Posts Tagged ‘Who Wants to be A Millionaire’

Slot Machinations

Posted in General on July 10th, 2012 by Eugene Finerman – 10 Comments

Yesterday I found myself in a casino.  No, I did not play any of the tables.  I had to save my luck for the auditions of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”  After all, I was one of some 800 people vying to stand next to Meredith and guess either the capital of France (for $1,000) or the square root of Kanye West’s social security number (for $500,000).  In four weeks I will know whether or not I have a prayer, and then so will you. 

While waiting in line for the audition,  I did notice the desperate variety in the slot machines.  Apparently, the prospect of losing one quarter in the hope of winning fifty is not incentive enough.  Today’s slots need themes!  I saw one for “My Magic Pony”.  That should appeal to all the five-year-old girls at the casino.  Maybe it was intended to lure their grandparents–“Darling, look where I lost your college fund!”  But I was especially impressed with “The Sex in the City” slot machine.  Perhaps I should have invested a dollar to see how the game worked.  Obviously, the orgasms and tribulations of those four Manhattan women could not be scored by six oranges in a row.  No, I imagine the scoring would be…

Three Cosmopolitans in a row–$5.

Four Kim Cattrall nude scenes–$20

Five non-abusive heterosexual males in New York–$100

Six Manolo Blahnik shoes–enough to pay for one pair.

How could I resist?  The thought of losing a dollar to Sheldon Adelson….

 And let’s not forget the historic significance of this day (and imagine John Calvin on “Sex in the City”; well, he’d be more fun than John Knox):  http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2009/07/10/the-joys-of-misery-and-the-embarrassment-of-evolution/

 

 

My RDA of Anxiety

Posted in General on July 29th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

“Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” will be back on prime time in August, but the shows are being taped now.  And guess who once again is chained to the telephone, accepting the challenge of being a Phone-a-Friend?  I wish that I could tell you how much fun it is to watch cobwebs grow on your telephone. At least my first experience–way back in 2000– was not an exercise in futility. Published in the Chicago Tribune, here is that saga.

Regis Philbin finally called, and 30 million people were eavesdropping

After two days of an anxious vigil by the telephone, I now had the opportunity
to humiliate myself and bankrupt a friend.

Who wants to be a “Millionaire” lifeline? I had acquired some doubts.

How did I end up such a morbid, neurotic mess? A week earlier, I had felt
nothing worse than a mild case of envy. Stephanie Girardi, a close friend of my
wife Karen, was going to be a contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

Possessing a Mensa mentality and the Episcopalian equivalent of chutzpah,
Stephanie had defied odds and obstacles to win a seat next to Regis.

Every day, 250,000 people somehow get through the show’s jammed phone lines and
take the qualifying quiz. Approximately 3 percent of these aspiring contestants
pass the three-question test. A number of these survivors are randomly selected
to take a second quiz, consisting of five questions. Of those who correctly
answer the five questions, the 10 fastest competitors are invited to be on
“Millionaire.” Stephanie was one of them.

For those of you pretending not to know the details, “Millionaire” permits its
contestants to have three lifelines for help with answers. Stephanie asked me
to be her “phone-a-friend,” the mystic sage who could answer any confounding
question within 30 seconds. A contestant can choose five people to be a
“phone-a-friend” but Stephanie needed only three to supplement her knowledge
(the other two were an astrophysicist and a librarian with a specialty in
sports). Why choose me? To be honest, I am an idiot savant. Although I can’t
remember my wife’s phone number at work, I possess an unnatural command of
historical and literary details.

Consider this example. A lady once mentioned to me that “This is St. Anthony’s
Day.” I asked if she were referring to St. Anthony of Thebes or St. Anthony of
Padua. How does a Jewish boy know that? My cognitive quirks have even earned me
fame and fortune. In 1987, I appeared on “Jeopardy!” and won $70,000, a vacuum
cleaner and 14 bags of chocolate chips.

In case you were wondering, Regis’ call is not a casual occurrence. I was given
instructions and indoctrination that made me feel as if I were paper-trained by
Pavlov. My first order was, on the day (a Wednesday) that Stephanie first
appeared for a taping, to wait by a telephone between the hours of noon and 3
p.m., and 4 and 7 p.m. Since I am a freelance writer and work from home, I
could accommodate that ridiculous schedule. At approximately 1 p.m., the phone
rang and I found myself being interrogated by a droning assistant from the
show.

