Film and TV

Drowning Without a Lifeline: One Man's Failed, Bleary-Eyed Attempt to Audition for Millionaire

It's easy to sit at home and play along with a trivia game show like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and believe you could breeze through the questions to the $1 million bounty. Actually trying out for a shot to be considered for a seat in that cushy, purple chair isn't quite so breezy. Even a proud trivia buff like myself isn't ready to rattle off the distance between Mars and Neptune in centimeters or the number of molecules in a Twinkie.

Last Monday, several local residents and I descended on the Hilton Garden Inn in Allen and learned just what it would take to become a contestant for the new season of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? hosted by Cedric the Entertainer.

First of all, those of us who didn't get up at the crack of dawn to wait in line for the chance to take the test learned the very first challenge of winning just about any prize on a game show: parking. The line of wannabes snaked out the rear door and around the entire back of the building, which meant the hotel's parking lot was flooded with cars. The auditions started at 7 a.m. on a Monday and I tend to work a lot of nights, so just getting there on time was its own challenge. I was able to squeeze in just enough sleep to arrive without mainlining 5-Hour Energy shots, but that meant I wouldn't be one of the first in the door.

Thankfully, everyone with a smart phone is prepared for eventualities like these, and the line itself didn't take very long to move. They would let it in about 50 people at a time to take the test. The line monitors kept us engaged by spilling details about the show, challenging us to dance-offs and giving out free swag. The cheery monitors brought me to the second and more personally challenging part of auditioning: the demand for unbridled enthusiasm. Thanks to a lifetime of game show watching and previous research on the subject, I know that producers look for contestants who are genuinely happy, cheerful and pleasant to give the audience someone to root for. I'm not an unhappy person, but I do have one of those naturally sad looking faces that make people wonder if someone had killed my dog earlier that morning. Couple that with the fact that I wasn't able to make a coffee run, and I had all the charm of Tommy Lee Jones on an episode of Glee.

After a couple of hours or so of waiting in line, they shuffled us into the hotel's multipurpose room and sat us in front of our testing materials. The monitors tried to keep the crowd's spirits up by blasting in bubblegum pop music over what must be the worst sound system in the metroplex, forgetting the fact that the daytime show's audience must be qualified to join AARP. The music got worse as the monitors kept pumping up the crowd until Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" actually caused one of the contestants at the table behind me to leave because, according to someone seated next to him, "he said he can't take it anymore." That's when I learned the third lesson of game show preparation: endurance.

Finally, we were allowed to open our testing packets and let our vast collection of worthless knowledge spill on to our Scantron sheets. I don't remember most of the questions, since I was so focused on the task at hand, but some were a struggle. That led to lesson number four: Be prepared to not know something. Everyone thinks they may know enough to get past the first stage, but something will come up that you don't know. Even John Carpenter, the first American contestant to win the grand prize, didn't know that using his lifeline just to call his Dad to say he didn't need his help to win the $1 million prize would make him look like a smarmy jerk on national television.

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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.