‘Millionaire’ stop garners more than a thousand hopefulsWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew Gonzalez keeps a skee ball machine, a water blaster game and a hot dog stand in his garage.
He is not in the carnival business, nor the food truck industry. He owns a hair salon. He is, however, in the business of game show hopping. He can thank “The Price is Right” for the small arcade in his garage, a cruise trip and celebrity networking.
Gonzalez has also landed a spot on “Deal or No Deal” and competed in the obstacle course show “Wipeout.” So when producers from “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” pulled into town, he made sure he was one of the first eager contestants to audition at 7 a.m.
“You only live once,” he said. “I work all the time. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, so what the heck, why not play?”
Gonzalez did not pass the initial test Wednesday, but that hardly hampered his enthusiasm. He went back to audition in the evening for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’s” special Movie Week.
Gonzalez was one of 1,600 people who turned out for the “Millionaire” auditions Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn at Levis Commons. Contestants waited in a line that wrapped around most of the building by 6 a.m. The show’s producers administered tests starting around 7 a.m. The “Millionaire” hopefuls had 10 minutes to answer 30 questions. If they passed the test, the producers called them back for one-on-one interviews, where they had to answer questions about themselves.
Gonzalez said he has mastered the qualities game show producers seek when looking for future television guests. He attributes his past game show picks to his boisterous personality, high energy and integrity.
“You have to be able to sell yourself,” he said.
He’s got it.
“We are looking for what will distinguish you from other people — we want people from home to be able to root for you,” said Geoff Rosen, supervising producer. “What’s your story? What makes you unique?”
The Toledo area was the second stop of six the “Millionaire” producers will make to find contestants for the next two seasons. This is the first time the producers have visited Toledo. The show always runs auditions in New York City, but typically auditions in six other locations around the country to meet a range of people, Rosen said.
“We really love the idea of going to smaller towns rather than big cities because you find such great people in these small towns,” Rosen said.
Toledoans, who turned out in numbers that exceeded expectations, impressed him.
“There will be some people from today’s audition who will appear on the show,” Rosen said.
That’s good news to Tracey Launder, a 51-year-old grandmother of four who has been a loyal “Millionaire” viewer since the show began. She is an old pro at the 30-question test; she flew to New York City for a previous season’s auditions and passed. She didn’t make the cut after the interviews, she said.
She passed the test Wednesday morning — one she said was more difficult than the previous test she took. Many of the test-takers walked away looking dazed, describing the timed test as extremely difficult. During one of the sessions, an audible laugh escaped one of the contestants. Some others anxiously scratched their heads or stared at the ceiling. Some did not break focus from their papers, their eyebrows pressing heavily downward in concentration.
Toledo Free Press cannot reveal any test questions because the producers reuse those questions at other stops.
“I seem to be able to pull useless knowledge out of my head,” Launder said. “But then of course I couldn’t remember where I parked my car when I left.”
The show gives cash to guests who can answer a range of questions. One-million dollar winners answer 14 questions. Rosen said the writers aim for questions that cover the shallow ends of a multitude of topics, so that TV show guests don’t have to be complete gurus in all categories to know the answers. He pointed out that the past few winners included a truck driver, a teacher and a bartender.
The host, Meredith Vieira, has led 1,800 episodes and awarded more than $70 million to contestants.
People came to the auditions not only from Toledo but from Michigan, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Louisiana.
Fifty-two-year-old Patte Carter-Hevia woke up at 3 a.m. in Lansing, Mich., hit the road at 4 a.m. and was waiting in line by 6 a.m. Bryce Fraser recently returned to the area from California, where he contracts with the military to simulate terrorist combat.
Both did not pass, but both were glad they tried.
“What do you have to lose, fun?” Fraser said.