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Contestant Report by Millionaire

$500,000 Winner, Jeff Gross

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Until my shows aired, I had completely forgotten most of my questions. The only ones I remembered were $300, $2k and everything $100k and over.

It's been said by some that my stack was relatively easy. I think it was, but just for me. Many of the questions, especially in the middle tier, hit areas where my general knowledge is strong. Other questions referenced specific pieces of information that I had stored somewhere along the way.

I'm not a hardcore trivia player. I played NTN trivia in bars 6-8 years ago when they were powered by a 386 computer and their graphics looked like something from an Atari 2600. (As an aside, NTN is out of Carlsbad, CA - just a stone's throw from me.) But I did grow up as a big fan of game shows - great opportunities to gather and store bits of interesting information.

I think that syndicated Millionaire, especially this season, has had trouble setting appropriate values for questions. I also think they've asked questions that are extremely difficult to answer under any conditions. The one a few weeks ago about the uncoiled length of a Slinky comes immediately to mind.

Another one is the $25k question Scott McFarland received on November 4 about how much 1 million $1 bills weighs. I saw this one from the green room. All of us looked terrified about the possibility of receiving a question like that. I pulled out 10 pieces of currency from my pocket, tried to estimate its weight and do the math. I still couldn't narrow it down enough, and would have to have used the 50:50.

That being said, I've also seen several stacks this season where I've been able to answer the first 10 questions without using a lifeline. The most recent before mine was the one Jona Green (the honey queen from Bozeman, MT!) from my taping group had on November 15.

Sometimes, it all just comes together on Millionaire and it did for me. I feel extremely fortunate. I was asked a set of questions that corresponded very well to my age and my general knowledge.

You saw what happened to the two contestants before me. Poor Bridget Grimes got utterly dursted on her $16k question ("globus hystericus") - 58% for the top answer in the studio, and 72% for the same answer on AIM, only 15%/12% for the right answer. And Greg White, a very funny guy, was left with the only two possible answers after using his final lifeline (50:50) on his $16k question (Olympic torch - which continent did it pass through for the first time in 2004). Those of you who have been contestants and have sat in the green room watching the other contestants tape probably had someone in your group that knew all the answers. In our group, this was Greg and we all thought he'd be the one most likely to go the distance.

Anyway, without further ado, let's look at the questions:

What rodents share their name with an exclamation commonly used to express displeasure?

A. Shrews B. Hamsters
C. Rats D. Corporate lawyers

No problems here. My evil inner voice wanted to answer D just to see what would happen, but I thought better of the idea. No telling when the next Zero Dollar Week will be.

According to a common piece of advice, "Waste not," what?

A. Win not B. Worry not
C. Work not D. Want not

No problems here either. One piece of strategy that the producers of the show tell you is not to say "final answer" in the early questions. Let Meredith ask you - this way you don't accidentally step on the llama landmine.

In the term "PIN number," the "I" stands for what?

A. Information B. Identification
C. Interest D. Index

This question scared the bejeezus out of me when I first saw it. The first thing that popped in my head before the answers appeared was "information", which I knew was wrong. Then there "information" was as a choice! I knew it wasn't the last two, so I said the first two out loud and decided "identification" was correct. As Marley put it, fortunately I didn't take the llama bait! Otherwise, I *would* have been waiting for Zero Dollar Week.

What nationwide chain sells coffee tables with names such as Markör, Drömme and Fröjsta?

A. IKEA B. Sears
C. Wal-Mart D. Kmart

No problems with this one. I have furnished lots of apartments with Ikea furniture - I have the Allen wrenches to prove it! For those not familiar with Ikea furniture, you have to assemble it yourself.

What classic TV character usually calls his son-in-law "Meathead"?

A. George Jefferson B. Howard Cunningham
C. Archie Bunker D. Mr. Roper

A question where being of a certain age pays off. I was young when All in the Family was on, but it was a show that my family did watch and enjoy together.

Peter Frampton's 1976 best-selling live album is titled "Frampton" what?

