulated me and asked if I wanted him to do anything. I simply asked him what should and what should not be said about ISU. His reply was to simply enjoy it and mention whatever I wanted about the University. We both agreed that something with the ISU logo would be good, but the ABC rules forbade anything copyrighted to be worn.
I think Jay smelled publicity for the school as soon as he heard my message. He called back about twenty minutes later and mentioned that WJBC, the AM radio station for central Illinois, was going to call soon, followed by The Pantagraph, the local paper. Within 20 minutes, I found myself on the air with WJBC. What seemed like seconds after I hung up with them, the phone rings again, and I answered questions for the reporter from The Pantagraph. Afterwards, we talked to Sheri's parents, who immediately called back, despite our efforts to reassure them that nothing was wrong. We also got a call from my father, who had just gotten home from work and had heard the news.
After over two hours of insane phone conversations, we both decided to skip the fireworks at EPCOT and head down to the hotel bar for a couple of MUCH-needed drinks. We came back and tried to fall asleep, but the phone rang one more time that night:
Mom: Hi Honey. I got your message that you called.
Me: Yeah...I've got some good news that you probably aren't going to believe.
Mom: Is Sheri Pregnant?!!!!!
(Me: dumbfounded pause…didn't even think about that, with all the messages)
Me: No...not that good news.
Mom: Oh. Then what is it?
Me: All I will say is 'is that your final answer?'
Mom: Huh? What the Hell is that supposed to mean?
Me: Do you watch tv much?
Me: Is that your final answer?!!!
Mom: I don't get it.
Me: Have you ever heard that before?
Mom: On that one show...<pauses> "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'.
Mom: <dead silence for a good ten seconds, then> YOU'RE GOING TO BE ON WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE??!!!!!!
She always wanted me to try out for Jeopardy, but I never did. We talk for a bit longer and then hang up, as she had about 400 calls to make to tell everyone she knew. I think she randomly called a few strangers too and told them.
The next several days in the Disney parks were a complete blur. I was so stressed with everything going on that I missed nearly everything in the parks. I remember being in MGM a couple of days later, and we ate at the ABC Commissary. They were heavily promoting the new Millionaire attraction that was to be opening soon. The cast member working the register asked if I watched the show, and I just busted up laughing. When I explained it to her what was so funny, I don't think she believed us. These 2 teenage girls behind us, however, were floored and spent the entire meal sitting 3 tables away and staring at us, smiling the entire time. I had my own set of groupies for all of 15 minutes. As they got up to leave, they stopped and asked us about getting on the show, when it was going to be on, etc. After a final "good luck!", they headed out, leaving us with about 4 other tables nearby now staring at us.
We took an earlier flight home and flew standby for an earlier connecting flight…it was a good thing as Detroit was getting quite a bit of snow and was scheduled to get more around the time our actual connection was to leave. When we got back home, we had fourteen phone messages in three days (we don't get that many in 2 months) as well as nearly 250 e-mails. Several friends and family dropped off copies of the article from the paper. We didn't have time to do much, though, because we had to pack both the house for the move as well as ourselves for the trip to New York. Luckily we had one business day to prepare, because I had to get my phone-a-friends ready!!