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“Meredith, I want to tell you something. Last night, as I was thinking about the categories that might be used to stump me, one of the first ones I considered was ‘Classical Music.’”

Meredith Vieira smirked and nodded.

“Now, I have worked professionally as a DJ, so I own a considerable amount of music, but I don’t get to use much Classical in my line of work.”

Meredith gave a concerned look.

“However, there was a film soundtrack that I do own, for a fantastic motion picture starring Gary Oldman. It was called “Immortal Beloved.” It was the story of the life of Ludwig van Beethoven. And the very first track on that album is Beethoven’s 5th Symphony… in C Minor. Final answer.”


Well, no. Let’s rewind.

It was early Summer of 1999 that I first heard about “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” a big money game show that was going to be a prime time event for ABC Television in the United States that Fall. The show was already up and running in Great Britain, and had become a huge hit, there.

The concept of the game was incredibly simple. Answer 15 multiple choice questions correctly, and stroll out of the studio with a million dollars. I felt as if this game was built for me. First, it was just you and the questions: no other contestants to beat out, like on “Jeopardy!” Second, it was multiple choice! The correct answer was sitting right there in front of you! And finally, there were many opportunities to take the money you made and leave. Even if you didn’t win the Million, there were still chances to get a six figure payday out of it.

Regis Philbin, one of the many celebrities I share a birthday with, was the host, and I had to feel that was a good omen. But the problem was the format for getting on the show.

First you had to call a special number and answer a question. Then, if you got the answer right, you were put in a random draw. If you were drawn, a producer for the show would contact you and you would come in for an interview. And THEN, if you were selected for the show, you still had to face off against nine other contestants in what they called “The Fastest Finger Contest,” where you had to be the first person to put four items in their correct order using the buttons A, B, C and D.

Only after you jumped through all of those hoops could you sit in “The Hot Seat,” and play for the money.

I attempted to call in countless times, and maybe got the correct answer a handful of times. But I never was contacted by anyone. The show became a phenomenon here, just as it did in England, but then ABC ran it every night and people got bored of it. Eventually it was canceled in the Spring of 2002.

However, the surprise was in the Autumn of 2002, the game was back in syndication, with a new emcee: Meredith Vieira, who was, at the time, the lead host of ABC’s “The View” talk show. In the new iteration, there was no phoning, no fastest finger, none of the stuff that I seemingly couldn’t get beyond.

In early August 2003, I went to ABC studios on Columbus Avenue for a cattle call audition. It was a packed house of people and we were each given manila envelopes. Inside the envelopes were a test form, like the SATs, with circles to fill in for the numbered questions we had on our individual tests. We were told we had ten minutes to answer the 30 multiple choice questions. The fastest ten minutes of my life.

Then came the intolerable wait as the tests were graded, put through a computer processor to know which people did well enough.

Amazingly, out of all the potential contestants, and there must have been at least two-hundred, only about a dozen of us were asked to stay. I was one of the lucky ones.

After briefly talking with a producer who wanted my life story, and it was determined that there had never been a clown on the program, I was put on the fast track to being a contestant! Super fast: the program was taping the first episodes of the season in three weeks, and I got the call to be on in early September.

My contestant pool featured people from various parts of the country. And, since the program covered the cost of hotel as part of the process, they wanted to get them on the show and home quickly!

We filmed a week’s worth of shows in a day, and I hadn’t been on, so I had to come back the following day. It was that fateful night that may have changed my life forever.

I did consider classical music as a possible stumbling block for me. I certainly knew classical music, but I didn’t necessarily know certain details. But I did have the Immortal Beloved Soundtrack in my collection of CDs and something told me I should look at it. But then, I got distracted, and never got around to it.

Next day, I was sitting in the chair, Meredith wore a Red Nose in my honor, I flew through the first nine questions without using a lifeline. It was going so, so well. It was, quite literally, dizzying, in a way I had never felt before. But then I burned through my lifelines on the next three questions, getting me to $125,000.

