22 Nov 2006
My brother emailed me on Friday (17 Nov. 2006) to go to Millionairetv.com and sign up to audition. I got the email on Saturday, and since I'm a mindless robot, I did exactly what he said. But because the show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" was finishing up a round of taping soon, the only available day to go down was Tuesday, the 21st of November! I took my chances with work being okay with it and submitted the form. On Monday at work I discovered a phone message that had been left on Sunday confirming that I could be on the show, and by Tuesday at noon I was in line outside of the ABC studios. As a side note, there was no discernable method to identify people who had been allowed on the show that day. The website indicates you will be mailed tickets, but no one else in line seemed to have any, and although I was told I could pick up my ticket once I got there, I never asked about doing so and never needed to. For those of you who can't read between the lines, I will spell it out for you. If you want to audition, go wait in line at 30 West 67th street (between Columbus and Central Park West in Manhattan - it's a door that is closer to Central Park than Columbus Ave.). Get there around noon and ask around about the auditions and taping of the show.
Before being told that my ticket would be waiting for me, I was told that I could show up at 1:15 or at 5:15 - there were two audiences (and therefore two sets of auditions) that day. I picked 1:15, showed up at noon, and was not the first one. Some people I guess were told to show up at 10. I'll assume the interns just weren't that well coordinated. I concluded this in part because the line was moved twice while I stood there, for no apparent reason (we were still outside; we were still in line; it's not the first time ever that people have auditioned). More evidence to support the interns' unprepared-ness will come later. (Another side note: I don't know if they're really interns. It's possible they're all aspiring actors and what they're doing is a day job. Well, even if they're interns they're all probably aspiring actors. Isn't everyone? But perhaps instead of trying to be actors they're actually just working to save money to pay for that Master of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT.)
I chatted uncomfortably with some of the people in line and discovered that a lot of people think they're geniuses, and a few people think they are on a first name basis with the interns since they've auditioned so many times. There are a lot of seemingly intelligent people, too, many of whom are first-timers like myself who eagerly hope for the best.
While in line, we were given little orange slips of paper with a number on it (I was 42), which I guess is to make sure they don't admit too many people. We were told later that 250 people made up the audience, so I'm guessing that's the stop point. (Get there early!) We also had to fill out a 3-page form that we would have to turn in if we passed the multiple-choice test. The form asks for basic contact information, your current job, and makes sure you are eligible to participate (they ask if you have family that works for Capital One, Netflix, America Online, ABC, Disney, or any station that broadcasts the show, although I'm not sure if you do have family working for any of those companies that it disqualifies you; perhaps the fine print on the website clarifies this). The form also asks for answers to 5 questions:
1) What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?
2) Complete this sentence - You'd never believe it but I...
3) What is your most embarrassing moment?
4) I could be in the Guinness Book of World Records for...?
5) Is there anything else we should know about you?
I wrote that: I would pay off loans; that I have a twin and that we're so alike I hope you don't think we're trying to pull one over on the host (if we both get on); I wrote about a time I was getting a haircut in Venezuela and a miscommunication had the barber cutting my hair more instead of stopping; that if I tried I might be able to set the record for staying up the longest without sleep; and nothing.
One woman I spoke with in line had a much more compelling story, although I wasn't concerned with her actually passing the test. (Think: ailing children and the like, and a potential audience making sounds like "Awwwww".) But I wasn't too concerned about "story" being a large determining factor in getting on the show, because, as previously stated, if you didn't pass the test, you never got a chance to turn in the form with your answers.
One quick note: when in line, if they ask you if you are auditioning, say yes. If you're waiting in the cold, you get to go inside sooner. So even if you don't want to audition, you can take the test anyway and not pass it just like most of us. Plus you might get to sit in front and be famous for all of .2 seconds if anyone notices you in the background.
Finally at about 1:30 or so they started letting us into the building. Even though I had number 42, I had accidentally maneuvered my way closer to the front of the herd as we were continually prodded to pack it in for the sake of keeping people on the sidewalk (honest - this was not intentional, but hoards don't respond well, and I was trying to take the initiative to help people out). So I ended up as one of the first people in the building. We went through security, which included someone half-heartedly looking through the bag I brought and me going through a metal detector, and continued through a maze of back rooms and dingy looking corridors until we got to the set. There, another intern directed us where to sit. I think because I was alone and because I was practically first, I was told to sit in the front row. It also helped that I didn't have a shirt with a logo like one guy wore. He was told to move from the first to the second row because of it.
