Who Wants to be a Millionaire? held regional auditions today. My son saw a TV commercial about it and my family encouraged me to go.
The audition was at a restaurant and bar in Potomac Mills, Va., that apparently was reserved just for this event. I got there just about 6 (DC notoriously has the worst rush-hour traffic of any major city). There was an audition for general knowledge from 5 to 7 p.m., and a separate audition at 7 solely on movie trivia. We were told we could try for both if we wished. I chose the general knowledge quiz.
I went in with a group of about 30 people. We were all seated at a long table (really several tables pushed together). Before each seat was a manila envelope with a three-digit number written in marker, a pre-sharpened white pencil with the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? logo on it, and a slip of paper that's one of those machine-readable multiple-choice test answer sheets.
We were told we had 10 minutes to answer 30 multiple-choice questions. The tests would be scored immediately after and the proctor would tell us the number for each person who passed. Those people would be invited to stay for the next stage.
In Who Wants to be a Millionaire? all the questions are multiple choice, and they play fair -- there are no trick questions. On the other hand, many of them are phrased so that you can figure out the right answer or eliminate the wrong choices if you know a little bit about the topic.
Like this one:
The village of Sleepy Hollow, New York, has a monument to which writer:
a) Mark Twain
b) Washington Irving
c) Charles Dickens
d) Henry David Thoreau
They didn't tell anybody what a passing score was or how many one had to get right to advance, but I knew I was golden when I saw this question:
Superman turned gay when he was exposed to this variety of kryptonite:
I mean, really! It was almost cheating to give me one THAT easy!
Fortunately, when they called numbers of those who passed -- only about five or six out of the group, which surprised me a little -- they called mine.
Next round was a quick interview with a perky producer's assistant, to get general background and to coach you on how to be peppy and quirky for TV. She kept asking for things that make me unique -- "What would you do with a million dollars?" "What would shock people if they knew this about you?" (which, of course, I did not answer, although she noticed I didn't) and "What's one thing that's unique about you?" I said I wear something of the Baltimore Orioles every day.
That got us into a riff about sports and the Orioles ("What's the craziest thing you've done for the Orioles?" I told her I would cut school on Opening Day.) She kept trying to draw me out, launching into this riff to get me excited --
I'm bad at this because I don't know sports, but I'm going to try. You're at the ballpark watching the game and they're playing the Yankees and the score is tied. It's the ninth inning -- no, it's the 11th inning, and it's 3 to 3, and it's the bottom of the inning and there's two outs, and there's a man on first and a man on second, and your man comes up, and he hits a grand slam! What do you do?
... and I said, "He couldn't hit a grand slam because there's nobody on third."
We had a good laugh over that. I said it was a Dave Barry kind of question. (Dave Barry once did a bit on the difference between men and women, describing a great play in a baseball game where left fielder Cal Ripken makes a diving catch and throws the runner out at the base. By Barry's lights, a woman would say "What a great play!" and a guy would say "Cal Ripken never played left field!")
Anyway, after signing release giving them to right to use footage of me in any way they please with no complaint from me, I moved on to the next stage -- a camera test. There I met another production assistant who asked me a few questions and had me stand in front of a wall. She had a camera phone on a stand trained on me, and asked me three more questions from official-looking Who Wants to be a Millionaire? index cards.
It's the style of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? to not just answer the question but explain why you ruled out the wrong ones. So:
This Titanic president was in office when the Titanic sank:
a) William Howard Taft
b) Calvin Coolidge
c) Franklin Roosevelt
d) Grover Cleveland
So, I said "William Howard Taft was known for being large, so that's my answer."
"Your final answer?"
"Yes, my final answer."
This energy-related term is derived from the Latin word for "sun":
"Well, volt, amp and ohm are electrical terms, and calorie isn't ... so I'll say 'calorie.' That's my final answer."
The name of this mountain is derived from an African phrase that means "we couldn't climb it."
a) Mount McKinley
b) Mount Kilimanjaro
c) Mount Shasta
d) Mount I Never Heard of It Before and Don't Remember What It Was
"Hmm ... Mount McKinley's in Alaska ... I've never heard of Mount I Never Heard of It Before ... I guess Mount Kilimanjaro. That's my final answer."
And guess what? I went three for three! (When you think about it, "Kilimanjaro" -- kill-a-man jaro-- for "we couldn't climb it" is pretty obvious.)
So what now? Now I wait for an e-mail in a week or so telling me if I'm in the contestant pool, which means I could get chosen for the show ... sometime in the next two years. If so, I get to go to a taping in Stamford, Ct., in a no-expenses-paid trip -- travel, lodging, meals would be entirely out of my own pocket.
Wish me luck!