Why,oh why,didnt I know the president of Nigerias name? I had swept through nine questions and logged $60,000 by the time I made my fatal guess as a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
The correct name of Nigerias leader? Its Goodluck Jonathan. My good luck had run out.
Millionaire host Cedric The Entertainer dispatched me with a sympathetic farewell. The audience applauded warmly. I exited the stage. My moment in the spotlight and my bid to be a millionaire was over.
The loss I felt was only slightly eased by the fact that this was all for practice. I had been invited to take part in a rehearsal show that will never be aired. (Which means no one will ever know my lame-brain final answer.)
On September 2,the new season of Millionaire premieres for real,ushering in new host Cedric The Entertainer,who follows Meredith Vieiras 11 seasons and,of course,Regis Philbin,who emceed the prime-time ABC version from 2000 to 2002.
The Millionaire run-through I appeared on was one of a couple Cedric hosted just days before beginning the real-deal,five-a-day,five-days-per-week regimen that yields a seasons requisite 175 shows in only 35 production days.
Cedrics credits include the Barbershop films,The Original Kings of Comedy and his current sitcom The Soul Man,along with his stand-up career. Clearly,hes a seasoned pro,complete with dapper wardrobe and signature trove of jaunty headwear.
Cedric isnt privy to answers to the questions he asks,which suits him fine. Its not really my job to act like Im the smartest guy in the room, he said. But you have to know the game. Theyre serious about the rules.
Yes,theythe producersare very serious. Millionaire even has a production attorney,Scott Greenberg,whose job includes making sure those rules are obeyed. Greenberg gives each contestant a detailed briefing as part of the lengthy preparation process. Be careful how you use the word jump, he cautioned me at one point,referring to the new life-line (Phone a Friend is gone) where you dont know an answer and want to bail. If you say,Im gonna have to jump this question,that may trigger an actual jump.
Another briefing comes from executive producer Rich Sirop,whose tenure with the show goes back to 2000. Sirop shares strategies on how to best decipher a question. He should know: He leads the team that,isolated from the rest of the staff to ensure security,writes the questionsabout 3,000 of them each season.
I guess I didnt listen well enough to what he had to say. A question that stymied me had an obvious answer among its four choices,which happened to be the names of four department store chains. Never mind what the question was,Target seemed to scream Choose me over,say,Sears or Walmart. But I missed that verbal target and,instead,jumped the question.
Thinking out loud is recommended by the producers. Not only does it help the player parse the trickier questions,it also builds suspense among viewers. So I even agonised theatrically over all the options seeking which Washington landmark was described by Eleanor Roosevelt as that simple shaft,so tall and straight. After answering the Washington Monument,I was (mock) richer by $1,000.
By then I was enjoying a surge in confidence.
What would you do if you won all this money? Cedric asked me just before the question that ended it all. Id buy a collection of hats like youve got, I fired back smartly.
You would look smooth in this,brother, Cedric chuckled.
Oh,well. It was fun to pretend.