Once those of us auditioning were all seated (those who said they weren't auditioning would be allowed in later), they passed out pencils and scantron forms, and envelopes that had the tests in them. We then had 10 minutes to answer 30 multiple choice questions. The questions were just like on the show, except without the context of value, and they weren't in order from easy to hard. The difficulty was varied. I think everyone had the same test, although we were told to write our envelope number on the scantron in what I think was a good way to pretend that we all had different tests.
This might be a good time to share some of the questions! I don't think I ever signed something saying I couldn't share them, so I will reveal as much as I remember without taking a hit to my conscience. One question was on the unit of measurement on your electric bill (Kilowatt-hours, I believe); another asked for the author who has characters named Elizabeth Bennett and such and such in her books (Jane Austen); yet another asked what the website "The Motley Fool" is about (personal finance - I missed this one); and one asked about erythrocytes which I just looked up and is a synonym for red blood cells. Sadly I don't remember much more than this as the game show questions that came later pushed the test questions out from my memory.
After taking the test, we were told we would find out how we did after the taping session. This was just plain good planning on ABC's part. Not many would stay to watch the show otherwise. Many people had plans that the taping would cut into, but if they left, they would automatically take themselves out of the auditioning process. Some people were told beforehand by the interns that we'd only have to struggle through 2 shows, but when we later found out that it was 3, some were a little peeved. But I think everyone stayed - even the girl next to me who was going to be late turning in a paper for a college class.
Now, back to the show. The set is not that big. I think those wide-angle lenses they have make it seem bigger on TV than it is in real life. But there is a lot of open space behind where we are sitting, and a very tall ceiling. One guy, who I think is a comedian by night paid to make sure the audience does a good job, basically tried to get us worked into an obedient frenzy. He oft times offended individuals, but would sense it and try to make it up a little later. After the tapings he gave his name and website which I promptly forgot. But he generally encouraged us to over-exaggerate our reactions. Here's a sample of some encouragement which isn't verbatim but close:
"Come on people! You know that the 4th choice for the 1st question is always funny! Let's hear that laughter! Sir, yes you there. You are breathing, and that qualifies you to scream. I didn't see you doing so last time. And you sir, your arms are folded. This isn't a funeral! If we wanted cardboard cutouts, we would have cardboard cutouts in the audience!"
Oft times the audience would laugh at our own fakeness. But at times we would get tired and the comedian/motivator would come out and try to get us riled up again. The college student next to me (was her name Lauren?) was a good fake laugher. I did more clapping since I had just gotten over preliminary probing attacks of bronchitis (that eventually decided the risks were too great and moved on). There were also two video screens that occasionally had "Applause" written on them, and the comedian guy and one other were sometimes indicating from the sidelines for us to be loud or to be quiet. It's my professional opinion that the comedian guy was a mascot in his college days. (Cheer! Now be quiet! Now cheer again!)
Soon the guest host came out: Al Rocher, the weather guy from The Today Show. I got to shake his hand as he went around the set to our prompted cheers of "Al! Al! Al!" I think we got to witness Al's first attempt at hosting. But he seemed to do a good job. There isn't much help by way of the teleprompter. It often says, "ad lib". Al also really seems like a nice guy. After the taping of the first show, his wife came out of the audience (I'm guessing she was his wife) and they seemed so happy together as she offered congratulations for a job well done.
The contestants all seemed well trained, too. One was a 6' 8" guy who said "popular search engine" instead of Google. He and Al also had some genuinely funny interactions and facial expressions. When talking about Seattle weather, the contestant mentioned that all the rain is from mountain air combining with the sea to create a zone (which I forget the name of, but it was a complicated word). The contestant then joked that it was technical weather stuff and Al wouldn't get it (hilarious, since Al is a weatherman). But during one break I noticed the contestant's cup of water was empty. A few audience members next to me (the college student and one older guy with a good sense of humor) tried to get some of the interns' attention. I finally called out, "Melissa" (which was the name of the person who called me back to tell me about tickets) and two of them looked over. I'm still not sure that Melissa was either of their names, but anyway, we told them about the water situation, but they said the contestant would probably get a drink while off stage. Well, when he came back from being off-stage for more taping, he started coughing, and Al suggested he get a drink of water. The contestant reached down to get one, saw the cup was empty, and replied he was okay (knowing there was no water to be had). This was while the cameras were rolling. Maybe it'll be edited out, but boy did I feel justified for my light-hearted pestering. A new glass of water was there after the next break (but did that glass get changed for the next contestant? I don't think so. Ewwwww!). After, during another break when the interns were near us again, I joked with the college student next to me if now would be a good time to let them know they should have gotten the water.
