Saturday, September 06, 2008

So Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Anyway? - Part III

Below is a chronicle of my recent attempt to be a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire during the show's Walk In and Win! promotion. If you haven't read Part I and II yet, you might want to scroll down and do so before reading this entry. This entry deals with the actual taping of the show. Because all of us who tried out for the show signed confidentiality agreements, I can't reveal what happened in front of the camera.


1:20 pm Taping was supposed to start already, but we're doing what we've been doing all day - something I like to call "structured waiting". Jim is sitting next to me. He's still talking.


1:30 pm (approximately) The warm-up comic, Paul Mecurio, comes out. It seems his main job is to tell us how to laugh and clap. There are no microphones over the audience, so in order for the stage mics to pick up laughter and applause from the audience, it has to be exaggerated, much louder than normal. "When you laugh, don't do one of those little Jeopardy laughs - you know, 'heh, heh, heh'. Give a big belly-laugh, 'HA!', real loud like that. So go ahead, do it, everybody say 'HA!'"

"HA!!" we all scream enthusiastically at the top of our lungs. We sound less amused, and more like a bunch of psychotic ninjas about to attack. But what would you expect from a crowd of loopy, materialistic people who have been waiting for ... my God, how long have I been here?

Almost 2 pm-ish Time is beginning to lose meaning now. Must keep it together.

Paul has wrapped up his warm-up bit, and we finally begin taping. I say "we" begin taping, but it's not like I'm helping to run the camera or anything. Not that I would mind that. In fact, it might make me more interested in what's going on.

Meredith Viera comes out and begins doing an opening monologue to start the show. Now we're getting somewhere! It's about time we got this party started! No, wait. She walked out incorrectly, so they have to tape that part over again.

After several minutes, Meredith comes out again. She manages to walk out correctly, gets through the monologue, and picks up the envelope containing the number of the first contestant chosen. It's not my number. Oh well, maybe the next one.

Later, I think Time has lost all meaning for me now. The first contestant has been seated, and is asked the first question. Of course, the "D" answer is always a joke answer. We laugh with appropriately mild amusement. That's not good enough, though. So Paul Mecurio comes out and signals to us to laugh louder. "HA!" we respond, remembering our battle cry. I'm not sure that's what he was expecting either.

First Show, First Commercial Break During the first commercial break after a new contestant has started, that contestant is brought back-stage for make-up and to be fitted with a microphone. There is no time to do these things before-hand, since he comes straight from the audience to the stage. I guess that means he has to spend the first part of the game trying to speak up while his skin looks all splotchy.

Meredith is also taken back stage. She is only brought out when it is time to tape. Maybe she'll spoil if she's left out too long. She looks good, though. I've never seen someone made up so well that she makes everyone else in a stadium look homely by comparison.

Paul comes out and tells us we didn't laugh loud enough. I feel like I've let Paul down. He makes us practice again. "HA!"

In Between First and Second Shows The audience is not made up entirely of potential contestants and their families. Half of the audience is made up of people visiting the park today. Those people get to leave after the first show. We can't even get up to go to the bathroom, at least not by ourselves. Again, we're told we'll be allowed to go to the restroom in small, escorted groups. It's alright. They've been wearing me down gradually so that I've been slowly loosening my grip on my own dignity anyway. Before the restroom announcement, I was holding on by the tip of my pinky. So why not let go completely?

Time to placate the restless horde. You would think it would take a lot to make content a large group of poorly-fed, bladder-filled, bored people sitting on uncomfortable seats. You would be wrong. Apparently, all it takes is cheap T-shirts that smell like Vinegar. Loud music starts to play, and crew members come out to throw these T-shirts into the audience. Here's the part that fascinates me - the crowd goes wild. Everybody stands up and starts screaming for these shirts, like we're a bunch of naked refugees. I stand up, but I just can't bring myself to care enough to try hard to catch a shirt. Besides, I don't have a chance with my short, stubby arms on my Pillsbury Dough-Boy frame. Jim catches one. Being a nice guy, he offers it to me. I turn him down. I wouldn't feel right taking it, since he caught it. He catches another one and offers it to me. I take it this time. I have a shirt. Yahoo.

Eventually, more tourists file in to fill up the rest of the seats. They look so happy. I hate them.

Paul comes out to deliver another warm-up routine. It would make me laugh, were it not the exact same material he used before. In addition to the jokes, he gives the same instructions about laughing and clapping really loudly. Like a bunch of trained seals, we give him the "HA!", right on queue.

Sometime Later The second show has started. They unplug Meredith-bot and send her out to us. She's walking with the last contestant from the first show, holding hands. I think that would make me feel weird. Don't get me wrong, Meredith is attractive alright. But, since I've been married, I've not held hands with another woman. Besides, who knows where Meredith's hand has been?

A Break During the Second Show Paul comes out, as he does during every break, to tell us we're not laughing and clapping loud enough. I'm doing my best, Paul! What do you want from me?!!

Between the Second and Third Show It's not my turn. I haven't been given permission. But I get up and go to the restroom anyway. I feel like a rebel, no, I feel dangerous. Yeah, that's it. I'm a bad mammer jammer, and ain't nobody can stop me.
I just hope Meredith doesn't see me.

