Let me start off by saying never in a million years did I even think about trying out. I was planning on trying out for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire when they came to Detroit in mid-August. But by some form of serendipity, I was able to take part in the most curious and best four weeks of my life.
I'm a big fan of Million Dollar Password, so I designed my own PowerPoint version of the show, where one could control and host the game in his own home with his own words. I posted that on the Game Show Forum so other fans could download it and play at home. About a week after posting that, I got this email, on Tuesday, July 15:
My name is Jill Scott and I'm a Contestant Producer for "Million Dollar Password." My senior producers asked me to contact you. They saw your Power Point version of MDP and were very impressed. We would like to personally invite you to the audition. We are holding an audition in Chicago on Saturday (July 19th)... If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at -------@gmail.com. Or you can call me directly at ###-###-####. Please do not publish that number. I hope to hear from you."
Kind of cool, I thought. So, I was able to get my aunts to go with me, and we stayed in a hotel, awaiting the audition. I got at the hotel at 8:20, 40 minutes before the advertised start time of 9. I got in line and was assigned a number, 0032.
We were all ushered into a ballroom. I filled out the five-page application and the release form. Guidelines for proper game play are reviewed (clues that are allowable and those that are forbidden). Sample words are given out to the group, with one half of the room seeing the word while the other half shields their eyes, then people raise their hands and are called upon to give their clue or their guess. This is just to ferret out any issues that the entire group might have regarding gameplay. We were then given a five word test (3 clues given by the contestant coordinators for each word) that I'm nearly certain you had to get 4/5 or 5/5 to pass. They came back and read the names of everyone who passed. (Yay, I got called!)
We then waited to be paired up with another applicant to play the game in front of the contestant coordinators in a separate room (You have to get your partner [or have to have your partner get you] to say five of the passwords in thirty seconds or less.). People are paired by their numbers, so the earlier your number is the quicker you will be done with the process. My partner and I (Russell) then went into the room, where a video camera was set up. We each told our name, age, occupation, etc into the camera. Then, we played the game. We set a day record, getting five words in seventeen seconds. She told us we might get a call back later that night to come back for the next round if they were impressed enough with our gameplay, personality, etc. Well... at 6 PM that night, I got a call! So back to the hotel I went the next day, with significantly less people in the ballroom.
After going over the rules again, we were led two-by-two into another room. We played the game in front of the camera and a CC again. Also sitting there were the main producers of the show (big difference from yesterday!). We played a few of the main games again (where we broke our record, getting five words in thirteen seconds), and then two of the levels of the end game (getting five out of ten in 90 seconds or less, using no more than three clues). The coordinators put me with my partner from yesterday, with whom I absolutely rocked. The producers noted me for my PowerPoint, so I hoped that was a positive!
Then I played the waiting game. The show was being taped in L.A. on August 2, 3 and 4. I certainly hoped to get a call that week, or at the worst, early next week. If it turned out I didn't make it, well, hey. Millionaire was holding an audition in Detroit on August 13.
To my enjoyment, Jeremy from FremantleMedia (owners of Million Dollar Password) called me at home at 4:16pm on Wednesday, July 30 to let me know I'd been chosen to fly to L.A. to participate in a taping of the program! My tape date was selected to be August 4. So, on the phone we went over personal details, eligibility requirements and stuff. I flew out of Flint Bishop Airport that Saturday morning, August 2nd, and checked into my hotel, the Coast Annabelle Hotel (very small, but very nice), by about 4 PM Pacific. I then waited to head into the lobby for what the producers called a "Boot Camp", sort of a one last going-over and practicing of rules.
I piled up into the van along with some of the other "campers" and we were driven to the CBS Radford Studios (where the show would tape tomorrow) and headed into the green room. As more people arrived, the final count of sixteen people sat around the table in the green room. Among the people in this boot camp was a lady who had won $25,000 on Super Password, two former Wheel of Fortune contestants, a woman who was chosen to play on the first season of the show but was passed over and Michael Kearney, former child prodigy, Gold Rush champion and $25,000 winner on Millionaire. Producers such as Vin Rubino, Angelou Deign, Chris Ahearn and consultant Sande Stewart went over the rules once more, along with some strategies on playing the game. Then, the producers left and went out into the hall. We were picked one by one to go out and play the game with the producers under $10,000 bonus round rules (five out of ten, three clues.)
I was called to go out and play. Sande showed me the words that I had to give to Chris, as Angelou and Vin watched. I was able to give all five in three clues or under. We were advised that we could take our time and think of the perfect clue during this, but I felt I didn't need to; they sort of formed in my head as I saw the word! After everyone had played, we were thanked and reminded that, as part of our agreement, we MAY NOT BE CHOSEN AS A CONTESTANT.