The next question would be just me, all on my own, with no other help, for $250,000. The question:

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is in what key?
A: D Minor B: A major
C: C Minor D: F major.

And that brings us back to the start of the story, where what I should have said, happened. But it didn’t.

Something they never tell you about being on a game show: you have to live with the question you didn’t answer correctly for the rest of your life. And since I didn’t get to see the final two questions, I’ll never know if I might have become a Millionaire. But, one thing is certain. I haven’t played the “Immortal Beloved” soundtrack since that day.

*This entry was created for LJ Idol using the prompt: “Confession from the Chair.”

Comments

( 94 comments — Leave a comment )
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catwomon
Jul. 7th, 2014 04:01 pm (UTC)
Great piece for the topic. I enjoyed it. (smile)
penpusher
Jul. 8th, 2014 01:54 am (UTC)
Thanks! If I had been on the program more recently, there wouldn't have been a chair!
kagomeshuko
Jul. 7th, 2014 09:24 pm (UTC)
Very nice and I know the feeling. I only got to local spelling bees and still live with the error. My sister once got to the national spelling bee and she lives with the word that got her out all the time.
penpusher
Jul. 8th, 2014 01:55 am (UTC)
It really is something that only someone who has been through that element can fully understand. So, I'm glad you get it, but sorry about you and your sis having to deal with that!
(no subject) - kagomeshuko - Jul. 12th, 2014 12:11 am (UTC) - Expand
kagomeshuko
Jul. 7th, 2014 09:25 pm (UTC)
Is this true?
penpusher
Jul. 8th, 2014 01:56 am (UTC)
(no subject) - roina_arwen - Jul. 8th, 2014 04:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - penpusher - Jul. 8th, 2014 12:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - roina_arwen - Jul. 8th, 2014 01:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - penpusher - Jul. 8th, 2014 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lapis_lazuli615 - Jul. 8th, 2014 06:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - penpusher - Jul. 8th, 2014 01:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lapis_lazuli615 - Jul. 8th, 2014 11:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - penpusher - Jul. 10th, 2014 03:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kagomeshuko - Jul. 28th, 2014 12:30 am (UTC) - Expand
impoetry
Jul. 10th, 2014 03:00 am (UTC)
Bah! What a great story! Well, well written, and a great experience. Not sure if it was great to live it. :) Great job!
penpusher
Jul. 10th, 2014 03:15 am (UTC)
It was one of the most unique experiences I've ever had. It was like a roller coaster, a real rush of exhilaration and speed.

Thanks very much!
eska818
Jul. 10th, 2014 06:53 am (UTC)
Very well-written and interesting! It's sad that you didn't win, and I totally agree, hindsight is 20/20, and god does the question that you answered wrong haunt you FOREVER!
penpusher
Jul. 10th, 2014 11:37 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! And, may I say, stated like someone who knows! Did you ever appear on a game show?
(no subject) - eska818 - Jul. 10th, 2014 03:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
adoptedwriter
Jul. 10th, 2014 04:32 pm (UTC)
Wow! What an experience! AW
penpusher
Jul. 13th, 2014 05:09 pm (UTC)
It really was. And thanks for reading along!
kehlen_crow
Jul. 10th, 2014 06:28 pm (UTC)
Very interesting. :)
penpusher
Jul. 13th, 2014 05:09 pm (UTC)
One of the more unique experiences I've ever had. And that's saying a lot!
(no subject) - kehlen_crow - Jul. 13th, 2014 05:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - penpusher - Jul. 13th, 2014 06:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
kickthehobbit
Jul. 11th, 2014 02:48 am (UTC)
...oh, dang!

