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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Friday, September 05, 2008

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

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 yet, you might want to scroll down and do so before reading this entry.

9:45 am We've been ushered into a back room in the building that contains the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! attraction. Here we line up to receive a package of legal papers to sign, get our picture taken, hand in our application, and go through a brief interview conducted by a producer.
I try to smile sincerely for my photo, making an effort to look happy and interesting instead of bored and tired. The photographer hands me the Polaroid. Wait, who's this balding fat guy in the picture? Oh God, it's me.

9:50 am I close my suit jacket more around my body and then look at my photo. For some reason, this trick doesn't make my image look any thinner.
I finally get to my brief interview with one of the producers. "So," he asks, looking at my application, "You're a 'reports specialist'. What's that?"
I try to explain and wind up boring myself in the process. I have no chance of getting to the Hot Seat.

10:00 am Since going through the line, I've been sitting on this folding chair which is slightly more comfortable, I imagine, than sitting on a rabid porcupine. We've all been told where to sit. We've also been told that we may not get up to use the bathroom. Basically, they're treating us with all the dignity one would give a first-grader.
Finally, one of the producers stands up before the audience to speak to us about the day's activities. He's got that trendy, I'm-looking-disheveled-on-purpose-because-I'm-a-cool-young-guy-look going on, complete with the bed-head hairdo. I wish I had enough hair left so that I could choose not to comb it like that.

10:45 am Young Unkempt Guy was followed by a couple of other crew members who basically re-iterated what he said. The last speaker is a cute young brunette who is evidently unaware she is holding a microphone. I've heard civil defense alarms that aren't as loud as she is. She is also the most condescending of all the speakers. She informs us that when we are allowed to use the restroom, we will be escorted out in small groups. Kindergarten all over again.
The whole time these people are speaking, all I can think of is calling my wife and using the bathroom (though not at the same time). I am anxious to find out what her plans are. Finally, we're allowed a couple of minutes to use cell phones if we have them. Unfortunately, no one's phones are working in the building, and they won't let us walk outside.
A lady loans me her phone to use. I am able to connect with my wife, but there's too much static. All I hear is, "Zzzkt! I zzzkt try zzzkt zzkt bus."
"No!" I yell into the phone. My wife, though young, isn't in the best of health, and it would take at least an hour and a half by bus to get from our house to the theme park. "Don't take the bus!" I yell. It's too late. The connection is dead and Loud Girl is telling us to sit down.

11:30 am For the last half-hour or so we've been subjected to the droning on of the show's attorney, who is wearing a necktie with a knot roughly the same size as his head. The first part of his speech deals with game strategy ("Don't choose answer 'D' on the first question"). Legal issues and instructions are the topics of the second part of his speech, which is almost more interesting than watching paint dry. The situation is made worse by certain, let's call them intelligence challenged, individuals in the crowd who insist on either asking him dumb questions or telling him lawyer jokes. Why are stupid people always the loudest?
The whole time all I can think about is my wife and how I hope she doesn't take the bus.

11:55 am Finally, I am escorted with a small group of other possible contestants outside to an area with both restrooms and payphones. When I get a hold of my wife, she tells me she went to the bus stop, but the one bus going to MGM has already left for the day. She starts to cry because she thinks she let me down. What a trooper. I assure her she hasn't let me down, and that I am in fact relieved that she didn't catch the bus. I won't have anyone in the audience, but it'll be ok.
From this point on, we are not allowed to contact anyone "on the outside" for the rest of the day. They tell us we are in "game show contestant isolation".

12:00 noon My group is back in the studio building where all the other potential contestants are eating lunch. I've been looking forward to this - I haven't had anything to eat all day. When my group gets to the lunch table, however, all of the bagged lunches are gone! It turns out some of the other contestants must have eaten more than one lunch - I bet they're the same contestants who were asking the lawyer dumb questions. It's ok though, one of the producers went to where the staff was eating and got some of their catered food for us. Their food is better anyway.

12:15 pm I sit down next to someone I'll call "Jim". "Jim" starts to talk to me and doesn't stop for another 45 minutes. I am amazed at his lung capacity. Still, our conversation is the most interesting thing to happen to me today. He tells me I'm easy to talk to. I think it's because I'm good at pretending to listen. He's a nice guy. We hit it off pretty well.

1:15 pm We are finally in the studio getting ready to tape... I hope.

Up next - So Who Wants to be a Millionaire Anyway? Part III

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Monday, September 01, 2008

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

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.

