Things are falling into place, dear readers. I’m five writing days away from finishing the first draft of Ted Saves the World. I have one of the actors cast for the cover of my book, and I’m zeroing in on the other actor who will make it complete. I’m making progress on my marketing plan, and I’m booking beta readers to help my book become its best. It’s all very exciting and I can’t wait for my hard work to come to fruition.
I had a minor writing hiccup this week when a character became too interesting to keep on the sidelines. This character was only in one second of one scene in my first outline. As I wrote the draft, it became apparent she needed to play a bigger role. As a result, she got two additional chapters written from her perspective, which threw me off a bit from my outline. Fortunately, I was in my writing routine enough that I was able to keep pressing on until I found enough time to outline the new chapters. The old Bryan might have taken a day off or scrapped some of the previous chapters. The new me is someone who will press on no matter what. I’ve read enough times how that never-say-die attitude is one of the best traits a writer can have. Now that I’m employing it, I can agree with the sentiment. Develop that kind of fortitude and use it!
I’m writing the first part of a three-parter here based on my 2012 appearance on the show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. While this tale hasn’t grown quite as epic as the Jell-O story, it is one of the stories new friends are most interested in hearing. Are you ready to read it? Is that your final answer?
A New York Moment
It all began with a list. I’d paid off thousands of dollars of debt the past couple of years through sheer force of will. It wasn’t enough. My interest rates continued to climb and I kept pushing back my goal date for when I’d finally be debt-free. In my desperation, I made a list titled, “Ways to Make $8,000.” I thought small at first, breaking down how many writing classes I’d have to teach or self-publishing consulting gigs I’d need to book. None of the ideas were bad, but I didn’t get to one that made me smile until number five. The item read, “Get on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and Win At Least $8,000.” I’d planted the seed.
During a trip to New York City for my wife’s birthday, I resolved to audition for the show at ABC Studios. It was casting season, and the show held a dozen testing sessions each week in New York, along with multiple road auditions throughout the country. The Chicago audition came before I’d written the list, so New York was my best option. My wife and I walked up to two burly men standing beside a cardboard cutout of Meredith Vieira. They seemed like they’d be more in place acting as bouncers outside of a hot club I’d never get into. My wife wasn’t interested in giving the game show a shot, and resolved to meet me at a Starbucks down the street after my test was complete. That didn’t lessen her excitement though, and the bright smile she flashed before we parted made me feel hope. I walked through a metal detector and into the testing area, an employee cafeteria that was big enough to take in at least 75 hopefuls at once. I introduced myself to the others at my table, and nearly everyone around me was a local. I hoped my Midwestern status would give me a leg up.
A woman who introduced herself as Kat explained the rules of the test. As I’d studied up on the format, I only half paid attention. There were 30 multiple choice questions on a Scantron test sheet. If you passed it, you moved on to speak with a producer. If you passed that interview, another producer asked you test questions on camera. Kat gave us the go-ahead and I began answering at a rapid clip, after all, we only had 10 minutes to work with. I knew most of the general pop culture questions, but I was uncertain of too many answers to be sure if I would pass. Only 10 to 15 percent of participants hit the secret, magic number of correct answers to make it to the interview. I was hopeful when I passed in my exam, but when Kat read off the numbers we’d been assigned, mine was missing. I joined my fallen comrades in the walk out the door.
Mentally, I crossed the Millionaire item off my $8,000 list. After all, when was I going to have another chance to audition. That’s when it hit me.
“I need your computer,” I said to my wife, startling her out of her chai concentration. “How’d you do?”
“I didn’t pass, but I’m going to try again.”
I’d been invited to speak at a writing conference in New Jersey shortly after the trip. After the event, the plan was to visit with my parents in Pennsylvania for a couple of days before I went home. The plan was about to change. I booked my new audition time the following Thursday.
When I returned to New York, I was prepared. I’d studied the answer to every question I’d missed the previous week. I had one objective for this trip. Pass the test and get on the show. I said my hellos to the bouncers and Kat and took my seat. I felt good. I felt ready. When instructed, I opened the test. It was completely different from the previous week. My heart sank.
When the 10 minutes were up, I felt less confident than I had the previous week. This test seemed harder. I didn’t look forward to taking the train home to my parents’ house with my tail tucked between my legs. Then Kat called my number. The other hopefuls at my table congratulated me. My brain stopped working for a second until I gathered my things and walked over to the designated second round area. About 12 people had passed out of approximately 60 test takers. I filled out the required forms and waited my turn. Several people who went before me left their interviews and went straight out the exit. I’d learned enough from my research to know they hadn’t been chosen. My name was called and I sat across from an attractive woman a few years my junior. I had the task of convincing her I was interesting enough to be on TV. After a minute of polite chatter, her unenthusiastic look made me feel like I was on the way out. Then I remembered something I’d read about the show producers. They liked to hear a good story. So, I changed gears to storyteller mode.
I related a tale of how I’d lost 30 pounds the previous year after my wife bought me a fitness friendly present for Christmas: an entry into a 10-mile race. The way I told the story, the gift was my wife’s method of getting me off my lazy butt and into the gym. That part always got a laugh. It didn’t fail me with the Millionaire producer either. She chuckled at all the right parts and was legitimately impressed with the weight loss. With a smile, she sent me over to an empty table to fill out another form. Of the 12 people who passed the test, I was one of two who advanced to the next station.
I was so giddy that I barely remembered the next five minutes. A producer named Rick took me back to another part of the cafeteria and set up a portable camcorder. He had four by six inch cards with the Millionaire logo printed on the back, and after asking me a few questions about myself, he dove into the game. Of the seven questions he asked me, I was able to get five of them right. What I learned was the important part though, was making sure I verbally explained my thought process to coming up with my answer. My ability to blab about anything sure paid off there. Before I knew it, the filming session was done and Rick showed me through the back door. He said I’d get a postcard letting me know whether or not I was in the contestant pool within the next month. Five weeks later, I got the “happy postcard,” welcoming me into the pool. The waiting game had begun.
Despite passing all the steps of the audition process: the test, the interview, the on-camera portion and the postcard, there was still no guarantee that I’d be on the show. There were many different factors involved in the casting process that nobody but Rick and the other producers were aware of. Between early July when I got the postcard and early September, I’d heard nothing. The show taped through the middle of November, so I knew I still had a chance when I got a phone call from a New York area code.
“Hello Bryan, this is Kat from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. How are you today?”
The giddiness was back.
“I’m better now!”
“Good. Would you be able to come to New York next Tuesday to be a contestant on the show?”
I wondered how many people said “no” to such a question.
“I would love to.”
“Great! I’ll send you over the paperwork via e-mail. See you next week in New York!”
I called my wife right away. I was shaking with glee.
“Hey, I think you’ll have to take two days off work next week.”
“Did you get on the show?!”
By the end of the day, we had our flights booked and our boarding arrangements made. Within a week’s time, we’d know if item number five on my list would be fulfilled.
Top Image: Flickr Creative Commons Taking a Test by Renato Ganoza
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