It’s Friday, everybody! And neither heat, nor humidity, nor the gloom of villainous scrap copper thieves can prevent this blogger from his appointed rounds of retelling my exciting story of appearing on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire back in 2001! Yes, it’s time for another thrilling installment in the longest running series on WordPress (or maybe it just seems like that). Last week, we left you with the bad taste of mystery meat in your mouth…. and today, we’re going to dive right in to the fascinating contestant meeting that was held the evening of my arrival! Time to meet the competition I’ll be up against and wish them all good luck!
6:00 PM, Wednesday January 17, 2001.
The hour of the meeting for the ten “finalists” for the first of the two shows taping tomorrow has come. We are to converge on the top floor suite of the one and only Susan Viscera, the show’s contestant coordinator, for a briefing on how our day tomorrow will go. We also have to bring the two outfits we plan on wearing on air so that they can be inspected to pass the all important “your shirt won’t fuck up the TV picture” test. Stripes and other busy patterns will turn television screens across the country into primetime acid trips due to the illusion of movement they create when filmed. It’s kind of the small screen version of the disc jockey’s plea to turn your radio down when they have you live on the air.
I hop in the hopefully safe elevator and make my way up to the 12th floor. There is the suite not far outside the doors. Some dude name Paul is there to greet me. It turns out, he is Susan Viscera’s
poolboy assistant, and he’s covering for her since she’s out of town… probably in a climate with much better weather and a city with much better food. He leads me in to the suite, which looks ten times better than my dumpy room I have to stay in. I can see where the contestants rate now compared to the show’s staff. I go have a seat on one of the couches and begin scoping out my challengers.
There were ten contestants picked for each show, and I was the seventh one to show up at Paul’s door. Of the other six, there were four males and two females. None of the others struck me as a “glamour” pick, so that explained how my
ugly ass rather plain looks still got me a ticket to New York. There must have been something about these people that appealed to the producers who chose them, but the only thing I noticed right away was that they were all older than me, most by at least 15-20 years. At 25, I was definitely the young punk of this little makeshift gang.
Contestant Number 8 walked in the door a few minutes later, rallying the girls a little closer to tying the score at 5-3. Paul closed the door and announced this was it, at least for now. The other two contestants had yet to check in. I would be lying if I didn’t get some inner joy at the possibility of slightly better odds…
Paul warmly welcomes us to New York, though as you’ve seen the past few weeks, he’s about five hours too late for that nicety on my part. He’s going to go over everything we need to know about our fun little trip to ABC’s studio tomorrow, but first, to gain our trust, he passes out the goodies! First, the ubiquitous souvenir for any occasion, the lousy T-shirt! Yes, I still have it… here’s the front:
And here it is flipped over to see the
awesome lettering on the back…
And what passing out of freebies would be complete without letting loose with a few portraits of dead Presidents?
All contestants enjoying New York on the dime of the ABC Network were given a $50 per diem to cover expenses for their stay. Since we were going to be there three days, that’s $150 of Regis’ money I was going to get to spend. Woohoo! I haven’t even gotten to play yet, and I’ve already won more money than many past game show contestants who only got a kiss on the cheek from the host and a crappy version of the home game!
We were each handed three fifty dollar bills so crisp that they had to have just come hot off the press they used to put Regis’ picture on them. And of course, we had to sign for the money so that Uncle Sam could properly be notified of these “winnings” we would be using to survive the sticker shock prevalent in The Big Apple.
After Paul got done making it rain, he next launched into a speech about what we should bring with us to the studio tomorrow… or more accurately, what we SHOULDN’T bring with us to the studio tomorrow. A lot of it was common sense stuff like Cliff’s Notes for cheating, or weapons in case we felt like eliminating the competition the old fashioned way. This no-no list also included just about every electronic device ever invented…. which, since we’re talking about 2001 here, shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience for anyone.
One of the things we were required to bring with us was a list of our five people we planned to put on phone a friend duty during the taping. Oh, a hand has gone up… it’s Bobby Concepcion, who came to Manhattan all the way from the far off borough of Brooklyn to play Millionaire. He presented Paul with a dilemma that the beleaguered assistant coordinator admitted had never been encountered before in the show’s entire history up to that point….
He didn’t have a single phone a friend.
Bobby had managed to rook someone into coming along with him to be his official traveling companion on the long
subway limo ride, but he couldn’t find anyone with a phone who might be financially interested in helping him make a life changing amount of money? Contestants had played with short PaF lists before, but you can’t use that all important lifeline if you don’t have someone available to call who cares. Honestly, I have no idea how the show handled this problem… maybe they just set him up with a random phone booth out on the street…
Rubbing my hands even more evilly at how the competition is looking even lighter than I could have imagined, Paul next inspected our outfits, of which we needed to have two since whoever was in the Hot Seat at the end of our taping would carry over onto the next show… which would tape immediately after the first one ended, but had to look like a brand new day for everyone in TV land. The brown and some other ugly color striped shirt monster my Mom had picked out since I’m also a fussy shopper was rejected with extreme prejudice by Paul, which was excellent news as far as I was concerned. I didn’t want to wear it anyway. The green sweater that was more “me” got the thumbs up… and I mentioned to Paul I had several solid color collared shirts in reserve that could take the place of the hot striped mess if I should be so lucky as to make it a second day.
Towards the end of the fashion inspection, the phone in the suite rang. Yep, it’s Contestant #9. The odds just got a little slimmer… but that’s OK, because we could really be going for some big bucks!
After crowning six millionaires in the first seven months of WWTBAM’s wildly successful existence, the show hit a very large dry spell after David Goodman took home that sixth top prize on July 11, 2000. So to sweeten the pot, beginning with the shows aired in January 2001, they added a bonus jackpot to the top prize equal to $10,000 times the number of shows without a million dollar winner since Goodman’s appearance. Naturally, the question was asked during the meeting whether that jackpot was still intact or not.
Paul told us that yes, it was still in play, and we’d be the 86th show since Goodman… so assuming nobody from the current day’s taping had managed to walk away with the top prize, we were going to be playing for not $1,000,000 dollars…. but $1,860,000!
With one million, eight hundred and sixty thousand dollar signs in my mind, we did get one last detail before the meeting adjourned… the show we would be taping was going to air on January 31st, which was a Wednesday. Since that coincided with my weekend, I could watch the show and not have to worry about calling off that night if I should happen to strike it rich…
After we were dismissed, I rode the elevator back down with five of my newfound rivals. Each one of us pushed a different numbered floor button, which meant the show had likely put us all on separate floors, which I thought was real cute. No sooner had I walked back into
good old Room 607 when the phone rang. It was Paul.
I had left my contestant T-shirt on the couch.
Already, the nerves were getting to me. So much for trumping up my chances of doing well in my mind….
And so much for this week’s installment of my Millionaire Saga. I’ll see you again next Friday, hopefully from slightly cooler environs….