Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire - The Game is Afoot!

I appeared on yesterday's (September 27th, 2011) original episode of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". This is the story of what happened after Meredith Viera announced my name.


Standing on the steps of the Millionaire stage, I could feel many higher brain functions overloading. I had not expected the nervousness to overwhelm me in such a way. It wasn't that I couldn't think - it was that my mind was racing and trying to process the whole situation while simultaneously controlling my emotions and at the same time sustaining the life functions of within my body.
John Kuczaj Aug 31, 2011

Luckily I had already pooped earlier that morning.

First up was the ceremonial kiss-greeting with Meredith. I hate the cheek-to-cheek kiss-greeting. I find it fake and unsatisfying. Yet, I knew I could not approach with outstretched tongue. I acquiesced. Step over to the podium and look down to make sure I am on my mark. Whew! Everything's going as just as I expected.

"So how long have you wanted to be on the show?" Meredith asks.
Wait, what?
This is the most obvious part of the show where my nervousness comes out. I had not expected this question. Before the show, the Producers I had talked with said that she would probably ask me about my music or maybe the comic collection. I didn't know that something I mentioned at the audition 7 weeks prior would make it on the show. I had mentioned that I went to the first auditions for the show 10 years prior. Seemed like an off-handed comment. Yikes. Now I needed to summon up my year of Improv "Yes, and" training to find an appropriate answer.
"...I've wanted to be on the show since the show came into syndication," I blurted.
Ugh...wasn't ready for that. Let's just get to the game.


Most of my friends and family didn't know that last season the show was changed so that all the money amounts are randomized, then the questions are randomized. Now you could get a hard question with a low dollar amount and an easy question with a high dollar amount. This eliminated the most boring part of the classic show where contestants answered several "duh" questions until they got to the harder questions.

I would say it also made the show harder.

Now you could see an easy question and wonder if it were a trick question (which they never do anyway). Yikes!

Take a look at how my categories were shuffled HERE.
The hardest category was shuffled down as the first question!

Question #1: Category, 'Bewildering Bylines'

What unusual twosome co-wrote an opinion piece in USA Today in 2011 about the need to eradicate dirty stoves in homes worldwide?John Kuczaj Question #1
A: Angelina Jolie and Bob Dole
B: Sandra Bullock and Joe Biden
C: Julia Roberts and Hillary Clinton
D: Madonna and Colin Powell
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the hardest of the bunch. Oh, love my luck!
My first thought: "What the F@#&???" My second thought: "Since when does anyone pay attention to USA Today opinion pieces?" I had never heard about this before so I knew immediately to jump the question, so I used my first lifeline on the first question.
The answer was C: Julia and Hilary. Good for them.

Question #2: Category, 'Ancient Trends'

Finding 57 of them preserved on a 5,300-year-old mummy, scientists had to rethink the origins of what body decoration?
A: Tattoos
B: Bracelets
C: Piercings
D: Necklaces
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the #4 on the 1-10 easy-to-hard scale. I could not decide between tattoos and Piercings. On the one hand, 57 tattoos seemed excessive for someone not dating Kat Von D. On the other, I could see 57 pieces of metal attached to a mummy. I wasn't too sure, so on the second question I felt I needed to burn my second lifeline. I wasn't completely sure the audience was made up of mostly archaeologists and anthropologists, so I jumped the question.

The answer was A: Tattoos.
Skipping the first two questions…all I could think about was that I was in trouble. And that I must look really dumb.

Question #3: Category, 'Party Time'

A recent social trend, "dadchelor parties" are events thrown for men who are about to what?
John Kuczaj Question #3 A: Graduate from college
B: Buy a home
C: Have a baby
D: Retire from a job
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the easiest question. Earlier in the day, a Producer gave us tips on what to expect and how to play. One of those tips was that some questions actually lead you to the answer if you read them. I have never heard of the term "Dadchelor Party" and I have yet to find someone who has. However, considering I am planning a Bachelor Party for my friend Joe, this seemed like a simple analogy question to me Marriage is to Bachelor party as WHAT is to Dadchelor party.
I made an educated guess of C: Have a baby and was correct!
Then the money was revealed - $25,000! Wow! With one question, I was out of a massive hole! Sweet! Also: Meredith High-Fived me! Ha!

Commercial Break

At this point in the game, we went to commercial and I was able to bask in my last-question success. While a few adjustments were being made, Meredith and I had some small talk time. She was consoling about the first two questions and said good job on the last one. She mentioned that she had lived in Chicago for a time and that a couple of her kids were going to Northwestern University. In the short time I talked with her onstage, I can tell she's a very nice person. The Producers had even told us that she takes it hard when people miss questions. I believe that.

In my post yesterday, I mentioned that my strategy was to only answer the question if I was 100% sure, otherwise use up my lifelines and then walk away. There was also a second part of my Strategy - take a lot of time before answering every question. When you watch the show, it looks like I answered everything very quick. Not so. They edited a lot out. Even (sadly) some funny banter between Meredith and I. The next question was the only question that needed no editing.