I wake up Monday, August 4th at 6 am and get to the lobby at 6:45. We're driven again to the studio where there are, in total, fourteen people for, most likely, eight slots for taping. Depending on how late in the day it is, that's a 57 - 25% chance you'll get chosen. As everyone settles in, the producing team comes in, along with a few P.A.s and the CBS S&P rep. We go over the rules once more, try to alleviate any fears they have and they mention a few tweaks they've made in the rules (the two biggest being allowed to try again at $25,000 if you fail and establishing $250,000 as a safe haven, making the million a freeroll.)
Next, we're taken to the studio to get a bit of a tour of the studio. It allows us to practice with the monitors, podiums, mics and someone else who was there. (Odd fact: One of the words in the run-through some poor sap got was "circumcise.") We then went to talk with some CBS execs and some of the regular MDP heads. I can't remember exactly what we talked about, but I remember there was some discussion about why I wanted to be here. Some other contestants reported playing the game again, but I didn't do that. We all got on the elevator to go back to the basement and into our holding room.
Everyone is taking turns getting made up and having our hairs did in preparation for potential participation. In walks Angelou, ready to announce the first two contestants, not me. That kind of gets me a bit upset, because I was aware that the first taping featured my game show idol, Betty White. I was really hoping for a chance to play with her. The rest of us wait for a little while, being entertained by the arcade plug-n-play games set up, the board games strewn around and the Password box game and Pictionary cards someone had brought in. I was primarily practicing with a pretty, young, blonde woman named April.
Angelou rolls in again for the purpose of not selecting me. So, we all eat a catered lunch after about four or five hours of waiting. After a brief period of post-lunch waiting, she enters again to take out two more players, leaving one more chance for selection. After another period of waiting, Angelou announces that the final contestants are... Chad... and April! Haha, yep. I was going to play against the woman I practiced against for the better part of the day. Unfortunately for me, I knew she played well. April & I were led backstage so we could be mic'd up and we watched the action from the first part of the episode on the monitor. Angelou was back there with us and we three sat and dissected some of the clues, trying to give better ones. As the last game drew to a close (good work on the $100,000 victory with some ridiculous $250,000 clues), we were led to the side of the stage. April & I walked up the "invisible" stairs and I was ready to play.
As they were checking to make sure my microphone was working and final make-up adjustments are made, the great Regis Philbin walks up to me, shakes my head, and welcomes me to the game. It took a few seconds for me to realize, "Holy crap! I just shook hands with Regis Philbin!" For the record, he's got the softest hands of anyone I've shook hands with in recent memory.
[Insert what you saw on TV or in the above YouTube video here, including the fact that I mispronounced Phil Keoghan's name wrong upon meeting him (Koe-gan, not Kee-gan; its okay though, he thought it was mosh-er, not moe-sher). I also chatted and joked a bit with Julie Chen regarding me being a fan of Big Brother. We each made some fun references. No real taping stops, except for once when they checked to see if one of April's answers beat the buzzer or not. It didn't. Also, we re-taped the ending three times; Julie kept blocking the view of the camera.]
Phil was still pretty apologetic about the whole thing, but I assured him it was okay. He offered to send me his book and I gave him my address on an index card provided by a P.A. I was de-miced and was ushered into a room outside of the studio to look over the official CBS winnings form and agree to pay taxes. As I walked to the room, I had many staff members congratulating me, with Anthony, one of the P.A.s I had known since Chicago telling me I was "the best player [he's] ever seen", truly the ultimate compliment on this trip.
Below are some statistics about my appearance!
- In round one, Phil got me to say four passwords in 21 seconds. He then used the last 9 seconds to look at me and not give one clue. Haha. (It's okay, though. It was a fairly difficult word, "whimper".)
- In round two, I got Phil to get all five password in 27 seconds.
- In round three, Julie gave such good clues I was able to figure out all five passwords in 20 seconds.
- A fourth round was not played because I had already mathematically defeated April.
- On the $10,000 level (5 out of 10), we completed the round in 1 minute and 11 seconds. I passed on no words and we used up all three clues unsuccessfully on 3 words.
- On the $25,000 level (5 out of 9), we completed the round in 1 minute and 1 second. I passed on no words and we used up all three clues unsuccessfully on 3 words.
- On the $50,000 level (5 out of 8), we completed the round in 34 seconds. I passed on no words and we used up all three clues unsuccessfully on 1 word.
- On the $100,000 level (5 out of 7), we completed the first four words in 48 seconds. (I also passed on no words and we used up all three clues unsuccessfully on two words.) I entered my final word with 42 seconds on the clock. After giving my first two clues and receiving responses in 16 seconds, I used 16 more seconds to come up with my last clue, which was not responded to correctly. We had 14 seconds left on the clock.