Confessions of a $30,000 Millionaire

Current mood: dying on the inside.EXPAND
Current mood: dying on the inside.

Unless you’re a personal friend or just really, really into game shows, you probably didn’t catch my appearance on Millionaire last night. I’ll recap it for you: After blowing through all three lifelines on one mid-level question, I had to tap out when my admittedly spotty knowledge of Kanye West albums proved insufficient, and walked away with $30,000. I am officially a $30,000 Millionaire. Millionaire is a well-oiled and -polished machine, from the juggernaut of production coordinators who sweep across the country each summer looking for contestants, to the sleek, futuristic set and the impossibly blue eyes of host Chris Harrison. But if you’ve ever wondered what really goes on behind the scenes of a game show, and what those contestants are thinking, here are six secrets I can now, finally, get off my chest:

I faked all that perkiness.
I’m not a bubbly person; my usual demeanor is basically Wednesday Addams at summer camp. But Millionaire is all about high-energy happiness, and I knew that if I wanted to get on the show, I was going to have to play along. At tryouts, we sat in rows waiting for the test to begin while speakers blasted American Authors’ “Best Day of My Life.” The producers turned a camera on us and encouraged us to dance and wave our hands to the music, which I regret to say I did, though I felt a piece of my soul wither and die in the process.

It didn’t end there, though. Besides the test, the tryout process included two interviews I beamed and giggled my way through. Once I got the call to be on the show, there were upbeat e-mail exchanges, cheerful phone interviews, and of course, the relentless smiling required for the taping. By the end of it, my face hurt.

You get there on your own dime.
When the call came to be on the show, I was ecstatic, but it raised an important question: How was I going to get there? Money was tight at the time, and Millionaire doesn’t pay for travel expenses (a standard practice for game shows). Fortunately, my dad and stepmom fronted me the money for a plane ticket and a hotel room, but most that trip was courtesy of my Visa card, including the new bag I had to buy in Connecticut after mine broke in the security line at Sky Harbor. I think it was the universe’s way of keeping me humble during my television adventure. Because nothing says baller like dragging a one-wheeled suitcase through JFK.

I knew the answers.
In case you’re not familiar with the show, here’s how it works: They show you a question with four possible answers, and you pick one. But because this is TV, you can’t just blurt out the answer and move on. “Talk it out,” the producers told us backstage, which I understood: It makes for better television. So when it was my turn to play, I had to play along: “Hmm, well, I know it’s not A. I’m not sure; it could be C, but I’m going to go with D.” Playing dumb goes against every fiber of my being, so from the bottom of my type-A, annoying know-it-all, trivia-nerd heart, I want to say that, on most of the questions, I knew the answers. Immediately. No thinking about it required. I feel better now.

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