Another contestant who was on for the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd show changed shirts in between and purposefully misled by saying "yesterday" when referring to the previous episode. This ability to be trained is what I think the personal interview is for (if you pass the test you then have to pass an interview). One guy in line when we were all outside was not shy in sharing that he had come to the auditions 20 times, passed 4 times, but never gotten by the personal interview. After the tapings, the audience members who didn't pass leave while the producers take 5 minutes to interview people who passed. Then someone from the show mails a postcard saying if you passed the interview or not. I think then you are put into a pool and can be randomly drawn to appear on the show. But I'm really guessing on how long the interviews are and on the random drawing thing (because I was with the losers walking out of the studio).
Back to the contestants - there was also one who slightly carried on with a story during some ad lib time. I didn't even realize she was taking longer than maybe she was supposed to, because it seemed normal to me. But Al made a reference to the story's longevity and the audience responded with a firm "Ohhhhhh", as we should have. Al appropriately made himself into the bad guy, which hopefully picked her up a little, but if I were in her position, I might have been unable to concentrate on the questions after that. It was ruder in person than it sounds. Thankfully, she seemed to be able to compose herself. There was another, Pam, who bowed out early in the first show. If you're out there Pam, the audience loves you. She seemed sad because of getting bounced so early, but also because her phone-a-friend didn't help her at all and we the audience slightly booed. But Pam, we don't know if you heard us, but we were giving shouts of "Pam! Pam! Pam!" after you were off the set 'cause we felt bad for you, and maybe because we were upset at ourselves.
It is so upsetting that people don't provide any help when they're a lifeline. Lifelines should always be someone who knows how to use Google. Most of the audience realizes this. A contestant has about 10 seconds to read the question, maybe another 10 to spell some key words, and 10 for the lifeline to respond. It should be plenty of time to answer almost any question. However, for one question I recall, a lifeline call maybe wouldn't have done it. The question went something like this: "The last car this person drove was a 1949 Studebaker while in college: John McCain, Ralph Nader, Al Gore, and some other guy." Type in the words "politician", "1949", and "Studebaker" into Google and the 3rd result gives Nader as the answer. Or I guess you could have typed in each person's name with "Studebaker" and seen if anything came up. Either way, it's a long shot I think to get the right answer so quickly. In such a case, the contestant could pick out the key words for the lifeline to type into the search engine... but then spelling could be a problem, too. Under pressure, could your lifeline have typed in Studebaker correctly?
Anyway, while the taping was going on, audience members were whispering what they thought the answers were back and forth to each other, sometimes kind of loudly. But no production member seemed to care. Also, once during the taping Al forgot to ask if it was the person's final answer, so they quickly went back to film that part. They filmed the ending to the first show 3 times, although I'm not sure why. They also rotated our seating in the first row so that we wouldn't be in the same spot for the second show (although we didn't rotate between the 2nd and 3rd show).
After the 3 shows were taped, the names of those who passed were read - about 10 people out of 250 passed. And we were told when the shows would air: June 18th, 19th, and 20th (2007). And we were then quickly ushered back onto the street, but not the street we entered from. It took a little bit to realize we were on 66th street instead of 67th. It felt like one more kick in the butt besides having just found out we weren't good enough to make the cut.
I have an inkling that I got no less than 25 questions right. So I'm guessing that a minimum of 27 is set (which would be 90%), or that they look at the results and just pick the top X number, whatever number they need to meet some quota. But in any case, my fame is assured, as I will appear on television in the background to some 5 second ads they filmed. Some of the contestants were filmed saying something like, "I'm so and so. Watch me on Millionaire tonight." I also might appear during the actual show since I was sitting directly behind Al Rocher some of the time.
(Abrupt conclusion warning!)
That was my experience with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.