Well, this is it! After the tease last week, it’s time for me to tell the first part of my strange and exciting journey that led me to the ABC studios in New York to be a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire back in 2001. Of course, there’s still a whole lot to set up before I get to the juicy parts in the upcoming weeks (dodges rotten fruit and acorns thrown by his impatient audience). I’ll still try to make this first look into the story as entertaining and exciting as possible.
On May 5, 2000, my family finally entered the internet age. I had played around with the “information superhighway” as it was called back in those early days in the waning days of my college career in 1997, but now I had all the time I wanted to look up whatever I wanted on Al Gore’s playground. Woohoo!
I distinctly remember one of the first subjects I combed the vast archives of the web to read up on was the classic shows from 1980’s Nickelodeon. Of course, I also checked up on baseball, and lots of other stuff that has long eroded from my brain. It was only a couple weeks after getting hooked up to the net that I did a search for the game show I had become hooked on, as was much of the rest of America at the time. I distinctly remember typing the names of the first three contestants to win Millionaire’s million dollar prize into a Lycos search engine (at the time, I had no idea what a Google was), and up popped the ABC home page for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
After a little snooping around there, I found a button that said “COMMUNICATE”. Hmmm, what’s this thing do?
Oh, wow! A message board!
I chose that particular snippet from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine (from October 6, 2000) because it’s the only snapshot they have from 2000 that archives a post I made. If you know my email address, you can probably pick me out in that link (And if you are really up on your ES world, you might even find the poster who inspired my Mini character). After a week of lurking, I made my first post on the board. After a few more weeks of semi-regularly visiting, I became an all out regular. And when I say regular, I mean regular. Throughout all incarnations of our group (which still exists), I have shown up to post something every single day since June 20, 2000.
I mentioned before that had I not found that group, and things not unfolded as they did there over our 14+ years together, Evil Squirrel and his blog would not exist. I also would have never even sniffed being a contestant on WWTBAM.
Back in those days, the only way to get on the show was through a nightly phone-in contest they held for about a week and a half each month. You’d get three questions like the Fastest Finger questions on the show where you had to put four choices in order, and if you got all three questions correct, you would clear Round 1 and be eligible to receive a call the following day to play a Round 2 game at a later date. Through October 2000, I had passed the Round 1 questions 20 times, and 20 times waited for a Round 2 call that never came.
Despite the slim odds one faced at getting through to the big show via this phone game, it was still a favorite among the WWTBAM fans I virtually hung around with. The best feature of the phone game was that it was unable to cherry pick contestants for their personality or demographic diversity. Many of the folks on the message board were trivia loving clods who fit the dreaded stereotype WWTBAM contestant the phone game kept stocking the first season of shows with…. white, middle aged males with white collar jobs and not a whole lot of television presence.
So you can imagine the outrage that was dredged up on our board when the show’s website put up an announcement on October 17th that it was going to hold auditions in seven cities to stock its slate of tapings for January 2001. No more hiding that shy, geeky personality behind a telephone receiver. Given my deeply rooted introvertedness, I too was saddened to see WWTBAM taking this step. Not that I ever really thought I would get on the show anyway, but with the phone game there was always that slim chance. No way I could ever pass a personality test…
The seven cities they would be visiting to hold auditions would be Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, New York City, Sacramento, Seattle, and Birmingham. Wait a minute… St. Louis? They’re coming….. here? Oh boy….. do I? Um…..
Oh wait, I have an out! You have to call in at a specific time to get a PIN Number to attend one of the auditions. Each city has three sessions, and each session is limited to 150 auditioners. The first two cities up were Detroit and Cleveland. The lines opened several hours before the show that night even aired to announce the call-ins. Within half an hour, all 900 slots for those cities had been given out. A lot of my fellow boardies who had tried to get through got nothing but a busy signal. The St. Louis call in was the next night, by itself. Surely it would fill up even faster…
The St. Louis call in was October 20th, which was a Friday. The line opened at 5 PM in my time zone. Being as Friday nights are the Monday of my workweek, I was typically fast asleep napping then anyway. I still hadn’t convinced myself to call…. but for some reason I stayed up during the afternoon anyway. As the clock was preparing to strike five, I slinked my way towards the phone. Oh hell, I figured, it isn’t going to hurt to listen to busy signals for a few minutes. I can’t just write it off that easily, right?
So I dial the number. Soft busy signal… still a few minutes early. Pretty soon I get the loud busy signal, and I know the clock has started. So I hit redial a few times. Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy, ring…..
The sixth try was the charm. Great, I am now one of the 450 lucky callers who will get to attend the audition held in St. Louis on November 4th. Since I got through so early, I got the early slot… the 9 AM audition. Since that is a Saturday morning when I am usually dragging my carcass straight to bed from work, even getting the early time if going to be a challenge. I had two weeks to psyche myself up to actually do this….. or talk myself out of doing something so foolish.
What to do, what to do…..?
Tune in next week to find out what happened next, boys and squirrels!