Saturday, May 9, 2009

Who DOESN'T Want to Be a Millionaire, Part 7, The Carnage Afterward

If you got here via a search and want to read the entire story, start HERE. 

After we all got back to the hotel, millions of phone calls ensued. After the show, the producers all told us to keep whatever happened a secret and just say whether we made it into the hot seat or not. First, I called ISU, and one of the secretaries in the Econ department was almost in-tears talking to me. I mentioned that they wanted to keep whatever happened quiet, but half the campus seemed to already know that I made it into the hot seat. Next was a call to my parents in Illinois and North Carolina. When I got a hold of Gilman, I was told that most of the county knew I made it in the hot seat (I'm guessing this was an exaggeration, but gossip truly does fly in Iroquois County). My father, being the parent that he is, made sure to tell me to be smart with the money, as I'm assuming he thought I was going to try to buy the Empire State Building. Other than ISU, nobody knew about making it to at least the $8,000. I also called the Pantagraph and told them what we were allowed to tell them, as well as the Celador/Valleycrest contacts for press information.

After the phone calls everywhere, we figure, what the heck...let's go out to eat and catch a show! We walked down to Times Square and looked around. For some reason, the only real place we could find that sounded good at the time was TGI Fridays. Before stopping there, we walked over to the TKTS kiosk to see if any Broadway shows still had tickets. The Lion King was nearby, but we (gasp) passed on that. I wanted to see Phantom, but Sheri was more in the mood for Les Miserables, so we got tickets for that night's performance of Les Mis. After eating we found the theatre and were absolutely blown away by our first performance on Broadway. During the intermission, we found another of the contestants from the show and talked for a while. When the show ended, we had a fun time talking while walking back to the hotel.

As you could probably imagine, I slept like a log that night, due to exhaustion.

The following morning, we were faced with a dilemma...we had a very late flight back, but we had to be checked out early. We got packed up, threw everything in storage, and hit the town. We had our first experience with the New York City Subway system, and we nearly kissed the debris-strewn sidewalk when we re-emerged at our destination. We headed out to the Statue of Liberty, where the line was taking forever. We stopped at the base and decided not to head do the top. It was a dreary, gloomy day. I distinctly remember looking over at the skyline and seeing the World Trade Center, only the top 2/3 of it was obscured by the fog. We took a picture of it, but it didn't turn out too well. We considered heading up to the top of WTC, but we knew we wouldn't be able to see anything. I still think back to this whenever we see 9/11 footage...all those employees and tourists (and their families) had no idea...

After the Statue of Liberty, we headed down to Wall Street to take a look at the trading floor.

Eeehh (and this is coming from an economist). I think it was a slow day on the trading floor. We were in a recession, and everything was simply stagnant.

Our scheduled time to meet the car to head back to LGA was coming up, so we hailed a cab and went back to the hotel to grab our stuff. As we waited, we talked to Kevin (see previous entry). Despite everything that had happened, he was still able to carry on a comprehensive conversation. His mother (the companion) was there too, and she was hilarious! There was a slight snafu with the car (it was 45 minutes late, and we only had a little over an hour to get to LaGuardia and make the plane. The driver screamed through traffic (how he did that, I'll never know), and we made the plane!

A couple of minutes after we sat down in our seats, we see another contestant from the show after us. One of the nicest couples ever, Kevin and Susan Rupe, were one row behind us. We talked excitedly for a couple of minutes, since I hadn't heard how they did (Kevin won $64,000). We talked about Kevin's win as well as Donna White's making it into the hot seat and being the carry-over contestant. Donna was also a fun character and really nice.

We landed in St. Louis and parted ways as they were heading on to Oklahoma. Our flight was canceled, and we had to catch the last flight out to Bloomington.

We got home and collapsed.

The following morning, we were moving to our new house. We had stopped delivery of the paper already, so I didn't see if there was anything in there just yet. We do a walkthrough of the new house and then I head in to teach. Before I do that, I decide to stop by the local Kroger for a donut and a pop/Coke/whatever-you-call-it-where-you're-from.

I see the Pantagraph for the first time.

I nearly drop the donuts.

On the front page, prominently in the center, I see the picture.

From Mush's Blog

(Game Show photos courtesy of Valleycrest Productions)


Right above the picture is the headline:


I purchase one, and the checkout girl did exactly what you'd expect...she looked at me...looked down at the paper...looked back at me...

Then I went to school...I had several folks drop the paper off in my mailbox, and teaching just wasn't going to happen today, despite my best efforts to rein the class in. After I got done teaching, we went to close on the house, and the bank was all abuzz about the show. The running joke was that we were going to buy a bigger house.

Sheri then went back to the houses to work with family/friends who were helping move the stuff while I attempted to teach one more class (again, failing miserably). The rumor on campus was that I missed the $8,000 question and walked with $1,000, though there were a few that thought I had won it all. I kept to my word not to tell anyone.

The show was to air about 2 weeks later on a Friday. During that time, I went through interviews all over the place (including a fun one with Pete Geddeis (one of my phone-a-friend possibilities). He knew the morning show for WBNQ (Susan Saunders and Kevin Fasig), so we teamed up for a segment over there. WJBC also did one (they tried several times to get me to disclose what happened). I did interviews for WGFA over in Iroquois County (I was exhausted by then and gave them what I feel was a terrible interview) as well as several newspapers, including the Hickory, NC paper, who my mother contacted (gotta love mothers).

We talked with the local Damon's restaurant to see if we could reserve one of their rooms for the show (Damon's had HUGE screens). Initially they balked, but when we told them that it might be around 100 people - most of them eating, they let us have the room. Sheri's family, many of our friends, and our co-workers came over to watch it with us. Over in Gilman, my father had reserved the parish hall in the Lutheran church and rented a big-screen tv. Most of my family and family friends were over there (again, around 100 people).

