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TODAY

Thursday, April 18

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Airbags

As a pop culture junkie as well as a receptacle for other useless knowledge (such as history and literature), I've had several people tell me I should try out for various game shows. So when Who Wants To Be a Millionaire held open auditions in early August, I figured why not? I didn't go alone. Greg is a veteran: he's been on Jeopardy and was a lifeline for a friend on Millionaire. Leah participates in several trivia tournaments a year. I occasionally win Trivial Pursuit. Together, the three of us hit the road at 6:30am, bound for both Indiana and glory.

The auditions were to begin at 9am at Resorts East Chicago. According to Millionaire's official site, no one was "allowed to line up prior to 8am." Apparently, the several hundred hopefuls in front of us when we arrived at 7:45am either didn't know about the rule or didn't care. Thus began the waiting game. The people watching was phenomenal. We amused ourselves by playing "Gambler or Contestant," wondering if the ladies in sequins and satin were there to take their chances on the slots or on a daytime TV show. Because what does one wear to a casino at 8:30am on a Monday? There were a few contestants in homemade shirts trumpeting "THE NEXT MILLIONAIRE!" as well as the inevitable comic book aficionados clad in Marvel Comics dress shirts. I'm sure the three of us caused a few raised eyebrows ourselves. I wore a sundress, Leah dressed in a smart skirt and shirt, and Greg had on — gasp — a tie!

The line moved. Slowly. Luckily, we were inside the air-conditioned lobby the entire time, unlike the poor fools who queued up behind us and were forced to wait outside in the parking garage. Imagine spending several hours in the summer heat inhaling gasoline fumes without a guarantee that you'd even get a chance to audition. Still, it was slow going. Around 11am, we finally made it out of the lobby and into another line. We were handed a number (mine was 4-103) and a few forms to fill out. After the usual personal information and legal questions — "Do you work for ABC, Disney, et cetera..." — were two questionnaires. On the way to the auditions, Greg told me there were two chances to qualify: once for the general show, and once for a special movie week that would air during February sweeps. Since he and I were in our own movie club, I felt good about my chances.

Until I got to the questionnaires. The one about films asked how many movies I owned, if I had any movie memorabilia, what movie I was obsessed with. I've never been a collector, and can't a person love films without surrounding herself with merchandise? The general one was even worse. What would Meredith Viera find most fascinating about you? What is your most annoying habit? Do you have any unusual pets? What would you be in the Guinness Book of Records for? I know the producers were looking for interesting tidbits to share in the Hot Seat, but I hate those kinds of questions. Also, I don't give a fig about Meredith Viera. Nothing against her, but nothing for her, either. Even if I passed the written tests, I doubt my answers were sufficiently "quirky" enough catch a producer's attention.

Our group, the fourth to be seen that day, was around 240 people. Once inside and seated inside a conference room (after four and a half hours of standing!), a man named Kevin explained the rules. Each test was 30 questions. We'd have ten minutes to complete each Scantron test, and the tests would be scored while we waited. If a contestant passed, s/he would be interviewed by a member of the Millionaire staff. I knew 23 out of the 30 movie questions and guessed on the rest. I think I got two or three of those right, bringing my total within the 25-26 range. It was the same for the general quiz. As we waited for the results, Kevin kept the crowd "fired up" by asking us to show how we would react if we won a million dollars. The loudest screamers and jumpers with the grabbiest hands scored free t-shirts. Greg, Leah and I stayed seated. Greg aced the movie test, but Leah and I didn't. However, all three of us passed the general test, and we were off to the next round with about 25 other people.

We stood against the wall as staffers snapped a Polaroid picture of each contestant. They then called people one by one for a short (1-2 minutes) interview. I chatted with a young woman who shared my birthday. She asked me to talk about myself, what I did in my spare time, what I would do with the money. She seemed amused by my answer to "You'd never believe it but I..." which was "never played basketball." However, it was hard to know exactly what they were looking for, and I wasn't up for being overly enthusiastic just for the hell of it. Besides, maybe they saw in the other room that I didn't leap to my feet at the mere thought of winning one million dollars. Or scoring a free shirt. The woman told me I'd be receiving a postcard in three to four weeks informing me if I made it into the "contestant pool." And that was it.

All three of us were certain we wouldn't be tapped to appear on the show. Greg thought Leah and I had a better chance because we're women (those weren't his exact words, but that's what he meant). Seven-and-a-half hours after Greg picked me up, we were on our way back to Chicago. A full day spent in pursuit of the quick buck, the almighty dollar. How would it pan out?

My Who Wants To Be a Millionaire rejection postcard arrived Friday afternoon. I was not "selected to be a potential contestant." Neither were Greg or Leah. I'll guess I'll keep being a hundredaire, with the hopes of becoming a thousandaire. I also hope someday they add a question mark to the show's title, because as an editor that annoys the crap out of me.

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the WB's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at popgapersblockcom.

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