WWTBAM 1: The “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” test

Washington, DC, USA

Yesterday morning, I got an email from the folks at “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” letting me know that my episode will air next Tuesday, December 06, 2011, NOT tomorrow (Friday 12/02) as was originally scheduled.  So, as they say, “check your local listings!”

(Hint: it varies by city, but it’s most likely on your local ABC affiliate in the early afternoon.  And it won’t be on the Gameshow Network.)

A handful of contestants have posted their Millionaire stories online over the years.
So, since I’m semi-trying to revive this site, and since I’ll eventually want to explain some of the decisions I made on the show, I figured I might as well post a (long-winded) recap of my experience.  This is part one of however many.


I wouldn’t really say I’m a trivia buff, but you might be able to say I was as a teenager.  I was on my high school’s Knowledge Bowl team in my senior year.  When “Millionaire” premiered with Regis, I watched regularly for a while, and I even tried to call in to play the phone game a couple of times.  A few years later, I did get caught up in the Ken Jennings Jeopardy! run, but that’s about it.

I remember Googling “how to be on Jeopardy” once back when I was taking care of my grandmom, and I thought it sounded like something I might be interested in doing one day.  But the more I read, the more I became convinced that Jeopardy! was something that you had to study for.  So, I skipped a few chances to audition online so that I wouldn’t have wasted my eligibility if I ever decided to study up and make a run for the show.  That was 2007-ish.

Fast forward to last summer.  My fiancée, Sarah, told me that she saw on a commercial  that Who Wants to be a Millionaire auditions were coming to the University of Maryland in College Park, just outside of DC, on Monday, July 25.

Millionaire?  That’s not really something you have to study for…

I didn’t really say, “I have to do this!” or anything, but since we had rented a car to go furniture shopping that weekend anyway, I figured I might as well give it a shot.  (You can take the DC Metro and a shuttle to UMD-CP pretty easily, but it takes a while.  Since I was on the fence about even bothering with something I considered a long-shot anyway, having a car that morning anyway tilted the scales in favor of me auditioning.)

Audition Day

I ended up going to bed late on Sunday night, and since the audition wasn’t really ever a must-do for me, I was pretty tempted to skip it.  But Sarah ended up over-sleeping Monday morning.  Since she knew I still had the car, she asked me to drive her to work (she normally Metros it).

So, since I was up early anyway, I figured I might as well head over the auditions.

I figured they were probably looking for fun looking people–not people trying too hard, but also people who were making some effort and having a good time.  So, I got a quick shower and dressed like I was going out on Friday night: dark jeans, glossy lavender dress shirt, and a nice pair of black shoes.  I think what I wore mattered.

Back in 2004, I worked for 3 days as a temp production assistant for American Idol auditions in DC.  People camped out for days.  It was a circus.
I wasn’t expecting anything to that level, but I figured there would be a good crowd.
Auditions started at 7am, and I had originally wanted to get in line before they started so that I could get to work by 10.

I ended up not getting there until around 7:20 or so, but it wasn’t a big deal.  The crowd here wasn’t even 1%  of what it was for American Idol.

Auditions went like this:

The Millionaire folks had reserved an auditorium that sat maybe 250 people.  They let a line build up, then let the first group in.  I’d say that probably took about 45 minutes; 10 minutes to seat everyone, 10 minutes to give instructions, 10 minutes to take the exam, another 15 to give results and clear everyone out.

The first group of the day was taking their test when I got there, and a couple of dozen people were already lined up for the second test.  We didn’t have appointments; we just showed up.

After about 15 minutes of standing in line, the auditorium doors opened and a few dozen people flooded out.  They hadn’t passed.  No one left for about 5 minutes, until a group of maybe 15 or so people happy-looking people were lead out and down the hallway.  Then, those of us in line were let in.  As we entered, we each got a “Millionaire” t-shirt (I sleep in it sometimes), a “Millionaire” pencil (I still have mine), and a refrigerator magnetic (it’s holding up my USNDTP hockey ticket stub on my fridge–that trip deserves a blog post).  The day was already not a total loss.

Late July is a fairly dead time in DC.  And College Park, while not inconvenient, isn’t exactly convenient either.  I imagine that’s why we only filled maybe a quarter of the auditorium.  Which was fine, really; that sped things along.

I’m not gonna lie–a fair amount of the people trying out seemed weird.  I don’t remember any specifics; I just got a weird vibe.  Once everyone was settled in, someone went up on stage to give instructions.  We each got a ScanTron form.  We would have 10 minutes to answer 30 multiple-choice questions.  We wouldn’t all have the same test, so make sure to note the test number on your Scantron forum.  Remember your number; this is how you’ll be called if you pass.  She couldn’t tell us what a passing score was. Any questions?

Oh, were there?!
The weird people all had weird questions.  One guy started to sing.  I wish I remembered more specifics.
Several people had apparently tried out before, maybe even a dozen times before–they knew the proctors by name.  But they still had questions.

Eventually, everyone was satisfied, and we could start.

The Test

30 questions in 10 minutes.

Could be better, could be worse.  In a weird way, it vaguely reminded me of the time I took the Foreign Service exam in that it definitely wasn’t easy, but it also definitely felt beatable.  Of course, this one was trivial.  Literally!

I managed to remember a bunch of the questions for a little while after I left, but in 4 months, I’ve forgotten most of them.  Suffice it to say that the questions were all just like you’d see on the show.  In fact, I even saw one of the questions from my test show up on an episode afterwards!

Some I knew, some I didn’t.  But of the ones that I didn’t know, I was able to eliminate a few wrong answers off the bat.  I tried to reason things out farther, and that helped even more.

  • Who said, “come with me if you want to live?”
    I’ve never seen the movie, but I was pretty sure that was from Terminator.
  • I think I had to subtract the year of the Gettysburg Address from the year of Pearl Harbor, or something like that.
  • What was the catch phrase from Kung-Fu Panda?
    Didn’t see that one either, but Disney couldn’t possibly market “Ching Chong!” as a catch phrase without being called racist, so rule that one out.  “Skadoosh!” sounds PC, PG, and marketable.

I made it through all of the questions with about 4 minutes to spare.  I used the remaining time to go back and try to reason out the questions I skipped.

  • “A-line” sounds like a reasonable name for a dress shape.  A dress looks like of like an “A.”  I should have gotten that the first time around.
  • Pez candy takes its name from the first flavor it sold in Austria.  Which is it?
    -Apple?  No, that’s not it.  I’ve eaten enough apfelstrudel to know that German speakers like apples, but that their word isn’t close to “Pez.”
    -Pineapple?  I didn’t know the German word for pineapple, but I know that ananas is all over Indo-European languages (French, Swedish, and Hindi off the top of my head, and I thought maybe Esperanto and maybe even Finnish, too).  So, if I had to guess (which I kind of did), I’d guess that it would be “ananas,” in German, too.  Nothing like, “pez.”
    -I don’t remember the third choice or how I ruled it out, but I did.
    -Peppermint?  Peppermint seemed like a weird Pez flavor.  And I didn’t know why, but I thought “pepperment” was “pfeffermint” in German.  No “z.”  I had managed to eliminate everything!  But the last one seemed like the strongest option, so I went with that, and Wikipedia later revealed that I was right. (Turns out it’s “Pfefferminze.”)

I filled in my last bubble right as time ran.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had passed or failed.

Scoring and Results

We stewed for a couple of minutes while they scored the tests.  But it didn’t take long.  And once they started reading out who passed, it still didn’t take long; my number was the 2nd one they read out!


Check back to see what came next!  I’ll post part 2 as soon as I can.  :-)