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Contestant Report by Millionaire $125,000 winner,

Caren Chancey

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Hmm, where to start with this one? I had appeared on WWTBAM in July of 2000, but had failed to get into the hot seat—in fact, I had failed to answer any fastest finger questions right at all. I was determined to make it back on, but five auditions over two years had gotten me five rejections. After the sixth audition finally got me the happy post card, WWTBAM very conveniently called me for a tape date that fell in the time I was already planning to take off to go to SC. Therefore, Mom and I had to travel from Charlotte rather than Baltimore. The night before taping I met up with Jessica, one of my phone a friends, for dinner, and then we went for ice cream with Mark, another contestant who would be taping the next day. Jessica is another WWTBAM veteran, so she and Mark and I had a great time discussing strategies and last minute trivia tidbits.

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The next morning, Mark and I decided to cab it over to the studio. In "our" taping group were Rebecca, a pilot from OH, Erik, a teacher from CA, and three locals, Chi, Scott, and Abbey. The first episode that day was to be the final episode of Celebrity Scoop week, so we also had two alternates for Celeb Scoop who had just been called the night before, April and Delano. They knew odds were good that one of them would get to tape, but maybe not both. While we were sitting around chatting, AP Jennifer came to get me to go over my info sheet. The first thing she said--"Well, I picked you so you'd better be good!" Okay, no pressure there! Jennifer then told me not to worry about my stories, that they were great and that was why I was there, and that it was her job to make sure everything would sound good on camera, not my problem. I was glad that it wasn't my problem, but I had hoped that I was there at least partially for trivia skill!

Francesca the lawyer went over all the legal stuff with our group, especially the no-talking clause--or perhaps we were just obsessed with that one, since we were a very talky bunch. A producer came in to talk to us about lifelines and general gameplay. Once they were finished we headed down to the set for our "how to get in the hotseat" lessons. The stage manager walked us through how to do it (grab arms, hop in butt-first, then feet on the footrest). After that, we out-of-towners had to tape a promo for our home stations. All we had to do was read a cue card saying "I'm (name) from (city), watch me on Millionaire!"-- should have been easy, right? No, it took me two takes! Last, they wanted us each to practice something to do in case we had to do the little going-to-commercial teaser.

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At lunch, we finally got to meet our three carryover contestants--Beth, who would be starting the Celebrity Scoop episode, Dan, who had just gotten a few questions in before the horn sounded at the last regular taping, and Jackie, the last of her taping group. Beth and I recognized each other from our audition; she had also passed the test the same day that I did, but came back for the Celeb Scoop auditions because she thought it was her strongest area. Dan was a cartoonist and had drawn a super-Meredith cartoon that he was hoping they would show when he was in the hotseat. All three of them were just as nice as the crew I'd been with all morning.

After lunch, we went upstairs to change clothes and finish makeup. I snagged a new water bottle because my mouth was getting dry already (Water bottle count: 2). We settled in to watch the Celeb Scoop episode. Beth got started, and we in the green room really enjoyed the questions, since most of us considered pop culture a strong area. "Phone the Green Room" would have been a great lifeline! We got so nervous as she was answering her last question...we had the answer upstairs and were begging the TV to answer Spacey or walk, but alas, she chose Jason Alexander. Delano was up next, and he had a question on Susan Lucci’s Emmy nominations that stumped all of us. Ouch. Unfortunately Beth and Delano had missed questions, but we were happy that April got to go on and did so well. I was disappointed to notice when the show aired that Delano's segment had been cut for time, but I hope that they at least took care of his money.

As April finished and Meredith was wrapping up the episode, Megan the AP appeared in the doorway, saying "OK, I need Jackie and, umm...Caren." Oh dear. I didn't want to be the first of our group, and I had kind of hoped that taping the promo last meant I would at least be the last of the non-locals. Everyone hopped up to wish me good luck, and Jackie and I decided to stop at the ladies room before we went downstairs. I had noticed earlier in the day that someone had been a little too ambitious filling the paper towel dispenser, and it was nearly impossible to get any out. This time I was trying to hurry since Megan was waiting, tried to yank a towel out, and felt something go crunch. Grr, the paper towel dispenser ate my fingernail, and I had fixed them up so carefully in the dressing room! On my way down the stairs, I decided that the broken fingernail was good luck rather than bad...nothing can ever go perfectly, so I'd rather have the broken nail before I start than get an early question from hell or something.