No, I was not an employee of ABC or any affiliates. No, I was not an employee
or related to any employee of “Millionaire.” (If I were, wouldn’t she have
remembered me from the holiday party?) No, I had not been on another game show
within the last year. No, I had not been anyone else’s lifeline. (You can only
be a lifeline twice in a year’s time, so I can’t make a career of it.)

Having survived the initiation, I was now drilled in the protocol of the show.

1. I was to be by a telephone from 4 to 7 p.m. that day. I could not use a
cellular phone. (Why? They did not say.)

2. I was the only person allowed to answer that phone.

3. I had to answer the telephone on the third ring. (Again they did not say
why.)

4. I was “not to make small talk with Regis.”

There was nothing else to do but wait. At 4 p.m., the telephone rang and, with
heroic restraint, I picked it up on the third ring. It was only another
production assistant, telling me that the show now was being taped, and
reminding me to be available for the next three hours. I resumed the vigil.

At 10 minutes to 7, the phone rang. I picked up the telephone on the obligatory
third ring and heard the production assistant exclaim that Stephanie had made
it into “the hot seat.” The day’s taping was nearly over, however; so I was
asked if I would be available the following day from 4 to 7. Later that
evening, Stephanie called from New York to tell us all the details. She asked
if I was ready for the challenge. I lied and said, “Yes.”

In fact, I was imagining everything that could go wrong.

In an average week, no one rings our doorbell; but when Regis calls, it would
be the most sadistic time for a Jehovah’s Witness to drop by. What, if for some
inexplicable reason, our pugs awoke and started barking while I was trying to
hear Stephanie? At least, I had a solution for these potential crises: My wife
could handle them.

A few minutes before 4 p.m., I isolated myself in the bedroom. At 4:30 p.m.,
the telephone rang and I discovered one of the immutable laws of the universe.
In such circumstances, a relative or friend will telephone. “Have they called
yet?” I believe this was the first time my sister-in-law Barbara heard me
hyperventilate and stammer. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. Karen coped
with it. I had become acutely aware of my heartbeat.

Then the phone rang.

“Hi, Eugene. This is Regis Philbin.”

I could barely hear him. “Our friends at AT&T” could improve the acoustics. I
greeted him and, since this wasn’t a private conversation, I added “Hi
America.” Stephanie was contending with a $125,000 question and she needed my
help. She began reading the question, and I could only discern a few words:
painting, California, swimming pools. Then, she began reciting the possible
answers: David Hockney. . . . I interrupted with an emphatic, “Yes.”

She continued with the other possible answers (Chuck Close, Jasper Johns, Andy
Warhol).

Then I repeated, “California swimming pools . . . David Hockney.”

“That’s what I thought,” she said.

“I’m obnoxiously certain,” I replied.

How could she doubt me? Stephanie answered “David Hockney” and won the
$125,000. She then went on to win $500,000. Stephanie knew that Mick Jagger
went to the London School of Economics and that the island of Rapa Nui is
better known as Easter Island.

Let’s deal with the ugly and obvious question: Everybody asks, what’s my cut? I
was motivated by vanity not venality. We never discussed what I could expect
for answering the question. Let’s just say: Stephanie is a gracious person.

As for me, my breathing has returned to normal and I remain the most successful
“Jeopardy!” player from Rogers Park. Now I find myself frequently asked a
question I can’t answer: When am I going to be on “Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire”? I guess I will have to find out.

 

 

p.s.  Let’s not forget the historic significance of this day (unless you are a Bulgarian optometrist): http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2008/07/29/on-this-day-in-1014/

My RDA of Futility

Posted in General on November 6th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

Well, I still have not had a chance to make anyone a Millionaire. Once again I was a Phone-a-Friend; but this time I was not even called. I wish that I could tell you how much fun it is to watch cobwebs grow on your telephone. At least my first experience–way back in 2000– was not an exercise in futility. Published in the Chicago Tribune, here is that saga.

Regis Philbin finally called, and 30 million people were eavesdropping

After two days of an anxious vigil by the telephone, I now had the opportunity
to humiliate myself and bankrupt a friend.

Who wants to be a “Millionaire” lifeline? I had acquired some doubts.

How did I end up such a morbid, neurotic mess? A week earlier, I had felt
nothing worse than a mild case of envy. Stephanie Girardi, a close friend of my
wife Karen, was going to be a contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

Possessing a Mensa mentality and the Episcopalian equivalent of chutzpah,
Stephanie had defied odds and obstacles to win a seat next to Regis.

