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.
The producer had to come out twice to tell me to hurry up.
They warned us in the green room that if we took too long to decide on an answer, a producer would come out and tell us that we had 30 seconds to choose. I immediately disregarded that piece of info; obviously, I wouldn’t be in that situation.
Except yeah, I was. Twice. When I blew through all my lifelines on the $7,000 movie question and still wasn’t totally sure of the answer, I stood there, frozen, until the producer emerged to give me the 30-second warning. Then, when I was deciding whether to take a chance on the Kanye question ($50,000 if I got it right, $5,000 if I got it wrong) or walk away with the $30,000, I froze again, and out she came. Hands shaking, heart racing, internal organs slowly being compressed by my Spanx, I made the decision that was right for me: I took the money and ran.
I was bitterly disappointed by how I did.
I went to Connecticut truly expecting to win big — maybe not a million, but at least $100,000, right? After the whole Jeopardy! debacle (yes, I was on Jeopardy!, too, it’s a whole other story), I thought that this was my chance to redeem myself. And when I won a measly $30K, I thought I had failed. I cried in the studio. I cried in my hotel room. After the taping, my in-person lifeline and I caught a train to New York City. We walked up Broadway on an impossibly perfect summer night, while I cried into an $8 milkshake from Max Brenner’s and ignored texts from excited friends back home. Okay, I could have handled things better, but I’ve never been great with intellectual defeat (see: the fourth-grade geography bee).
I’m not that disappointed anymore.
Do I wish I had done better? Absolutely. But making $30,000 in 20 minutes isn’t the most horrible thing I’ve ever gone through. I got out of Phoenix in August for a few days. I got to spend time with some of my closest friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years. Everyone at Millionaire was friendly and helpful and great to work with. And that milkshake was pretty fantastic. So, I have enough perspective now to say that appearing on Millionaire was a fabulous experience.
Plus, the money came last week, and it’s hard to be sad with a $30,000 check in your hand. Just sayin’.
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