When Jackie and I got downstairs, the warmup guy was getting everyone set for the second show. I had left the water bottle upstairs when I ran out to the ladies room, so Jennifer went to get me another one (Water bottle count: 3). Dan got into the hot seat and ready to go. Quite a bit of his appearance got edited out. He did get to show his cartoon, which was very cute, but didn't make the cut. I really thought there was a good chance he'd make it to 32, but everybody in the studio was just deflated after that nasty 8K question and bad ATA.

As soon as Jackie got started, they moved me over to the on-deck area, so I didn't get to see who from our group would be going after me. Of course, I flaked at this point and couldn't remember which of the five water bottles down there already was mine, so I grabbed yet another new one (WBC: 4). They had another excellent spread of snacks back there, but I couldn’t even eat a sugar cookie—a bad sign. While Jackie was deliberating on her last question, I looked over at the teleprompter monitor and noticed that I could see my intro there. Oh my goodness, I’m actually going to do this. Then Jackie walked, and I was up.

I was very nervous but focused in the hotseat. I was almost completely unaware of the audience. It was such a relief not to get anything scary before 1K. On that commercial break, I reached for my glass of water and had to use my left hand to steady it because my hands were shaking so badly. Both Jennifer and Meredith were worried about me at that point! Everything went fairly smoothly from there, with the exception of my blurting out that I knew a lot of Roman gods. Insert your own joke here!

When I got upstairs to change, I was reminded that I'm now not allowed to talk to the rest of my taping group, which was annoying! They were really funny trying to get around the rule at that point...I heard them yelling things out of the green room like "We’re really proud of that girl we can’t talk to! We’re not quite sure if we know her..." They gave me a major case of the giggles. Colleen let me hang out in the food room, since I wasn't supposed to lurk in the doorway of the green room. A sign I was still nervous--there was a mountain of cheese cubes in there and I could only eat one, and I looove cheese cubes. I grabbed a new water bottle anyway (WBC: 5, and I'm starting to feel like Johnny Waterbottle, planting them all over the studio). Colleen was very excited about how well I’d done, and was telling me how cute they all thought my mom was.

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We headed back downstairs, and Rebecca and Erik joined me this time. I did think to hang on to the water bottle this time, so the count held at 5. Erik still seemed to be mentally reciting lists of trivia, but Rebecca was very cool and funny. I was a little more relaxed at this point, having reached the milestone before the last show ended. The warmup guy was doing the same old shtick, but he was waving to me as I peeked out at the audience and had me laughing anyway. Time to get back in the hotseat! OK, 64K. The "free guess", but with two lifelines I didn’t want to risk my chance of going further in the game when I didn’t have a strong hunch. I had seen clips of the video for "We are the World" many times, but I wasn't sure I had ever actually seen it all the way through, and I thought the voice must be Lionel or Stevie. Fortunately, I had the perfect phone-a-friend! John remembered the video and thought it was Lionel, I went with him, and ka-ching, we're up to 125K!

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I was more than a little disappointed to see that the 125K was a sports question, since I'm really not so good with sports. After I thought for a little while, I focused on the 'ette', and then I could see the connection between the first part of the word and 'badminton'. Badminton wasn't one of my choices...but volleyball was a little bit like it. What I didn't mention out loud was that I've seen an Olympic water polo game on TV, but I wasn't sure how squash is played. Using that lifeline was the one thing that I was regretting/second-guessing once I was done, but at that point "sounds like badminton, which is kind of like volleyball" didn't seem like really solid logic. Now I know that it was exactly the right logic, but I wasn't confident enough to guess on it for that much. Once the 50/50 took squash away and left volleyball and field hockey, I felt good about going with volleyball, though not good enough that I could handle Meredith stringing me along! I hate letting myself think that if I had gone ahead and guessed volleyball without the 50/50, there’s a 2/3 shot that I could have gotten rid of chimera and left one of the two I had eliminated. At that point I was leaning toward chimera, but I had no good reason to eliminate manticore, so I had to walk—and it was a good decision!

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Rebecca and her friend gave my mom and me a ride back to the Lucerne after the taping, and Rebecca was great—happy with her 16K, though she wanted my stack instead of hers. I was doing Gollum impressions--"my precious!"--with the paper check. From that tape date, at least from what I saw, mine was my favorite stack. All in all, it was really a lot of fun, I was thrilled with the outcome—and of course I’d do it again, if they would only let me!

Caren appeared on Millionaire Dec, 17-18, 2003.