I had to get my phone a friend list in order. We were allowed to have 5 names in there. We were still down at Disney World when I got this information, so I had a couple of days to think about this. I wanted to make sure that I had my bases covered in all the areas. I decided on this list:
- Al Goldfarb, Former Provost of Illinois State University (current President of Western Illinois University). He served as Dean of Fine Arts at ISU, so I could use him for questions on the arts. He also hailed from New York City, so, along with giving me information on things to do in NYC, he could answer questions about the Big Apple. There was one potential problem, however. He had a meeting at the same time the taping was scheduled with the University President and Vice-Presidents. He said they'd get a phone in there, and I requested a conference phone so they all could help answer the question LOL. There was a running joke at ISU for a few months afterwards, where, if I called him, 3 things would happen: 1) we both talk so fast that we could answer 4 questions in the 30 seconds allotted; 2) he would say that the answer was E. Educating Illinois (Educating Illinois is the strategic plan that Dr. Goldfarb spearheaded during this time…it was the buzzword for everything); or 3) after I give the possible answers, he'd bring up the time I voted against his proposal on academic governance during a Senate meeting and hang up on me.
- Neil Skaggs, Economics Professor at ISU. Neil was going to be my religion go-to as well as the guy for sports (despite the fact that he's a Cardinals fan, he still knows his stuff). I also had him set up in my mind as a current events guy, just in case. Neil's challenge was that he was to teach during part of the time frame that the show was to tape.
- Michele Finley, my high school English teacher. Literature was NOT my strong subject, as she could attest to. I rocked on the math components of the ACT and SAT. Verbal, however…ugh. I was going to lean on her big-time for anything literature-related.
- Steve Haase, friend and veterinarian. Steve was going to be my biology/science guy as well as my German/Europe guy as he has traveled there a couple of times.
- Peter Geddeis, friend and undergrad classmate at ISU. Pete and I shared a wall on the 5th floor of Hamilton Hall on the ISU campus. When we both were in the room at the same time Jeopardy was on, one of us would hear the other's TV tuned to it (the walls were thin), and we'd both end up watching it. Eventually, a contest would break out, where we'd shout the answers to each other. We both knew about the same amount (Pete knew a few more than I did), but he was ALWAYS faster than me by a good .25-.50 seconds (pissed me off all the time!). At the time of the taping, Pete was a grad student, and he was working on helping run the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Pete was a backup fine arts guy as well as a current events and general knowledge go-to.
I got my classes covered for Wednesday, and we were off to New York the following morning. We landed at LGA early in the afternoon and had a limo service waiting for us (first time…kewl). All the contestants were staying at the Empire Hotel, located at 63rd and Broadway…right by Columbus Circle. We checked in and had a packet waiting for us. There were what seemed to be a few hundred more forms to sign as well as instructions to meet at a certain suite in the hotel later on in the evening. We decided to do a little sight-seeing before the meeting, so we headed down Broadway towards the Theatre District. After about 10 blocks, we walked past the Ed Sullivan Theater, where a long line had formed for the taping of Letterman. We continued down to Times Square and looked around at the hustle and bustle. Holy crap it was crazy!!! I recall wanting to live in a big city my whole life…standing in Times Square made me reconsider this.
We hopped into a sandwich shop and grabbed a bite to eat before making our way back to the hotel. As we were walking back, we hear a commotion up ahead. As we crossed a street, we walked by the Chippendales, who were heading the other direction. I nudged Sheri to let her know what was passing by, and her tongue hit the pavement. She nearly turned around to follow them. I was hoping the Playboy Bunnies were right behind them, but, alas, they weren't. To this day, Sheri still brings this up in conversation.
We got back to the hotel for the meeting, where we met the rest of the contestants for the show. We all made a pact to just answer the questions without going into long stories. We also joked with the show hand about hand signals to help the guy in the hot seat. When we asked about what the jackpot was at, the show hand refused, despite our best efforts to torture it out of him (he was a nice guy…we had fun with him). We brought the clothes that we anticipated to wear to make sure they wouldn't make the tv screens across the nation go all wobbly and got a rundown on what to expect tomorrow. We also got our per diem ($50/day for 3 days). After talking with each other for a while longer, we disbanded and headed back for what we hoped for a good night's sleep. Some headed back to study…I felt that doing something like that would be fruitless as I would likely forget anything I read at this point. We make a couple phone calls back home, watch a little TV, and attempt to get to bed early. Neither of us were used to the constant drone of sirens from police/ambulance/etc, so it took a while to actually fall asleep.