The buzz was growing around town because I was keeping quiet, but the word had leaked out that someone had just won over $2 million dollars. I was starting to wonder if everyone thought I was misleading them by not saying anything. I remember getting a phone call from our newest neighbor at the new house at work, wondering just how much I had won. People had heard that someone won it big, that I wasn't saying anything, and that we had just bought a house. EVERYONE was starting to think I won it all. Every time I turned on WJBC (talk radio), they were talking about the show (probably not, but it seemed like it).

We make it to Damons the night of the show, where I wore my "Millionaire" t-shirt that everyone got. I downed a beer as soon as I got there, and then Sheri and I started the interviews. WHOI TV was there, and we knew the camera operator (he was in Sheri's class in high School). The Pantagraph was also there, and WBNQ was thinking of doing a remote broadcast, but logistics didn't work out.

The show started, and everyone is whooping it up and having a fantastic time. It was surreal seeing the final product on TV. I was a little nervous about the introductions of the contestants because we couldn't hear Regis saying the names from all the applause during taping. We were all giving directions on how to do it. I was the 4th "light"...when the camera facing our side went off the third time, count to two seconds, and then look at the camera and wave. The light went off for the third time, and I light. light. I glance up at the jumbotron right as the camera goes on me.

Luckily, I looked up so quickly that you almost had to know what you were looking for on TV to see it.

By this time, the rest of the restaurant was in on the fact that the party was in the next room (from all the screaming). They took one of the HUGE screens reserved for sports and switched it over.

The first fastest finger question pops up, and, when everyone realized that I didn't get it right, they BOOOOOOOOOOOOO'ed me. I shout out something and pretend to start to walk out. Everyone was having a great time, trying to answer the questions

Then came the airline question. I looked at Sheri and gave here this "here we go" look. The question popped up, and nearly everyone gave up on it.

When they saw I got it right, this air of incredulity came across the room ("How in the Hell did he know that?!"), and the whole place erupts in screams and applause.


Then they showed Sheri when Regis talked to her...

...and an even BIGGER scream went up, as 75% of the patrons were Sheri's family/coworkers.

We get going through the stack, and everyone is answering. I am afraid to hear the "plains" question, and, sure enough, almost half of them said "trees", though the rest weren't sure about rocks, either. We keep on going to the Phone-a-friend question. We had 3 of the phone-a-friends there at Damons, including Neil. When Neil answered, the place went crazy again! All 3 of them told me that they were confident that they knew the answer, and, after talking to the other 2 who weren't in attendance, I probably would have been safe using any of them.

We break for commercial, and my phone starts ringing. North Carolina is checking in. I step outside to talk to my mother for a minute, and everyone from the other room is pointing and shouting, with thumbs-up etc.

We only talk for a moment because the show was returning from commercial. The $16,000 question was answered, and then the $32,000. It's asked, and everyone answers C: Fagin. They then look at me, who heard everyone answer it, and a collective "UH OH" filled the room. It seriously was funny at how many people said it!

The segment ends, and I told them that, had I won it all, all of their meals would be paid for.

From Mush's Blog

GREAT night! Afterwards, we went to some friends' house and played cards.

Then came the aftermath.

The Pantagraph ran the story on the front page the next morning. I had a couple of people ask for autographs, which was wholly unfamiliar to me. For the next 3 weeks, everywhere I went, I got the same reaction..."HEY...YOU were the guy on...." The funniest one had to be the optometrist, who said he watched the show. He then said he knew the answer to the one I didn't know just as he popped my eye with the glaucoma test. WBNQ did another interview, and Susan felt so bad about feeling like they were responsible for hyping it up so much...I told them that the show wanted exactly that.

Probably the weirdest thing to happen was later on that year in July during the Iroquois County Fair. My oldest sister was up for fair Queen, and, in the interview/Q&A section, you think they'd ask her about world peace or something...NOPE! They ask about me and Millionaire. As soon as they started talking about it, about 3,000 eyes peer towards me from the grandstand. I let out an "OH #*!@" under my breath and just sit there. Oh gets better! When asked if she knew the answer to "the question", Emily proceeds to tell everyone that, while she didn't know it, our 3-year old cousin knew it.

After the pageant, I went up and gave her a hug and then pretended to put her in a headlock for doing that!

People often ask how much money I actually got. A week or so after the show, I got the check for the full $16,000. We were responsible for taxes. Playing around with Turbo Tax, we discovered that we paid between $5,000 and $6,000 in taxes. The other big question I got was "What did you spend it on?" Well, we knew we had to pay taxes, so a LARGE portion of it went into savings. We paid off some bills, and the only splurge was that we bought a DVD/surround sound system (mid-range...nothing fancy). The rest of the money was saved. It was a good thing too, because I had 2 summers not long afterwards where I was unemployed (couldn't find any teaching positions).

It was definitely my 15 minutes of fame...would I do it any differently? Nope! I always wonder "what if" had I guessed at that question. I received several e-mails/postal messages from people who knew the name "Mushrush" from long ago. I think I had won just enough to help out with finances and have a good time in the experience, but not enough to warrant long-lost cousins asking for money.

The show still airs on Game Show Network a couple of times a year because it's just before Kevin Olmstead's big win, which people want to watch. Every time it's on, I usually end up reliving it a little.

I keep waiting for them to send a check for $16,000 every time it airs, but it must be getting lost in the mail.

1 comment:

Timberline said...

Ha ha!! That's hilarious that you got a taste of how crazy people can be when they think they're next to a multi-millionaire!