After the $1,000 question, the music comes back in, and it feels more like what you see on television. The screen in front of me gives the experience almost more of a video game feel than a game show where actual money is being won. Still, my mouth was parched and getting drier by the second.
The $2,000 comes up next, and it's a easy one one…a movie about fighting space aliens (Men In Black). I give the final answer in no time flat.
The $4,000 is a question on cooking chicken. No hesitation…the answer is rotisserie.
I'm feeling the groove!
Then comes the $8,000 question: "In what country would you find the county of Tipperary?
Immediately, I thought that it was either England, Ireland, or Scotland…and, of course, the choices include England and Ireland.
In my head, I start singing, "It's a long way to Tipperary…but it doessssssnnn't teelllll meeee whheeerrreee." Seriously, you can see me bobbing my head to the tune for a brief moment on TV. My students always get a kick out of seeing that. I still had the 50/50 and the phone-a-friend. If I did the 50/50, with my luck, I'd be stuck with England and Ireland. I start going through my phone a friend list to decide who to call. After a brief second, I decide to call Neil, who had been over to Europe (the U.K.) the previous summer.
Now, over at my phone-a-friends' locations. They all got phone calls before the show with instructions on what to expect. If I made it into the hot seat, they were to wait by the phone and, if the phone rang, to let it ring three times and then simply say, "hello." They were able to reach 4 of the 5 people on my list…I think they tried to get a hold of Neil while he was teaching. They brought this up to me before the show started and said that I may not be able to use him if they can't reach him if/when I get in the hot seat. Anyways, when I made it into the hot seat, apparently, Neil was in office hours but was just about ready to head out to class. The phone rings, and the producers tell Neil that I'm in the hot seat. Neil's in a dilemma…he has a room with 250 students ready for a lesson, and he's got to figure out what to do. He sends someone out to cancel the class and heads back into his office. About 7 minutes after the phone call from the producers, the phone rings again. Thinking that it was much too early for me to be calling (not realizing that I was already up to the $8,000 question with no delay), and worried that it was a student with a question about an upcoming test or a grade, Neil wants to get this guy off of the phone as quickly as possible so that Millionaire wouldn't have a problem getting through.
The producers were expecting 3 rings, and I think they gave Neil a hard time for that.
Regis: Hello, Neil…Regis Philbin calling from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire…
You could tell Neil was caught off-guard a little when he realized that it wasn't a student.
They turn it over to me, and I immediately thought it was weird to hear the disembodied voice of Neil echoing throughout the studio. I run through the question and the choices. Immediately, Neil responds with "Ireland." We chat for a quick second about him touring over there recently, and I ask the infamous: "100% sure?"
There were a few snickers throughout the studio on that one.
I go with Neil, and Neil is right!
The audience director lets out a WHOOP to get the crowd making some noise, and they announce that they're going to a commercial break. The cut taping, and I immediately grab the glass of water next to the console and down the entire glass in about 0.5 seconds flat. The producers come out and talk to us for a bit. They tell me that I don't need to go that fast…they'll edit out any pauses. The problem is that it's the speed that my brain works. Either I immediately know it or I don't, so there's no reason to pause. I tell them that I'll try to slow down. They ask if I need anything, and I croak out in a gravelly voice, "Water, please!" They bring out a pitcher, and I down 2 more glasses in the blink of an eye. It's not helping…I'm still cotton-mouthed. We joke around for another couple minutes and then get ready to start taping again. I look behind me to catch Sheri's eyes for a minute, and she looks like she's about to throw up. I didn't realize that she had specific instructions too. There were two jumbo screens in the corners of the studio that the audience often looked at. The significant other, however, was to look only at the back of the head of the person in the hot seat or at Regis (same line of sight). After a few questions, Sheri lost track of the dollar amount I was at, and she made a quick glance up to see. Immediately, the jumbotron flashed up "SIGNIFICANT OTHER, LOOK AT REGIS!"
Sheri flew back to look at Regis and didn't blink for the next 20 minutes.