We had an early morning on the day of the taping. I felt really bad for one of the contestants, who was from Hawaii. It was something like Midnight to his body as we were waking up. We wake up, and I grab a shower. I then realize that, in the insanity of the past 48 hours, I forgot to pack deodorant. Considering I'd probably be sweating buckets all day (no stress at all!), I had to temporarily displace my masculinity and apply Secret (Hey, they say it's strong enough for a man). Sheri still brings this up in conversation too. At the appointed time, we headed down for a shuttle to the studio, which, surprisingly, was only 3 blocks away. We arrived at the ABC studios somewhere around 7:45 in the morning and went through our first security screening. We had a meeting and turned in our list of "phone a friends." We then had to make sure that we did not have any sort of aids for the show (basically, we couldn't have anything that may help us in the studio). Since I was a doctoral student at the time of the taping, I brought some books with me to read for my classes (College Administration...a lot of material there?!). I didn't realize that I had one of the books stuffed in the bag that I brought to the studio, and, naturally, it was found. All the contestants, partners, and ABC staff had a good laugh at that (they still took the book, though).
We then met with the producers and had a short continental breakfast. During this time, we tried to expand a little on our "lives" so that they could use the information and put it on the "blue card" that Regis Philbin has in front of him (he looks at this for the bantering between questions). After that, we got to visit the studio where the show taped and saw where we were going to sit (no audience yet). It was almost surreal when we walked in. Most of the lights weren't on, but we still felt a sense of awe, until we walked on the floor. The glass where the mirrors and lights are seemed like fairly thick plexiglass…it had some give to it as we walked on it. The directors told us the best way to enter our responses for the fastest finger round and then gave us five examples. There were 20 of us there as they were taping 2 shows that day. The second show's contestants played around in the gallery while we tested stuff out. The fastest finger question is not exactly what you saw on TV. The question was asked and then repeated (the second reading is edited out). Then the contestants in what we affectionately call the "Ring of Fire" had twenty seconds to try to figure out the proper order. As anyone who has ever been in the Ring can attest, it's nowhere near as easy to input your answers as you might think! And, to you Disney freaks, what you saw at WTTBAM/PI at Studios…nope…not the same thing. You have to push a button and let go, then press the next button, etc...then you have to press a "Submit" button (I wonder how many people missed getting into the hot seat simply because they forgot to submit their answers). I royally screwed up the first sample round, but I got my bearings and won the second fastest finger sample question (a geography question...remember this).
After we played around in the studio (we even learned the proper way to get into and out of the hot seat), we left our significant others and went back to where our stuff was and changed clothes. Then we went through make-up and got wired with our mikes. We met the carry-over contestant, Dan Orr, and it was then that we found out that nobody had hit the jackpot yet (when I was on, they went a long time without a million dollar winner, so they started adding $10,000 for every episode with no winner). We would be playing for $2,170,000!!!! We all pumped Dan for information on what it was like, and he said that the people yesterday were dumb and that the audience screwed up 2 people because they were so young.
After a little nervous smalltalk, we made our way to the now-dark and packed studio and were introduced to the audience...the first thing that we noticed was that this place looked awesome with the smoke and light effects. The second thing we noticed was that Dan was correct…the audience was YOUNG today too! It was spring break, and a lot of students had tickets to the show. I think we all noticed that -- I talked to Allan Hackney, who was seated next to me, and we agreed that we'll likely have to use the "ask the audience" lifeline early. Before we knew it, there was a call that they were going to start taping in just a minute. A director for the audience had one main job: get the crowd to whoop and holler on cue. He gives the signal, and the place just erupts with noise!!! A couple of seconds later, Dan Orr comes out with Regis right next to him! This was the first time we've seen him, so we're all just as excited as the audience was.