Every day, 250,000 people somehow get through the show’s jammed phone lines and
take the qualifying quiz. Approximately 3 percent of these aspiring contestants
pass the three-question test. A number of these survivors are randomly selected
to take a second quiz, consisting of five questions. Of those who correctly
answer the five questions, the 10 fastest competitors are invited to be on
“Millionaire.” Stephanie was one of them.

For those of you pretending not to know the details, “Millionaire” permits its
contestants to have three lifelines for help with answers. Stephanie asked me
to be her “phone-a-friend,” the mystic sage who could answer any confounding
question within 30 seconds. A contestant can choose five people to be a
“phone-a-friend” but Stephanie needed only three to supplement her knowledge
(the other two were an astrophysicist and a librarian with a specialty in
sports). Why choose me? To be honest, I am an idiot savant. Although I can’t
remember my wife’s phone number at work, I possess an unnatural command of
historical and literary details.

Consider this example. A lady once mentioned to me that “This is St. Anthony’s
Day.” I asked if she were referring to St. Anthony of Thebes or St. Anthony of
Padua. How does a Jewish boy know that? My cognitive quirks have even earned me
fame and fortune. In 1987, I appeared on “Jeopardy!” and won $70,000, a vacuum
cleaner and 14 bags of chocolate chips.

In case you were wondering, Regis’ call is not a casual occurrence. I was given
instructions and indoctrination that made me feel as if I were paper-trained by
Pavlov. My first order was, on the day (a Wednesday) that Stephanie first
appeared for a taping, to wait by a telephone between the hours of noon and 3
p.m., and 4 and 7 p.m. Since I am a freelance writer and work from home, I
could accommodate that ridiculous schedule. At approximately 1 p.m., the phone
rang and I found myself being interrogated by a droning assistant from the
show.

No, I was not an employee of ABC or any affiliates. No, I was not an employee
or related to any employee of “Millionaire.” (If I were, wouldn’t she have
remembered me from the holiday party?) No, I had not been on another game show
within the last year. No, I had not been anyone else’s lifeline. (You can only
be a lifeline twice in a year’s time, so I can’t make a career of it.)

Having survived the initiation, I was now drilled in the protocol of the show.

1. I was to be by a telephone from 4 to 7 p.m. that day. I could not use a
cellular phone. (Why? They did not say.)

2. I was the only person allowed to answer that phone.

3. I had to answer the telephone on the third ring. (Again they did not say
why.)

4. I was “not to make small talk with Regis.”

There was nothing else to do but wait. At 4 p.m., the telephone rang and, with
heroic restraint, I picked it up on the third ring. It was only another
production assistant, telling me that the show now was being taped, and
reminding me to be available for the next three hours. I resumed the vigil.

At 10 minutes to 7, the phone rang. I picked up the telephone on the obligatory
third ring and heard the production assistant exclaim that Stephanie had made
it into “the hot seat.” The day’s taping was nearly over, however; so I was
asked if I would be available the following day from 4 to 7. Later that
evening, Stephanie called from New York to tell us all the details. She asked
if I was ready for the challenge. I lied and said, “Yes.”

In fact, I was imagining everything that could go wrong.

In an average week, no one rings our doorbell; but when Regis calls, it would
be the most sadistic time for a Jehovah’s Witness to drop by. What, if for some
inexplicable reason, our pugs awoke and started barking while I was trying to
hear Stephanie? At least, I had a solution for these potential crises: My wife
could handle them.

A few minutes before 4 p.m., I isolated myself in the bedroom. At 4:30 p.m.,
the telephone rang and I discovered one of the immutable laws of the universe.
In such circumstances, a relative or friend will telephone. “Have they called
yet?” I believe this was the first time my sister-in-law Barbara heard me
hyperventilate and stammer. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. Karen coped
with it. I had become acutely aware of my heartbeat.

Then the phone rang.

“Hi, Eugene. This is Regis Philbin.”

I could barely hear him. “Our friends at AT&T” could improve the acoustics. I
greeted him and, since this wasn’t a private conversation, I added “Hi
America.” Stephanie was contending with a $125,000 question and she needed my
help. She began reading the question, and I could only discern a few words:
painting, California, swimming pools. Then, she began reciting the possible
answers: David Hockney. . . . I interrupted with an emphatic, “Yes.”