Question #4: Category, 'Book Buying' - Double Money Question

Using an image from a classic children's book, Barnes & Noble offers a gift card that shows a girl and her pig looking at a what?
John Kuczaj Question #4
A: Ant
B: Butterfly
C: Spider
D: Grasshopper
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the #5 on the 1-10 easy-to-hard scale. I had an inkling that it was the spider and maybe Charlotte's Web, but I never read the book and vaguely remembered the 1973 animated movie. My strategy dictated that I ask the audience.
87% of them said it was C: Spider. HA!
I felt the audience at that point was getting an air of superiority about them, so I decided to stroke their collective ego
"This audience has yet to fail me," I said, getting a big laugh and applause from them. Then when Meredith added the great straight-man's line of "There is always a first time…" I had a chance to throw out some of my better facial reactions.
Okay, I accepted that overwhelming vote and locked it in waiting to see what dollar amount would be doubled. $100!!!! Woo-hooo! $25,200 in the bank!
Actually, I did cheer this in an exaggerated fashion, but I still had a ton of pent-up anxiety to deal with. By this time you might expect me to ease into things. Not at all. I was having difficulty concentrating and standing still.

Question #5: Category, 'Winning Formulas'

"All I had to do was keep turning left," said George Robson about his 1946 victory in what sporting event?
A: Boston Marathon
B: Indianapolis 500
C: PGA Championship
D: Wimbledon
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the #2 on the 1-10 easy-to-hard scale but I found easiest. Duh…racecar drivers on an oval only turn left. Strange that they named the category "Winning Formulas" because Formula One racers turn left and right on most of their courses.

I said B: Indianapolis 500, and that was correct. $7,000 more in the bank that now totaled $32,200.

Question #6: Category, 'Different Strokes'

Due to his unusual painting technique, what artist earned the nickname "Jack the Dripper"?
John Kuczaj Question #1 A: Jackson Pollock
B: Salvador Dali
C: Jasper Johns
D: Marcel Duchamp
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the #3 on the 1-10 easy-to-hard scale but I know little about painting. Cut from the show was me reading the question to myself again and then each name aloud. Concentration was minimal. However, I remembered that they have no trick questions. I vaguely recalled Jackson Pollock as being a "messy" painter and he was the only one whose first name was "Jack" or "John", so I made an educated guess of A: Jackson Pollock.
Correct! And $15,000 behind that question. I was floored...well...the look on my face says it all! $47,200 in the bank. Oh, my! I let out a few "woo"'s in order to release some of that building tension.

Question #7: Category, 'Foreign Leaders'

In the 1950s and '60s, what Asian country had a president who was affectionately referred to by his citizens as "Uncle Ho"?
John Kuczaj Question #1
A: Japan
B: India
C: Vietnam
D: China
This question ended up being what the Producers considered the #9 on the 1-10 easy-to-hard scale. Okay, so this is where things started to unravel in my head. I heard the question. Then I read the question to myself. Then I read it again. I could not comprehend what I was reading. Vapor Lock. I took a lot of time answering this question because I was out of my mind by that time. I read it again aloud and "Ho Chi Minh Trail" hit me. Duh. Vietnam. Final answer.
Correct! For another $500 and now $47,700 in the bank.!!!
Going into commercial break, I gave Meredith the laser eyes "I'm freaking out here" look.

Club Millionaire & Say Hi to the Girlfriend

During the commercial break, Meredith did a "Club Millionaire" bumper question. There were some technical issues so it took a while. Meredith asked me how long Crystal and I had been dating. I told her 9 months and that things were looking very good. She said that was wonderful. I had a feeling that meant we'd introduce Crystal to the TV audience next and hoped that I could talk about my music and mention "Atomic Shop" on the air. We came back from commercial, Meredith mentioned Crystal, who waved to the camera then to me, and we kept playing. Sadly, all of that was cut out of the show (sorry, babe) and even more disappointing, I was not able to mention my music on national-freaking-television!

Question #8: Category, 'Cover Girl'

What supermodel has appeared on the most covers of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue?
A: Elle Macpherson
B: Christie Brinkley
C: Kathy Ireland
D: Cheryl Tiegs
"Well, if the question were about all the sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues I possess," I said as Meredith chuckled, "I know the answer, and that would be C: Kathy Ireland". Now, during the taping, my deliberations went longer - even to a point where Meredith asked me where I kept my swimsuit issues (she's a great straight-man!) and I replied I kept them under the bed. I recalled the "Family Guy" episode with the Kathy Ireland cut-out. I knew is wasn't Christie Brinkley or Cheryl Tiegs. I was not 100% sure what it was. My strategy dictated that I walk. Except I never thought that. I never thought about getting more money either. It was crazy…I just plowed ahead to answer the question. WTF!

"Meredith, I'm going to swing away on this," I said, "I'm going to say C: Kathy Ireland...and that's my final answer."
At that point, I felt the music tone changed and the pause was too long.
Fuck. Me. I blew it!.
It was Elle Macpherson…on the cover 5 times. I could have walked away with $23,850 but instead left with $1,000
This is me, trying to figure out WHY I even answered that question.
Meredith was bummed and as we waited for "clear" she tried to console. I said I guess I was thinking who's been in the most issues (probably not true either) but mostly I was trying to figure out why I didn't follow the strategy. Why did I answer the question at all?

Tomorrow: Coping With The Failure