A few weeks ago, friend RJ contacted me to let me know that the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was doing a contestant search in the Chicago area (Arlington International Racecourse). He asked if I would come along for moral support. Who am I to say no? I didn’t know what to expect. I brought my laptop figuring that I would have to wait for some time.
When we got there, we ended up waiting for about 30-40 minutes before they would let us into the testing area. I was informed that people there for “moral support” would be separated out of line, so I figured, what the heck … I’ll go take the test and see what it is like.
There was a lot of waiting. I also immediately learned that despite how simple the process was (you take a 30 question multiple choice test), that involves putting your name and a provided code number on a scantron sheet, there were a lot of people who were not up on how these things work. You had 10 minutes to take the test, and you had to sit in a chair without a desk and nothing but a thin piece of cardboard to write on. Between having to shuffle the test and the scantron form, it took a shade over 5 minutes for me to complete the test.
One of the most fun aspects of this was the woman who was in charge. She was nice, but she was dealing with a large, occasionally uncooperative crowd. She used a lot of “teacher phrases” like “guys you need to be quiet” …. “don’t open the test until you are told” … “don’t draw on the test or the cardboard”. For all of the old folks who talk down about how kids are ignorant and won’t listen … it was a good reminder that this is hardly an issue with “kids” and more an issue with “people”. There were quite a few people who were unable to finish in 10 minutes. When there was one minute left, this was announced, and one woman yelled out “to finish the whole test?!”
Needless to say neither RJ nor I qualified (they would not review the test, and would not reveal the needed score to advance, so we aren’t completely sure how we did). There were some questions that were mildly academic. One question asked about the only president who was a red head. That’s fairly trivial, however, if you have studied some American art, you have seen some portraits of an auburn haired Thomas Jefferson. One question asked about the title of a Lucy Hawking book (I had never heard of her, but there was a clue that it was co- written with her father, whom I assumed was Stephen Hawking). I guessed right there. The questions that doomed me were the questions on pop music. There was also one that asked about the title of the earliest known book of jokes. I had no clue. I suspected this would be the case a bit, as my former student Greg had warned me about the emphasis on pop culture. That is always my Achilles Heel, and so that was that.
I hadn’t planned on trying out, and I didn’t feel bad not making it. My biggest feeling was that I felt bad for RJ who I had hoped would qualify to move on. I know a lot of folks have talked to me about trying for “Jeopardy!” one more time, but I figure I don’t really have a chance to get on that show (appearance being what it is), and even if I did, I likely wouldn’t stack up well against recent college grads …. I’ve already decided that this is one opportunity whose optimal window has passed, and I can live with that.