She continued with the other possible answers (Chuck Close, Jasper Johns, Andy
Warhol).

Then I repeated, “California swimming pools . . . David Hockney.”

“That’s what I thought,” she said.

“I’m obnoxiously certain,” I replied.

How could she doubt me? Stephanie answered “David Hockney” and won the
$125,000. She then went on to win $500,000. Stephanie knew that Mick Jagger
went to the London School of Economics and that the island of Rapa Nui is
better known as Easter Island.

Let’s deal with the ugly and obvious question: Everybody asks, what’s my cut? I
was motivated by vanity not venality. We never discussed what I could expect
for answering the question. Let’s just say: Stephanie is a gracious person.

As for me, my breathing has returned to normal and I remain the most successful
“Jeopardy!” player from Rogers Park. Now I find myself frequently asked a
question I can’t answer: When am I going to be on “Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire”? I guess I will have to find out.

Millionaire Lost

Posted in General on August 25th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

In an unprecedented manifestation of commonsense, I decided not to audition for Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. Chicago was enduring a barrage of thunderstorms, and standing four or more hours in a downpour, while awaiting the audition, just didn’t seem like a great idea. The odds of being selected as a contestant are about one in a thousand. The odds of developing pneumonia are about one in two.

So, at least, I have spared myself illness and the added indignity of a mass-produced, soulless rejection card. Last year I received one. It read, “Thank you for your interest in being a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.’ You have not been selected to be a potential contestant. We appreciate your continued interest in the show and thank you for taking the time to audition with us. Please accept these nude photos of Meredith Viera as our expression of gratitude.”

Actually, the last sentence was in pencil and looked like my mailman’s handwriting. Great, I was being ridiculed by a government agency, too.

Of course, I predicted my rejection, but I can’t say that I enjoyed being right. In fact, I found myself quoting a certain charismatic character from Paradise Lost and swearing eternal vengeance on “Millionaire.”

How, in my brimstone sauna, would I expect to accomplish this feat. I want to be a phone-a-friend and help contestants soak that show for a fortune. I once was a phone-a-friend and helped an acquaintance with a $125,000 question. But now I want to do it as a vocation!

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost–the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?

Eucifer

What I Did Last Summer

Posted in General on August 3rd, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Who Wants To Be a Millionaire has just announced that it will be holding auditions in metropolitan Chicago. History and I are about to repeat ourselves. Here is my account of last year’s farce….

Who wants to be tortured and humiliated? I evidently do. Although I did not book my summer vacation at Abu Ghraib, I was among the 2500 victims who auditioned for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

America’s second favorite quiz show was touring the Midwest, looking for contestants. The brilliant and the greedy of metropolitan Chicago were invited to audition at Medieval Times in Schaumburg, August 15, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Come one, come all. So we did.

Speaking of medieval times, I have been vying to be on Millionaire since the days of Regis. To be honest, I was a prisoner of expectations. I have some faded renown as a former champion on Jeopardy, so everyone told me “You ought to be on Millionaire.” And I agreed!

At one time, you could audition for the show by telephone. Confronted with such questions as “Arrange these Secretaries of Labor in chronological order”, you would type your response on the phone key pad. I cannot tell you how many times I passed those tests. I can tell how many times I was invited on the show: less than once. To my further aggravation, I knew a number of people who were contestants; and guess whom they asked to be their phone-a-friend? Vicarious glory is better than none at all, but I wanted to be more than just a disembodied voice on Millionaire.

Since Meredith began hosting the syndicated version, Millionaire’s auditions are usually held in New York, an inconvenient location for a Midwestern boy. However, the news of the Schaumburg auditions seemed like a personal invitation. Being a free-lance writer, answerable only to God and the IRS, I had the time to waste. Even my practical wife thought I should go. I had to try.

Although the auditions were scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., I was determined to arrive early. I could imagine how crowded it would be. In fact, my imagination was an underachiever. I arrived at 7:45 a.m. and was already too late: the parking lot at Medieval Times was full. The summer interns of WGN founding themselves improvising traffic control, forming barriers and telling the dismayed and indignant drivers that the nearest available parking was a mile away. There also was a police car to discourage any rioting. So my car and I joined the caravan in the quest for parking.