Same Break, Sometime Later My new buddy Jim and I get another chance to talk. Well, Jim does anyway. It turns out Jim is a pretty interesting guy. He has a really successful landscape business, which he started from nothing. When he started, all he had was one push-mower and a machete, to do the edging with. Now he owns a big house in a really nice part of town, and has several employees working for him. He's also putting two kids through college.
His brother has an even more successful cement-mixing business, which he also started from almost nothing. His brother has a fleet of trucks and is a self-made millionaire.
You wouldn't get this impression from talking to Jim. He seems like a simple good ol' boy from the sticks. But he has a pretty sharp business mind and thinks about a lot of deep things. He offers to take me fishing with him around Cape Canaveral. That would be an interesting day.

Loud music starts up again. Again with the T-shirts. The crowd goes wild again. It's not just people who didn't get shirts the first time. It's everybody. Jim is on his fifth shirt. What is wrong with these people?! Wait, I understand now. Everyone here is insane. I don't know whether they all came to the show this way, or it's the result of the torture the Millionaire people have put us through, but everyone here has lost their mind.
Jim confirms this for me later when he makes the comment, "You know, I don't care if I win any money. I think it's great just to be here and watch how they tape the show. I would be happy just to have the privilege of meeting Meredith." Yes, there can be no doubt now. Jim is one of them.
You know what's really frightening? I feel my own sanity slowly slipping away.

Even Later, Probably. I Don't Know. Who Cares Anymore? Paul comes out. Same schtick. Gag me.

Break During the ... What Is This, the Third Show? It's Only the Third Show? Gaaaagh!! Sheriff Paul of the Laughter Police comes out to scold us again about not laughing loud enough. I never knew I was capable of manufacturing such high levels of fake excitement. But I do it. Whenever they give the signal, I laugh obnoxiously loud, I cheer, I yell, I clap until my hands bleed. At one point, I even hear myself say the word, "Woo-hoo". Woo-hoo? Who-hoo?!!! I must hold on to what little is left of my sanity.

Dinner Break The third show is done taping and we break for dinner. They usher us backstage to the same bleak room where we waited before. During a brief moment of clarity, I manage to look at my watch. It's around 6:00 pm. What the - ? Crap! We were supposed to be almost done taping by now. But we still have dinner to eat and two more shows to tape. Crap!

More boxed food. This time it is fried chicken (which was probably warm at some point), something pretending to be an unidentifiable vegetable, a stale roll, and what is probably the highlight of my entire day - a big honkin' chocolate chip cookie. The cookie is just about the only edible part of the whole meal. Besides a couple bites of the chicken, it's the only part I eat. There isn't even any butter to go with the stale roll.

Jim gives me his cookie. This guy is a little too nice. He asks me what I do to relax.
Now for someone who is the least bit interesting, this would be an easy question to answer. The person who is the least bit interesting would start to describe some fascinating hobby of his, or would recount that latest book he is reading. I just wish I were the least bit interesting. "I dunno," I tell him, "watch TV, I guess."
"Do you drink, Bill?"
"Sure. Sometimes."
"I don't. I don't drink at all. I smoke a little weed, though. In fact, I have some in my pocket now."
Jim doesn't know it yet, but he and I will not be hanging out in the future.


Beginning of the Fourth Show We've all been T-shirted and laughter-lectured for the fourth time, so it's time to take the Meredith doll out of her special box so that we mere mortals may gaze upon her again.

Break During the Fourth Show Again with the scolding. Paul says he knows we're tired, but we need to show more excitement. I'll show as much excitement as I feel like! Do you hear me Paul? Do you? I'm beginning to believe maybe Paul can hear my thoughts. Good.

You probably can't tell, but I'm a little bitter right now. I can't tell you how many contestants have had their numbers called so far, but I can tell you I'm not one of them! Wait, I know what it is. Yes, that's it. Meredith hates me.

Break Between the Fourth and Fifth Show They tell us that no one will be allowed to get up to use the restroom this time. It's ok, because I'm starting to realize that I am actually one of those Disney animatronic robots, like the ones in the Hall of Presidents. After all, I stand up on command, sit down on command, cheer, laugh, clap, laugh louder, all on command. I even start to feel the bolts that fasten my feet to the floor. What would I need with the restroom anyway?

Again with the T-shirts. More insanity. For the love of God, people, it's the fourth time! Stop the insanity!

Paul comes out to do his warm-up routine again. He's done it so many times, I could do it. But, this time, even Paul seems tired. I almost expect him to say, "Laugh as loud as you want. Or don't laugh. I don't care." But he doesn't.

Fifth and Final (Thank God) Show Meredith starts out by saying, "Well, it's Friday..." and I believe her. How many days have I been here? I'll never be able to leave. I'll be spending eternity sitting in this stupid auditorium perfecting my fake laugh.

Sometime During the Fifth Show Paul again. 'Laugh louder', he says. Forget you, Paul! I'm not your trained monkey! I'm not going to laugh for you anymore! So there!