As they get ready to start taping, they remove a small section of the plexiglass floor to make room for the boom camera to zoom in on the suitcase of money on the console (which was actually a flat-screen TV that changed to whatever picture they wanted whenever they needed to). We start taping again, and the boom camera flies up from the floor, nearly taking the stage hand's head off as he put the floor section back into place without getting in the scene. Regis and I banter back and forth a bit. The producers told us to try to make Regis laugh, so, when he asked me what planned on doing with my doctorate once I finished, I mentioned something about hopefully becoming a president of a university. Knowing that Regis was a huge spokesperson for Notre Dame, I threw in "Maybe Notre Dame…you never know!"
One of the producers lets out a huge laugh, while the rest of the audience was deathly silent. (insert chirping crickets here) Regis chuckles a little and then turns to talk to Sheri a bit. They ended up editing out that portion of the interview due to time issues. Before we know it, we're back to the game.
The $16,000 question dealt with biology and asked about the immune system. I was 99% sure of my answer, but, to appease the producers, I went through and eliminated the other three answers as fast as I could ("Lipids deal with fat molecules….marrow's in the bone for blood creation…anti-oxidants deal with…"
…and my mind went blank. My brain was screaming "FREE RADICALS, YOU MORON!!!" My tongue, however, decided to shut down temporarily. After what seemed like 20 seconds of silence (it was actually about a one-second pause), I just answer the damn question.
Now, onto the ever-important $32,000 question. Get this one right, and I'm guaranteed that much money, with a free shot at $64,000.
"In Charles Dickens' 1837 novel, Oliver Twist, what is the name of the gang leader that teaches the boys how to pick-pocket?"
#$%#%^&#$!#@$#@% literature question!
The only character I knew from the book was the Artful Dodger. I hadn't read the book. I hadn't seen the movie or the musical. Hell, I hadn't even seen Disney's Oliver and Company. Of course, as I was told later, my 3 year old cousin knew it.
The choices were:
I looked at the answers for a quick second and knew exactly what I was going to do. I muttered that I wish I had my phone-a-friend back, as Iroquois West High School would have been getting a call really quick! I burn the 50/50, which leaves me Fagin and Sykes.
I pause for about 5 more seconds as I made sure of my decision. I have a 50% chance of getting it right and going up to $32,000 and a 50% chance of losing $15,000 and going back to $1,000. I seriously had no clue as to what the answer is, so I slowly say, "I've got an idea…."
Smooth move, Mush.
I get the confidence to make my decision and choose to walk…with my luck, I would have been on the losing end of the 50/50 chance, and I didn't want to risk losing $15,000 purely on a guess. I'll be the first one to tell you that your actions get a LOT more conservative in the hot seat than on your couch screaming the answer. I make the final answer to walk. Regis, of course, asks what I would have guessed. I have a friend named Adam Fagen, so I decided to say "Fagin" to get Adam's name on TV.
Of course, Fagin was the correct answer. The audience starts clapping as I start to move the chair around to get out. Unfortunately, I swing the chair a bit harder than anticipated (adrenalin?), and nearly tip the thing over (it barely moves, but I react like it's going down!). Regis and I shake hands, and I head off. The taping ends, and they escort Sheri down to where I'm at. Sheri had no idea what dollar amount I was at when I walked (staring at Regis and not blinking, remember?). We get escorted back to where Dan and Alan were sitting and watching the show, and I collapse. A lot of congratulatory handshakes ensued, but I seriously do not remember a whole lot after this. We watched Kera Keenan get the next fastest finger, and she absolutely flies to the $64,000 question before tripping up. We knew that the horn had to be sounded soon, signaling the end of the show, with a carry-over and three other contestants. Surprisingly, they get another fastest finger question up, and Kevin squeaks in. He gets through a couple of questions before the horn sounds.
Wow…5 people made it on today. Good job everyone! I can't help but wonder how many potential millionaires didn't get their chance because of circumstances outside of their control. Had I guessed at the $32,000 question, Kevin would never have made it into the hot seat to make history. I still remember talking to him the next day at the hotel. We had the option to stay and watch the second show taping, but everyone in our show was exhausted and we all headed back to the hotel. None of us knew that Kevin won it all not 20 minutes after we left. He still was in a state of shock when he told us what happened after we left.
The last segment will deal with the aftermath…the calls home…the fun afterwards…the airing of the show…and (I know everyone wants to know) how much of the $16,000 was paid it taxes.