5:50 am Saturday Morning
I am in my car in front of the Disney MGM theme park front gate, joining a long line of cars, which are full of hundreds of other people nutty enough to be up at this time on a Saturday. We are all on the same quest - we want to be contestants on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
It's a long shot. There will eventually be 1200 of us. Of those, 325 will be chosen to be in the studio audience. Of those 325, 10 to 15 of us will be chosen to sit on the Hot Seat across from Meredith Viera. The rest of that 325 will have to sit through the taping of five episodes, even though they will not get a chance to win any money, which means a long day ahead.
We were supposed to be here by 6:00 am. I didn't leave as early as I would've liked. Let's just say I drove in a somewhat extralegal manner to get here.

6:00 am
The line starts moving. Slowly. Very slowly.

6:20 am
I have finally made it from the front gate to the parking lot. I get out of my car and rush to the ticket gate. Rush, not run. I am eager to be a millionaire, but not if it means looking like a dork. Even in Disney, it's important to be cool.

6:25 am
I am in line. A single-file line of 1200 people. I'm going to be here a while. I don't mind, though. After all, I'm going to be a millionaire! Woo-hoo!

7:00 am
I finally see what I am waiting for. Evidently, if you make it to the end of the line, you get a green wristband! There's only a couple hundred people ahead of me now!

7:55 am
I have my wristband! I am number 848 out of 1200. HA! Those poor saps behind me who still have to wait! HA!

8:00 am
They've seated us in the Indiana Jones stadium attraction, in pretty much the same order that we stood in line. Along the way here, we were directed by some Disney Police, dressed in their officially festive uniforms. I wonder what kind of person would be intimidated by someone dressed in glow-in-the-dark pastels.
We've been given applications to fill out while we are waiting in the stadium. It asks questions like "What's the wackiest thing you've ever done for a buck?", and "You won't believe this, but I [fill in blank]". I am trying to think of something interesting to write about myself. It's embarrassingly hard. The most interesting thing I can think to write is "I am a card-carrying member of the Cherokee nation, yet I don't look Indian!" I need to trade lives with someone.

8:35 am
A very nice man sitting in the next seat offers me a piece of gum. It's that brand that you have to pop the individual pieces out of this foil. Two of the pieces end up on the ground. The guy doesn't mind.
I start to fill out the form where I am to list my Phone-a-Friends. It says cell phone numbers are not allowed. What? I don't remember reading that on the Millionaire website! Who knows five people who can be available for eight hours straight on a Saturday? For all but one of my Phone-A-Friends, I only brought cell numbers. That leaves my 61-year-old mother, who would probably be somewhere herself, if not for wanting to be available for me today.
Soon, they'll be calling out numbers during the random selection process to see who will be in the audience. It's been around three hours since most of the people here arrived. I wonder how many of them have to pee.

9:00 am
A man on the stage wearing a blazer starts to speak. He has perfect hair. Helmet hair. Immovable hair. You need hair like that in Florida, what with the hurricanes and all.
Someone seated near me in the audience recognizes him as one of the local hosts of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! attraction here at the park.
He launches into a Howard Dean-style crazy speech, trying to whip us into a frenzy of excitement. "Who's ready to win some money? Who?"
Then he starts his Oprah impersonation, pointing at the audience, yelling, "You could be a millionaire! You could be a millionaire! You could be a millionaire!" Everyone responds with cheers and yells. We've caught it - Millionaire Fever!

9:15 am I realize now that there's a 75% chance I won't be picked to be among the 325. If I am picked, there's an even greater chance I won't be picked to be a contestant. That means, if I am picked to be in the audience, I could spend 14 hours here without even having a chance to play for any money. What am I doing here?

9:20 am They finally start drawing numbers. One person who get's picked screams "I'm going to be a millionaire!" I think he should have yelled, "I'm going to be an audience member! Woo-hoo!"
It's ok. I've convinced myself I won't be picked and thus won't have to waste my entire day here. I start to think about what I might do with the rest of my Saturday.

9:30 am My daydreams about the Saturday before me are interrupted when the nice chewing gum guy beside me says, "Wasn't that your number they just called out?"
It is. Dang.
The Chosen Ones line up at the top of the bleachers to receive yet another wristband.
A nice lady in front of me loans me her cell phone so I can call my wife. It's one of those tiny phones with buttons designed for Barbie doll fingers.
My wife and I have only one car (I drove it here) and she's not sure anyone will be available to pick her up and bring her to the show. There's no way she could've come here with me. She doesn't do 5 am. I'm beginning to think she's a lot saner than I am.
I can't talk long - one of the bossy people involved with the show is telling me to turn off the cell phone. I ignore the bossy person as long as I can, but I hang up not knowing if I'm going to have anyone in the audience. This could be awkward if I'm on the Hot Seat and Meredith asks who's at the show with me. "I'm married, Meredith, really. And I have friends. I'm not a loser, I swear!" I probably could have planned this better.

-Coming Soon: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Anyway? - Part II

Monday, September 01, 2008   Bookmark in  | |   Digg Story  | |   Slashdot This Story