Nicely done, and I'm really happy to hear that it's true!
penpusher
Jul. 13th, 2014 05:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much. If nothing else, telling this story has allowed me to dust off the cobwebs on this icon!
kittenboo
Jul. 12th, 2014 02:43 am (UTC)
Wow great story, and so perfect for the topic!
penpusher
Jul. 13th, 2014 05:14 pm (UTC)
I appreciate the compliment very much! Thanks!
rayaso
Jul. 12th, 2014 04:23 pm (UTC)
Very well done. As a story, I like that you knew you should have listened to the Beethoven soundtrack, but didn't; in real life, at least for me, that would have haunted me as much as getting the wrong answer. Still, it must have been a great experience.
penpusher
Jul. 13th, 2014 05:19 pm (UTC)
Well, it's one of those things. I think had the consolation prize not been as great, it might have been worse. And, admittedly, I do think about it from time to time. But if I answered incorrectly, I would have left with $32,000, which would have been very bad!

Ultimately, it was a fun time. While I hoped I might book a few more clown gigs at the time, I simply didn't get any jobs via my "fame" from the show. But thanks for reading and your compliment!
elledanger
Jul. 12th, 2014 08:07 pm (UTC)
What a fantastic tale!
penpusher
Jul. 13th, 2014 05:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much!
n3m3sis43
Jul. 12th, 2014 10:05 pm (UTC)
Something they never tell you about being on a game show: you have to live with the question you didn’t answer correctly for the rest of your life.

This is also true of being in the state spelling bee. Ain't nothing better than misspelling a stupid easy word out of nervousness while being televised. :P
penpusher
Jul. 13th, 2014 05:25 pm (UTC)
Oh my. Yes, the thing about mine is I didn't answer incorrectly; I just got to walk away. But certainly it sucks when something like that spelling bee thing occurs.

One of the other contestants in my pool missed an easy question (all questions are easy if you know the answer!) and left with nothing. That was tragic, because we had been sequestered in a room with just the other contestants for 12 hours, so you get to know these people!

But, it's got to be more traumatic for a kid, now that I think about it. The pressure, the work, the wanting to please... Maybe spelling bees should be outlawed?!

Thanks for reading!
favoritebean
Jul. 13th, 2014 03:17 am (UTC)
This made me laugh, only because intuition is such a funny thing.

I enjoyed your piece. For the record, if anyone asks you about Beethoven Symphonies again, I'll be your lifeline.
penpusher
Jul. 13th, 2014 05:36 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I don't know why I didn't get around to looking at that disc. There's no telling what would have happened had I done so. And certainly they gave me a huge hint with the "C: C Minor" clue. It was the only answer that matched up.

It's funny about the "phone a friend" lifeline. Millionaire discontinued it, I think because too many "friends" were giving inadvertent or intentional incorrect answers, sabotaging their contestants. Also, it was difficult to get people to agree to do it! It's a lot of pressure because the friend had to sit around all day, not knowing if or when you would call. Then that person had 30 seconds to respond to the question.

And finally, I did have one friend who never said she knew the answer was C Minor to me. She is an Opera singer! That's how I know she's a true friend. The one person I knew had to know the answer and she never rubbed my face in it.

Thanks so much for your reading, your comment and your lifeline offer!
uncawes
Jul. 13th, 2014 09:10 am (UTC)
You knew the answer, but the pressure of the clock winding down, and all those people watching you, made you brain dump.
My sister went on a TV quiz show back in the 80's. I think she won a car - she definitely won a bunch of other stuff.
Nice take, and well written
penpusher
Jul. 13th, 2014 05:47 pm (UTC)
It's interesting. There was a commercial break right before that big question, and the floor staff came over to congratulate me and they were all saying "now, if you don't know the answer, don't guess!" So, I was kind of psyched out.

There are a bunch of people who do the "game show circuit." That's not as popular as before because there aren't as many games, but a lot of people who appeared on Jeopardy! also did Millionaire. Unfortunately for me, since I have a very distinctive look, I haven't been able to get on other shows. The more generic you appear, the more game chances you have.

But thanks for your thoughts and your compliment!I appreciate both!
bleodswean
Jul. 13th, 2014 02:49 pm (UTC)
Great use of the prompt and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!
penpusher
Jul. 13th, 2014 05:47 pm (UTC)
Yeah, basically! But thanks.
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