BALTIMORE – Oscar Rodriguez, 40, has four daughters – that’s four college tuitions and four weddings he’ll have to pay for over the next 20 years – which is why his wife made him audition for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” Friday.
“I thought we were wasting our time,” said Rodriguez, a commercial contractor from Glen Burnie. But, Rodriguez passed the 12-minute, 35-question, multiple-choice exam and was selected for a two-minute interview with the show’s producers – the requirements for getting on the show.
Rodriguez was one of about 700 people from up and down the East Coast who showed up in Baltimore Friday to vie for a chance to sit in the hot seat next to Regis Philbin, host of the ABC quiz show based in New York.
While Rodriguez made the cut the first time, one game show junkie failed the written test, which covers everything from geography to Latin, for the fifth time.
“I think I’m too intellectual. My knowledge base just doesn’t match what’s on here. Pop culture is my Achilles heel,” said Aaron Tabackman, 29, a grocer from Hamden, Conn. – the same hometown of the first person to win the show’s million, he proudly said.
John Carpenter, an IRS collection agent, ABC’s Web site confirmed, was from Connecticut and won $1 million Nov. 19, 1999.
Tabackman, who’s auditioned in four other cities and plans to keep at it until he’s selected, traveled eight hours by car, plane and train to be the first and only person in line at 2 a.m. Friday for auditions.
By 9 a.m., nearly 200 other applicants anxiously waited with him.
Once potential contestants pass the written exam and the interview, they’re placed in a contestant pool, where they stay unless they’re selected for the show, said supervising producer Michael Binkow. Ten contestants are pulled from the pool for every show.
During the interviews, producers are looking for people of different ages, races, sexes and backgrounds, Binkow said.
“We look for people that would have a connection with Regis – that will be good at the game,” he added.
Applicants said producers asked about their jobs, hobbies and why they’d make good contestants.
Many who auditioned didn’t expect to get far.
“I did it on a whim,” said Greg Walsh, 26, a part-time professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who wasn’t sure he’d pass the written exam, but did.
Walsh said he’d use any money he might win to pay off his college debt and his parent’s house.
Like Walsh, Chris Seybolt, 36, an attorney from Jessup, had big plans for what he’d do with $1 million.
“I’d buy a house. I’ve always been sharing walls,” said Seybolt, who has lived in an apartment or townhouse for the past 13 years.
But, Seybolt said he wouldn’t be upset if he only won $32,000. “The trick is to get in there and get a shot on TV.”
While many auditioned for the show for financial reasons, Mary Ellen Driscoll, 49, a utility company publications editor from Philadelphia, just wanted the chance to sit next to Regis.
“It would be a fun experience,” said Driscoll, a faithful viewer who’s been on ABC’s “Jeopardy” and another game show. Driscoll said she’d give a portion of her winnings to charity.
The producers also held a special audition Friday for special college shows to be taped by December.
“We love having college students. They have boundless energy, and Lord knows they need the money,” said Binkow.
“Who Wants to be a Millionaire” debuted in the United Kingdom in September 1998 and came to the United States in August 1999.
Since it began airing, 30 contestants worldwide have won the top prize – nine from the United States.
On July 11, 2000, consultant David Goodman became the only Maryland resident to win $1 million on the show.
– 30 – CNS 10-26-01