The parking lot, although depressingly distant, was quite easy to find. You could see a procession of aspiring contestants trudging from there toward Medieval Times. In fact, it did seem like a medieval pilgrimage. There were young and old, quite a few who had difficulty making the unexpected hike; and we were all hoping for a miracle: the chance to be on Millionaire. The show has less than 500 contestants a year; but from this region alone 2500 people were auditioning. Millionaire was also holding try-outs in Pittsburgh and Seattle; of course, there are regular auditions in New York. What are the odds of being chosen? Each and every one of us was praying for a statistical miracle.

After a fairly vigorous hike  (Schaumburg does not believe in sidewalks) I arrived at the audition. I should be grateful for that exercise because I now would be standing in line for the next five hours. At 8:30 a.m., that line extended the length of two city blocks. An hour later, it was twice that long. You might wonder how to kill five hours in a line. Some people had the foresight to bring paperbacks; you could see a few determined contestants intent on memorizing almanacs. Others were on their cellphones; catching up on everyone they knew. I just started talking with my neighbors. I soon knew the names of their children and pets; and they might have learned some tactless details about my in-laws. We soon were a band of brothers and vowed to be each other’s phone-a-friend.

Over the hours, we slowly approached the building where the auditions were held. A little past noon, we finally entered the “castle”..We were still standing in line but at least we now were out of the August sun. After another hour, the show’s staff handed out forms and questionnaires to complete. The form was intended to reassure the producers and their lawyers that I had no relatives or suspicious connections on the show or with any of the show’s sponsors. (You apparently are not allowed friends in advertising.) I was also required to divulge that I had been on Jeopardy: no one wants a game show hustler. In addition to a statistical miracle, I now was praying for a statute of limitations.

In contrast to the rigid legalese of the form, the questionnaire was cloyingly whimsical. It sought endearing personalities among the applicants by asking “What would you do if you won a million dollars?” and “What was the most embarrassing moment of your life?”   For the million dollar query, I replied “I would ask my wife how we were spending it. As long as I have cable television and a freezer full of ice cream, I wouldn’t have any further questions.” As for the most embarrassing moment of my life, I answered, “I have yet to be convicted of a crime, so I haven’t had that moment. So far my life has been only a series of minor martyrdoms.” The questionnaire also asked “Tell us something about yourself that no one else knows.” Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have any fetishes or undiagnosed psychoses, and I really wasn’t prepared to fabricate any. The contestant coordinators had to be satisfied with my sincere sarcasm.

Finally, we were assigned our battalions–at least 150 contestants per group– and led into the auditorium where Medieval Times normally holds its banquets, jousts and possible reenactments of the bubonic plague. For the first time in six hours, we had the luxury of sitting. Each of us received an ID number, a pencil, an answer sheet and a sealed test. We were informed that the test consisted of 30 answers, multiple-choice, and we had ten minutes to complete it. Starting now: Britney Spears; white blood cells; Bernie Mac; Jane Austen. Time’s up.

Then we had to wait to for the results. Talking among ourselves, we did our scoring and evaluations. “Was that Mae West?” “Oh, it’s the retina.” “Are you sure it was Paris?” If there were any doubts, one fellow would use his Blackberry to ascertain the correct answer. Yes, it definitely was “Casablanca”.  Finally, a staff member read aloud the ID numbers. Yes, I had passed; would I have written this if I hadn’t?  Of my “band of brothers”  only the Chicago fireman joined me as a survivor. Of the entire battalion, some two dozen passed the test. We were told to go across the building for our interviews with the contestant coordinators.

And once again we were standing and waiting. Add another 30 minutes to the Purgatory. Three staff members of Millionaire interrogated hundreds of us to determine who–if any–would end up sitting next to Meredith. All of that interviewing must be draining. My interrogator could not bother to mask his boredom and indifference. He was seated, and next to him was a pitcher of cola and a box of cookies. But what was my fatigue and hunger compared to his ennui. He did not bother to look at my questionnaire. The interview was basically “Hello, what do you do for a living, good luck and goodbye.” His callousness was dismaying. Was I lucky that he refrained from physical abuse? Actually, if he had flung the cola in my face, I could have used the nourishment.

I staggered out of the building and began the mile-long trek to my car. That humiliating dismissal probably was the appropriate end to a draining, miserable experience. This was the type of day that inspires a satirist as soon as I recuperate. And I now have an understanding of the great mystery of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Why do its contestants always seem so dippy and spent? I realize that they once were bright and vibrant; but the auditions have left them blithering, exhausted wrecks.