A. Lives Forever! B. Comes Alive!
C. Is on Fire! D. Here and Now!

My age pays off again. I was a young teen when this album was all the rage. I busted up laughing when this question came up because I remembered Peter Frampton was in some kind of accident where he severely burned himself. A factoid not too funny in itself, but it would have made "Frampton Is On Fire!" an unfortunate title for an album.

Jeff will return on tomorrow's show.

I completely forgot where the first show ended - I was that far gone. I do know that this show was the second one taped on September 17, so it was time for the changing of the audience.

If you're in the hotseat when this happens, you have to be put in isolation from the other contestants. So I was taken up to a dressing room where I changed and spent some time with two of the show's production assistants. In the morning, these dressing rooms are filled with guests for the Tony Danza show. In the afternoon, it's a ghost town.

An assertion that I heard during my taping was that morning audiences are smarter than afternoon audiences because more of them are there to take the audition test. Some members of the afternoon audience certainly did look pretty scary, but I'm not certain they're less smart.

Anyway, on to show 2 (the third one being taped):

$4000- In which of these sports can players make a mistake called a "foot fault"?

A. Tennis B. Baseball
C. Golf D. Soccer

A relatively easy sports question for me. I've heard the term, and I knew it wasn't baseball or soccer.

$8000- What type of poem often consists of an octave followed by a sestet?

A. Haiku B. Limerick
C. Ode D. Sonnet

When first I saw this question on the air, I was very surprised I answered it without using a lifeline. Then I looked at the answers.

In the fourth grade, I studied Japan and writing haikus was part of our assignments. My mom still has one I've written somewhere. Plus, I've seen books like "Haikus for Jews", and the Haiku Movie Review web site (very funny!), so I'm very familiar with a haiku's structure. Limericks - five lines, lines 1,2 and 5 end in rhymes, as do lines 3 and 4.

It could have been an ode, but my feeling was that odes can go on and on, and they have no set structure. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I had a thought that sonnets have 14 lines. Well, add an octave (8) and a sestet (6) and you get 14. That sealed it for me, and I decided to go for it without using a lifeline.

$16000- In 1994, Oliver North fell less than three percentage points shy of winning the U.S. senate seat of what state?

A. Kansas B. North Carolina
C. Virginia D. Nebraska

This was one of these questions that fit very well with my general knowledge. I'm a news junkie, and I distinctly remember the bloody election battle North had with Chuck Robb for this Senate seat.

$25000- In March 2004, rebel leader Guy Philippe declared himself the "military chief" of what nation?

A. Nicaragua B. Dominican Republic
C. Panama D. Haiti

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Another current events question which I knew the answer to. As someone else pointed out, Haiti is the only Francophone(ish) country on that list. I speak French pretty well, and I can read it almost fluently, so recognizing Guy Philippe as a French name made the question a no-brainer for me.

$50000- Often said to be the resting place of Noah's Ark, Mount Ararat lies in what country?

A. Egypt B. Turkey
C. Lebanon D. Syria

Geography is one of my stronger subjects, and I was able to immediately rule out Egypt and Lebanon. I was about 90% sure that Mount Ararat was not in Syria, so rather than use a lifeline, I decided to go for it.

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$100000- What is the first name of Agatha Christie's spinster sleuth Miss Marple?

A. Jane B. Abigail
C. Edith D. Beatrice

This is a question where I felt I should have known the answer, but nothing was coming to me. I have very definite opinions about how to use lifelines, so the first decision I had to make was whether to use switch the question. I decided against it, because I thought the audience might know the answer. Plus, ask the audience gets progressively less useful as you get up the money tree. So...

Jeff asks the audience

Studio Audience A: 37% B: 39% C: 14% D: 10%
AOL Audience A: 20% B: 36% C: 19% D: 25%

This wasn't convincing, and on top of that I thought Abigail was the least likely answer. So...

Jeff doesn't like those results, so he calls his brother Todd. Todd is 100% sure that the answer is Jane.

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