On September 29th and 30th 2011, our guest blogger and friend Chad Mosher was a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Chad did very well in his game, walking away with over $43,000 in cash. And, since he's been so generous with tips and advice for game show contestants through the years, we thought this would be a great opportunity to get the inside scoop on Millionaire from a contestant's point of view.
The following questions were submitted by viewers and readers, through the blog, by e-mail, and on Facebook. Our thanks go out to Chad for answering them for us!
Q: Is there any way to prepare for this type of a quiz show? Do you read everything you can get your hands on or do you just have to be a walking encyclopedia to begin with?
Chad: I think reading every single thing available is a fruitless effort. There are only going to be fourteen questions asked during a person’s turn on Millionaire. I would suggest staying current on the news, pop culture, and keeping in mind yearly milestones that often crop up, like Best Picture winners or Super Bowl champions. If you really feel like you need to study before you go on, brush up on your weaknesses. Mine are sports and non-American geography so I was checking championship winners and looking at maps of Europe. But if you saw my game, you’ll know that none of these topics came up, so each set of questions definitely does not follow a set of patterns. Just about anything can pop up.
Q: How do you pick your lifelines?
Chad: Before we went on stage for rehearsal, producer Rich Sirop went over with us what a good audience question is and what a good jump question is. Just because something is pop culture or related to recent news doesn’t mean the audience is necessarily going to know it. For instance, the woman who played right after me asked them on a question about the title of a pop singer’s recent album, but the audience was so split she had to jump the question. When I asked the audience on my sham question, I figured I was the only one in the room who wasn’t entirely convinced on that, so I used that lifeline for that reason. Therefore, my only lifelines left after that were jumps. I don’t think I would have had a good response if I asked them on the Economist or albatross questions, and since the bushel and a peck question was the hardest question in the unrandomized stack, even if I had the audience lifeline by then I don’t think it would have helped, or worse, they could have pointed me in the wrong direction and I would have lost $87,000.
Q: Is there anything you wish you had known before the audition?
Chad: What a pillow sham is, that the Gossamer Albatross was a famous man-powered aircraft and that a bushel and a peck make ten gallons! No, seriously, I don’t think so. I think after studying the show and its ins and outs for years, I think I came as armed as I possibly could.
Q: When you audition, are you merely proving you have a sufficient knowledge base to compete, or do they want to see a certain quality — a sparkle or liveliness or upbeat personality — that makes you telegenic and appealing on camera? It seems lately that everyone who goes on there has either a shtick or back story that they tease in the opening credits. Is that helpful? Does that separate you from the other contestants, or can you make it being reasonably pleasant but not necessarily crowd-pleasing?
Chad: I believe they’re looking for both. If you don’t pass the initial trivia test, you’re not even going to make it to a portion where they get to see your sparkle so you have to have some semblance of knowledge. But, certainly, they’re looking for someone who won’t crumble under the pressure of the lights, audience and cameras. Many people look to the time of the ABC show using the call-in game to qualify contestants without an audition as the "golden era" of the show, but the reality is that many of those contestants did not react well in the hot seat, giving curt responses to Regis’ questions and just not being fun people to watch. The auditions are set up to make sure everyone who gets on the show will have a fun personality, not be deadpan while speaking and will play off Meredith well, making it fun to watch them interact. Having a "story" can also help, if there’s something in there that makes you unique. I think knowing that I tweeted about my audition process and that I’ve given tips for Millionaire here certainly didn’t hurt my chances, so I guess that could be considered my "hook."
Q: We have both had the rare opportunity of meeting Regis Philbin and Meredith Vieira. Having met both, which host do you prefer to work with, if any? What was it like meeting Meredith Vieira?
Chad: Regis was very welcoming when I was on Million Dollar Password but you could tell he was just there to do his job. Meredith, on the other hand, seems to get emotionally invested in almost every contestant that comes on. She was so, so, so kind and so, so, so personable to me. If it seemed like I hugged her a lot during the show, it’s because she has such a comforting presence about her and she was all about the warmth. I really think that she wants everyone to win big money. It was a lot of fun to be on the stage with her, even though I got suckered into her patented fakeout near the end. Plus, a couple of weeks after taping, I got a handwritten note from Meredith congratulating me and wishing me well. I’m still waiting on my card from Regis!
Q: I was there that afternoon for taping sessions and they had many problems with the boom camera–did they have those problems in the morning tapings?
Chad: I don’t believe so. We didn’t have any problems, just an occasional retake for Meredith to pronounce something again or to re-do a camera zoom on the question or money amount.
Q: Do you have your check yet? How much did you win after taxes?
Chad: Nope. I’ll get it around thirty days after the airdate, so hopefully I’ll have it in my pocket with which to go Black Friday shopping next month! As for taxes, as a college student who hasn’t made a ton of money off of anything else this year, my winnings put me in a 25% tax bracket for 2011. But I still have to look into what deductions I’ll be able to take as far as college payments and other things go, so I really don’t know at this point. Trust me, I’m not a tax specialist by any means. But with a bit of luck, hopefully I can hang onto more of it.
Q: Do you get any parting gifts or swag when you appear on a game show like this one?
Chad: Nope! Heck, the trip isn’t even paid for. While the $1,000 consolation prize (if you end up with nothing in your game) could help offset that, my trip cost me over $1,200 overall so even if I had bombed out, I’d still be at a bit of a loss. But I think a big check and a lifetime of memories is a great parting gift.
Q: Did you get to watch the players who went on before you?
Chad: I did not. We were all sequestered in a green room upstairs. But I was able to get a sense of how each person was doing by how quickly it took for the next person to be called downstairs to play his/her game. (A.J. and Ryan, my companions who watched the contestants tape before me, confirmed most of my suspicions later.)
Q: Chad, how long does an episode of Millionaire actually tape?
Chad: It’s pretty much how it looks on TV, just a little bit longer. Sometimes they decide to move a contestant’s game out of an episode to air at a different time if they can cleanly edit it, so it could take a bit longer because of that. My breaks were not much longer than a standard commercial break. Sometimes it was lengthened because of reshoots or production issues but it wasn’t like those ten-hour Deal or No Deal tapings we heard about years ago.
Q: How much is edited out of the show?
Chad: Not too much. I think most of my interactions with Meredith and her interactions with A.J. and Ryan were left in. They trimmed a little bit of my deliberation on question one and cut out most of my verbal thought process on question nine, the milkshake question, as well. (With so much on the line and being so far in the game, I was reasoning it out very carefully to avoid going home. Cutting most of that out actually makes me look smarter!)