If you ever got the chance to visit the tragically defunct Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: Play It! attraction at either Disney MGM Studios or Disney’s California Adventure, then you probably recognize what’s in the picture. The fact that I own it should tell you how much I am (or have been, anyway) into this game show.
Enough to want souvenirs†.
From 2001 until 2006, my wife and I returned to the park attraction every single month–as soon as our thirty day eligibility blackout lifted–and took our best shot at getting to the million point question and answering it correctly. Over the years, we won close to a thousand Disney pins (that’s not hyperbole, actually), about five dozen hats, maybe fifty polo shirts, around a dozen Star Wars collectibles, one pewter Tie-Fighter, a leather jacket, a medallion, and, oh yeah, a couple cruises on the Disney Cruise Line. We even went out to California a couple times and competed in the attraction there. I was the second to last person to ever get to the million point question there, and if I’d gotten it right, I would have been their last winner ever. In Florida, I was one of the last two or three winners before the attraction shut down.
You can find community in the oddest places. Out in California, all the “regulars” knew each other. When Lisa and I went out for the closing of the attraction, we were welcomed by people we’d never met as though we were distant relations. They took us around the California parks and showed us the ins and outs, and we swapped stories and boasts about the game. We didn’t feel like there was the same community in Florida, and yet when our attraction shut down and folks came in to be there for those last few shows, we were surprised to see just how many of the regulars we had come to know over the years.
We tried to get on the real show too. Back when Regis Philbin was hosting, we called their phone audition line whenever it was open, and then risked keeping our cell phones on at school the next day. When the Meredith Vieira show filmed at Disney World, we showed up at the park at ridiculous o’clock hoping to be chosen to play. One year I made it into the contestant pool that way and was basically sequestered for a full day, attending taping after taping and hoping (futilely, alas) to hear my name called to be the next contestant. We’ve traveled to audition for the show in New York, Fort Lauderdale, and Tampa.
The way the audition process works now is you take a thirty question test–in ten minutes–and if you pass the secret undisclosed cutoff of 27 correct answers they pull you aside and interview you. Then you find out, via postcard, if you’ve been placed in the contestant pool for the season or not. Once you’re in the pool, you may or may not actually be selected to appear. I’ve repeatedly passed the multiple choice test, only to get the postcard telling me I’m not in the contestant pool. The only message I can take away from that is that I’m smart enough to be on the show, but apparently I’m not interesting enough.
I’m not sure what it is about this show that has captured Lisa’s and my interest. Why not Jeopardy or some other quiz show? I think the appeal is in how attainable it seems. (I’m talking about the original rules here.) In Jeopardy the questions are harder, on average, and, unless you’re Ken Jennings, your potential for winning seems lower. On Millionaire you just have fifteen questions, nobody competing against you, and at the beginning of the game they’re ridiculously easy. The attainability is deceptive, of course, because on Jeopardy answering one question wrong doesn’t boot you off the show, but it just seems easier to dream about big money with Millionaire. As for Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader, last I checked they don’t use a test at all. So they don’t actually care whether you have any brains at all, just how entertaining they find you.
If you’re wondering why I’m going on about this now, it’s because today* the Millionaire crew was in Tampa for another round of road auditions. I was a lot less enthusiastic about this audition than I have been in past years, to tell you the truth. Repeatedly not making the guest pool will do that to a guy. The point was moot, though, because I got killed on the test. Surprisingly enough, I don’t know everything.
Some things I didn’t know:
- Which game’s championship offers a prize of $20,580? (Totally should’ve known this one.)
- What was the original flavor of Pez?
- Michelle Obama was the first First Lady to plant a vegetable garden since whom?
- What kind of background does a Burberry bag have? (Another one I should have gotten. I got thrown by one of the distractor answers.)
- What common English word is also the German word for an exclusive high school?
† No, it’s not stolen.