CFI Blog

Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Me!

Ever since I was a little kid, I loved game shows. I’m pretty sure that one of the first phrases I ever learned was “come on down!” I’d watch Joker’s Wild and Tic Tac Dough all of the time, even though I hardly knew any of the answers. I loved Card Sharks because, even when I was little, I knew that you picked higher when the card showing was a 2 of spades.

The heyday of game shows must have been, at least for my generation, the late 70s and early 80s. I remember when game shows were on all morning from 9 AM to noon. Then, talk shows started popping up. Who cared about Phil Donohue when you could yell “no Whammies!” at the TV?

Their absence only made me grow fonder. I watched Jeopardy when it came on, and cajoled my parents into letting me try out for Teen Jeopardy. I didn’t pass the test. It was very hard. A guy I split an apartment with in Atlanta during my summer law school internship got onto Teen Jeopardy, but didn’t win. He went to Harvard. He was hundreds of times smarter than I was (or am).

Unperturbed, when I did a summer internship in Los Angeles, I scoured the newspapers for game show tryouts that I could attend without missing work. I found one. There was a tryout for Trivial Pursuit. The host of that game show was Wink Martindale. Yes, THE Wink Martindale. I was pumped. I wore my USMA uniform to the tryouts, which made me immediately stand out. I answered a few basic trivia questions, and they asked me to come back for a show taping.

I did fairly well on the show, but I only came in second place. The woman who won knew what a balalaika was. I’d never heard of one in all 20 years I’d been on the planet at that time. My parents taped it for me. It’s still on a VHS tape somewhere in the attic. If we still had a VCR, I’d have taken a picture for proof. But, alas, no pictures of me in a ton of makeup answering what major tennis tournament Althea Gibson was the first black woman to win (Wimbledon).

So, I’d made it onto a game show, but I’d never climbed the mountain and won something. Alex Trebek came to Bosnia while I was deployed, and they did a tryout for Jeopardy. Again, I didn’t pass the test. Did I mention those tests are hard? I also threw my name into the bucket for a Wheel of Fortune tryout when they were in a city I happened to be in, but my name never came out of the hat.

Then, a new game show came on. It was 2000. The show would have Regis Philbin asking a series of questions, each worth increasingly more money. If you could answer 15 questions correctly, you’d win $1,000,000 (that’s ONE MILLION DOLLARS).

To try out, you had to call into a phone line where you were asked to sort four items in order, similar to the segment on the show called the Fastest Finger game. You had to get, if memory serves me correctly, five right to have a chance to be drawn to be called back to do the same thing again and then get picked to compete against 9 others on the show for the right to be under the spotlight with Regis.

Another officer and I scheduled our lunch breaks around the windows when ABC opened up the phone lines. They were often busy, but we finally got through. It took a few tries, but we eventually got all five questions right.

Then, I waited by the phone at home.

It felt like waiting for a call back for a girl I’d asked out.

With similar results.

Disappointed, I tried again. And again. And again. They finally closed the tryouts, and I’d never received a call back.

For a while, we watched the show pretty frequently. Apparently, the testing protocols got easier over time.

A Million's question

When I saw on Twitter (you are following me on Twitter, right?) that Millionaire tryouts were coming to Dallas, I decided to take a crack at it. The tryout was on the Monday after the July 4th long weekend, so I figured nobody else would be there, improving my odds tremendously. I got up extra early to make the 75 minute drive to where they were holding the tryouts so that I’d arrive at least an hour before they opened up the doors to tryouts. I expected a couple of hearty souls to be there when I arrived.

Fortunately, the line moved rather quickly, and I was in the second cohort of about 120 people who went in to take the test. The test was, if I recall correctly, 30 multiple choice questions and you had 10 minutes to answer them all. Once the time was up, the show helpers collected the tests and took them to the Scantron machine for scoring. It took about 15 minutes before they’d scored everyone, and then they started calling out numbers for people who had passed the test.

I was one of the people chosen to come back for an audition with the show’s producer. It was 8:30 in the morning and my screen test was at noon. I was 75 minutes away from home and had forgotten my computer.

It’s a good thing that I have a smart phone and that there was a Starbucks nearby. There were a couple of people in the Starbucks who’d also apparently passed the test because we all had the same application paperwork. The helper team came in at about 11. I tried to look suave for them. They didn’t notice me.

When the appointed time came, I was jittery. It had nothing to do with the three coffees I’d consumed, surely. I actually wasn’t nervous at all. I gave the assistant my paperwork, and she asked me some questions. She was particularly intrigued about my 419 baiting activities. Apparently, everyone made it through this portion of the screening, because we all lined up against a wall to wait to interview with the producer.

After an interminable amount of time (in reality, probably an hour), the producer finally called my name. I went in. He explained the process and then asked me to say a little bit about myself. I tried to be pithy and composed. He then started asking me trivia questions. I missed the first one right away (those of you who have read enough of my articles can guess the gaping hole in knowledge that I possess…among many). I then got a couple and missed another and got another one right. At that he got up and said “we’ll send you a postcard in a couple of weeks.”

That was it. No thanks, no goodbyes, no hugs from Cedric the Entertainer. I was pretty sure I had flubbed it. I imagine that most of the people who auditioned knew one of the questions they asked. I signed a form saying I couldn’t give details about the test, so I can’t just come out and say I SHOULD KNOW MORE ABOUT [CENSORED]!!!!

Thus, the wait started.

I honestly had pretty much forgotten about the tryouts (they were 3 weeks ago today) when I checked the mail. In the mail was a postcard with my name and address hand written on the front and the return address was from Millionaire.

I’m in the pool to get to go to the tapings for the show, which would probably occur in August or September 2013, although nobody has actually contacted me yet. I do have to pay for my flight and lodging up there, but if I appear on the show, I’m guaranteed $1,000.

But wait, there’s more.

I’m donating 50% of my winnings to The Wounded Warrior Project.

I’m donating 50% of my winnings

If I win the whole shebang, half of it will go to the Wounded Warrior Project. If I make it onto the program and declare that an elephant is bigger than the moon, they’ll get $500. Regardless, they’ll get something, and I hope it’s a huge number.

I have friends who went over to war zones as full-bodied, healthy people and either didn’t come back at all or came back with grievous injuries. It’s the least I can do to give back for them.

I hope they want me to be a millionaire too.

I’ll keep everyone informed of what happens along the way. If you want to follow along, you can subscribe to receive a weekly digest of my articles via e-mail or via the CFI RSS feed.

Author Profile

John Davis
John Davis is a nationally recognized expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, and identity theft. He has written four books about his expertise in the field and has been featured extensively in numerous media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS News, CNBC, Fox Business, and many more. With over 20 years of experience helping consumers understand their credit and identity protection rights, John is passionate about empowering people to take control of their finances. He works with financial institutions to develop consumer-friendly policies that promote financial literacy and responsible borrowing habits.

Leave a Comment