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All Things New York City – Off the Bee-ten track: How to Be a Contestant On ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’

Posted Tuesday, December 16th, 2008 at 9:00 am by Julie in Social Bees. More in 10112

Everyone, even our own Bruce Springsteen of Queens, is raving about Slumdog Millionaire. While I haven’t yet seen the movie, I do have something in common with the main character. Earlier this year I was a contestant on an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and now I am going to tell you how you can get on the show too.

I know what you are thinking–holy Regis, is Millionaire still on the air?  Though Regis has moved on from the hot seat, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is still very much alive and well, and giving away oodles of money.  The show is now in syndication and hosted by Meredith Vieira.  Here in the NYC area, Millionaire airs on WABC weekdays at 12:30pm. Like Regis before her, Meredith Vieira has another high-profile TV gig, which means that Millionaire shoots right here in New York City.

If you live in the New York City area, you already have a huge advantage over other potential contestants.  A few times a year, Millionaire conducts auditions at ABC’s studios near Lincoln Center. Unlike Jeopardy!, which only allows you to take their test once a year, Millionaire only limits you to one test per day during audition cycles.   Since their audition periods span several weeks, you have multiple opportunities to pass the test and interview.

Auditions and nationwide contestant searches are posted on the show’s website. Currently the show is on a holiday break, but keep checking the website in the coming months to see when the next audition cycle will be. Sign up for the earliest possible day to take the test, assuming that you will fail and want another chance.    Tests are given during the early evening hours of 5:00 to 7:00pm, so all you need to do is leave work early one day and hop on the subway.

The test itself is twenty-five multiple choice questions on everything from pop culture to math. I was asked what African nation comes from the Spanish word for shrimp (Cameroon–missed that one) and what word was spelled in the chorus of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl (B-A-N-A-N-A!).  Bookworms will need to know who Paris Hilton is, and gossip-hounds will need to know what else is going on the world.  Out of approximately 50 people at each test session, about 10 will pass the test and move on to an interview.

Interviews are conducted by Millionaire‘s production staff immediately after the test is concluded. You have five minutes to show some personality, so make it count. During my first interview attempt, I talked too much about how much I love both the Yankees and Broadway, which probably made me sound a bit too New York-y for middle America. The next time around, the interviewer liked that I was engaged (at the time) and planning a trip around the world. Come prepared with a few interesting stories to tell, and make sure you’ll look good in a Polaroid photo. If your interview goes well, you’ll hear a few weeks later whether you made it into the contestant pool.

The moral of the story is that it pays to be persistent. I took the test three or four times before I gave a good interview and made it into the contestant pool. Millionaire needs several contestants for each show, and one of them might as well be you.

In case you’re wondering, I crashed and burned on the $8,000 question and walked away with a grand.   (How not to bomb on the show is another post altogether.)  Unlike other contestants, I didn’t have to pay for a flight and a hotel in NYC, so I still came out ahead. I may not have won a million bucks, but the experience was priceless.

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