Sometime Later We have over an hour of tape, but the final contestant hasn't finished her game, and the show will be returning to its New York studios on Monday. So the Executive Producer decides we'll keep taping until the contestant loses, walks away, or wins the million dollars. This is the day that will never end!

End of the Fifth Show The contestant finishes her game. The studio lights do their flickering dance. The theme music plays. The crowd cheers wildly. We all stand up to leave. We're done! I can't believe it! I'm free! Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, I'm... Wait. Paul comes out to tell us we have a little bit more to tape. No!!!!!!!!!!!!! I actually hear myself yell out at Paul, "Oh, come on!"

It seems there was something wrong with the equipment during the little get-to-know-you chat Meredith had with the last contestant. This is the part they tape again. Keep in mind, the contestant has already played her entire game.

Meredith: So, I understand you're a mom.

Contestant: Yes, I have two little girls.

Meredith: I bet they're excited that you're here.

Contestant: Oh yes, very excited.

Meredith: So, are you ready to get started?

Contestant: I sure am!

Meredith: Then let's get ready to play, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire!

This would be funny if I were not ready to kill someone out of sheer crankiness.

Almost 11pm At last, they let us go. Almost 15 hours after I got here. This is one day of my life I will never get back.
I slip out into the crowd before Jim gets a chance to ask for my number. I finally make it outside and start the long walk to my car. I feel some drops of water on my head. It's starting to rain. Perfect, just perfect.

11:15 pm I'm home. My wife is in bed, half-asleep. "Did you win anything?" she asks.

Here it is, my chance to bring out what I have to show for this entire day, what reward I've received for all the waiting I did, something to justify how exhausted I am. I show her my T-shirt.

She rolls over briefly for a closer look. "It smells like vinegar," she says, then goes back to sleep.

Yep. Smells like vinegar.

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9 Comments:

Blogger mr. schprock said...

This is not a comment on your most recent post, but rather to tell you how much I enjoyed "The Nerds are Coming" and of my plan to methodically read all your posts in chronological order. Good, good stuff.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Thanks! I hope to be updating this blog at least twice a week.

8:56 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Just read ’em all. You're description of what it's like to be a "Millionaire" contestant was great. I almost feel like I experienced it myself. You're a very good writer and a lot of fun to read.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Brant said...

Great job with the Millionaire story. To think I was going to come down from NJ just to get my chance (although a WDW trip would have made the tragedy more bearable). What did you think of the lady walking away with 300?? More of a disgrace to the other 350 people than someone leaving with nothing, she stole your turn! Were the snotty trivia geeks in the audience making side remarks??

7:01 PM  
Blogger trinamick said...

I've told my friends hundreds of times that there's no way game show audiences are really that thrilled. Thanks for proving me right. I wouldn't have lasted that long before I went postal, I'm afraid.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

Brant,

What was really painful was having to sit there and watch her try to make up her mind whether to walk away on that last question. They didn't show it on the show, but she took forever to decide. When she finally made up her mind, Meredith had to ask the producers if it was allowed to walk away with such a small amount! According to Meredith, no one has every walked away with so little before!

And yeah, I was a little bitter she made it to the hot seat and I didn't.

10:59 AM  
Blogger tanas said...

Great post.
Was in room full of people when reading this one, but couldn't hold the laugther.
I find the way you build up the tension incredibly convincing.

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill,
Really good article. I was just cracking up all the way...Thing is a few weeks I auditioned for the show in NY. In this case it's my fault I was just not ready but chances are better because If you score well you will know that day but it takes longer to even up to a year. Question is what's the score? They don't give us that information. So anyway, I spent 2 tapings there. All excited and being crazy during the first taping and by the 2nd taping I was just exhausted. I can imagine what you were going through with 5 of those(laughter and clapping sessions)...and worse off not being able to get to the hot seat.
Thanks for sharing your experience but most importantly this made it so much easier for me not to go to this year's walk and win promo. I was considering scrounging around for some change so I can drive from Philly but since I'm not a very lucky person, I'll just wait to audition in NY again when they return.
Keep us posted if you ever get to the seat :) Oh but again they probably won't allow you to do that till the tapping of the show gets on TV.

12:22 AM  
Blogger Madge said...

Bill,
Really good article. I was just cracking up all the way...Thing is a few weeks I auditioned for the show in NY. In this case it's my fault I was just not ready but chances are better because If you score well you will know that day but it takes longer to even up to a year. Question is what's the score? They don't give us that information. So anyway, I spent 2 tapings there. All excited and being crazy during the first taping and by the 2nd taping I was just exhausted. I can imagine what you were going through with 5 of those(laughter and clapping sessions)...and worse off not being able to get to the hot seat.
Thanks for sharing your experience but most importantly this made it so much easier for me not to go to this year's walk and win promo. I was considering scrounging around for some change so I can drive from Philly but since I'm not a very lucky person, I'll just wait to audition in NY again when they return.
Keep us posted if you ever get to the seat :) Oh but again they probably won't allow you to do that till the tapping of the show gets on TV.

12:22 AM  

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