It’s been many years since I’ve watched Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? when it used to air on ABC, hosted by Regis Philbin. In fact, I had no idea that the current format no longer allows a phone-a-friend (because, hey, they are just Googling that answer in those thirty seconds, right?) or that the first ten trivia questions appear in an order that is random in terms of both the questions’ level of difficulty and their monetary value. So reading Keith Romer’s piece in The New Yorker titled “Easy Money” about his experience on the show was both illuminating and captivating. I held my breath as he recounted the questions he was asked on the show…
“Are you ready?”
“Then let’s play ‘Millionaire.’ ”
Already you are in it. Already it’s happening.
This is my first question:
MOMocrats is a blog “where mothers from across the U.S. come together to write about” what?
Maybe it will all be this easy. When I say that MOMocrats must be a political blog, the producers reward me by putting five thousand dollars in my bank.
This is my second question:
In the world of air travel, a ticket that allows you to arrive in one place but depart from another is known by what name?
It is wonderful to feel certainty when you are so prepared to feel doubt. I know that the right answer is (b), and for that I am given another fifteen thousand dollars, bringing my bank to twenty thousand.
Here is my third question:
Shown on ESPN, the Spike Lee documentary “Kobe Doin’ Work” follows a day in the life of a star in what pro sport?
Really. This is a question I was asked on a nationally televised game show. For knowing that Kobe Bryant is a basketball player, I receive an additional thousand dollars.
Here is my fourth question:
Quashing marriage rumors and quoting her own lyrics at the same time, who said “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got” in 2012?
(a) Britney Spears
(b) Lady Gaga
(c) Jennifer Lopez
(d) Christina Aguilera
I don’t know the answer, or I’m not sure enough, anyway, to risk my entire game, but I have trained myself to use my Ask the Audience lifeline on this sort of question. If you ask the audience about some obscure event from eighteenth-century U.S. history, thirty-four per cent of them will say (a) and thirty-seven per cent will say (b) and eighteen per cent will say (c) and eleven per cent will say (d), and then where are you, really? But America knows popular culture—it is the food they eat and the air they breathe. Seventy-five per cent of my beautiful audience says that it is Jennifer Lopez, and God bless them for knowing this, because this question is worth two thousand dollars. I make a series of kiss-blowing gestures to the three banks of seats—a move I learned from professional tennis players thanking the crowd after winning a major. What have I done? What have I accomplished? I have answered four trivia questions and earned twenty-three thousand dollars.
There is no time, though, to make sense of this new reality. The show rolls on relentlessly.
This is the fifth question I am asked:
Often armed to the teeth with foam swords and shields, people who are LARPing are engaging in what activity?
(a) Lunch Above Risky Places
(b) Leaping at Rave Parties
(c) Live Action Role Play
(d) Late Age Renaissance Pride
I confess to Meredith that the reason I know the answer is (c) is because of my own casual involvement in this as a teen-ager. If I could go back in time, I would not allow this nerdy admission to come out of my mouth on national television, but I am five questions in and haven’t used either of my Jump the Question lifelines, and I’ve begun to feel dangerously expansive. Knowing what LARPing is turns out to be worth only five hundred dollars, but still, it’s free money.
The dissonance Keith felt about the big money in later questions was something many of us won’t get to experience in our lifetimes:
What have I done to deserve to arrive at this moment? I spent a day auditioning for a game show and another one in which I have so far correctly answered eight of ten questions (with a little help from the studio audience). I have bantered with Meredith Vieira, and, before my eighth question, I have performed my Chewbacca impersonation. For this, I have somehow earned the right to try to answer a trivia question for more money than I will likely ever earn in an entire year. I have imagined this moment countless times. Meredith will ask me the question and I will know the answer, or maybe I won’t be certain but will still guess correctly and I will run around the studio with my arms wide, like an airplane coming in to land. A hundred thousand, two hundred and fifty thousand, five hundred thousand, a million. Life-changing money.
Entertaining and informative! Recommended.