A Salute to Game Shows

Life in the Hot Seat

Fastest-Finger Questions

Qualifying for the show


The first million-dollar win!

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Interview with contestant Mike Feinberg

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Interview with contestant
Mike Feinberg

feinberg-1.JPG (9309 bytes) Contestant Mike Feinberg appeared on nights six and seven (Friday, November 12 and Saturday, November 13) in the second run of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?.   Over these two nights, he won $64,000 in the "hot seat".  This interview was conducted via Email on December 8, 1999.

What are your thoughts about the qualifying procedure?

Well, I might be a bit biased, but I think it is as fair as can be logically done.   It requires a good deal of skill, mixed in with a great deal of luck.   Assuming the random drawing is truly computerized and random with respect to home state, gender, and other factors (many of which can't be determined by the Millionaire show using the limited information they gather), I can't see how they would appease the people who say it is too geared towards White Male Northeasterners.  I think it is far better to have a game show that picks its contestants on a random/skill basis and ends up with an uneven distribution of contestants, than to have a game show where contestants are picked because of their personality, race, gender, or "on-camera" presence.   Leave that to the soap operas.

How did the show get you to New York, and where did they accommodate you?

My wife and I were flown to Newark, NJ from Washington Dulles, met there by a sedan driver, and driven to the Empire Hotel in Manhattan (near Columbus Circle and Central Park).  Apparently, this was not the same hotel used in August.  After the days of tapings concluded, we were driven back to Newark Airport and flown back to Washington Dulles.  The show paid for all flights, drivers, and hotel room, we paid for tips and incidentals.

What happened from arrival at the studio to playing in the row of people for fastest-finger questions?

We arrived to the studio at about 11AM. After going through security, the contestants and companions were taken to a large room next to the commissary, where we had brunch and watched a video of the August episode with Doug Van Gundy.  Despite the fact that he was not the high winner in August, the show's producers seemed (rightfully so) to be most proud of that episode.  Then, we met with our individual producers, who interviewed us, gathering information about us to put on a card for Regis to use if we made it to the hot seat.

After this was completed, we were whisked away to the studio for rehearsal.  At this point, we sat in our preassigned seats (I was in seat #10, on the end) and met the Executive Producer, Michael Davies.  He spoke to us for a good while and then we each got a turn on the hot seat, answering three questions and getting acclimated to how it felt in the hot seat.   After that, we had 4 practice "fastest-finger" questions.  I won three of them, and that's when I really started getting nervous.

After rehearsal, we joined our companions again (they had been sitting in the audience during rehearsal) for dinner, then went to get dressed for the taping and go to makeup (that was strange).  We were then led back into the studio (filled with the audience by this point), and eventually introduced to the audience, and the taping began!

Incidentally, on the second day of taping (when I was the holdover
contestant), I was required to go through the same orientation (except the rehearsal) as the new contestants.  When we watched the Doug Van Gundy tape the second day, I REALLY started to get nervous.

What did it feel like to hear your name and know that you were the next person in the "hot seat"?

As me expression showed on television, I was in complete shock.  After inputting my answers to the question I knew that I had gotten them right, and pretty quick, but then had to wait about 20 seconds before my name was announced.  When it was, I think I went into a mild, extended state of shock that lasted through my entire first taping.

What was it like sitting across from Regis?

feinberg-2.JPG (11927 bytes)It was truly enjoyable.  Honestly, because of how fast everything happened (45 hours passed between my phone call telling me I would be a contestant and me climbing into the chair across from Regis), I could barely appreciate what was going on, I felt more numb and petrified of embarrassing myself, either by my actions or by a stupid mistake.   Regis was very friendly to the contestants though, and often chatted with me during breaks in taping.

Would you agree or disagree with the contestant from the show's August run that said that sitting in the "hot seat" felt like they were "sitting on a toilet, and all of America is watching"?

To a certain extent, I would.  Having 20-25 million people witness the scariest, most exciting, nerve-wracking moment of your life (I haven't had kids yet) is an extremely unusual feeling.

Are there any questions that you are still thinking about from your time on the show?

Of course.   There are three key questions from the show that I either used lifelines on or walked away from.  I feel that I used my phone-a-friend lifeline wisely, though it was my last one, for the $16,000 question.   On my $8,000 question (the mushroom/endive question), I simply had a brain freeze.  I know that endive was not a mushroom, but when I didn't immediately recognize morel as a mushroom like the other two I started to doubt myself.  I hate the fact that I had to use two lifelines, but I wouldn't have won much if I hadn't.  Incidentally, I would have used one on the $64,000 question that I guessed correctly, so it wouldn't much have mattered.

feinberg-3.JPG (10619 bytes)And, of course, I wonder "what could have been" if I had taken a guess on the $125,000 question (caduceus).  I would have guessed correctly, and it occurred to me that I had not received any questions in my strong areas of knowledge (sports, geography, math) and they might have been waiting at higher amounts.   But I didn't know for sure, and couldn't bear to leave with $32,000 knowing I had lost $32,000.  So I took the safe way out.  Although I wonder what might have been, I do NOT regret my decision to walk away.

Do you find the computer version to be an accurate portrayal of what it's like to be in the "hot seat"?

I have played both the online game from abc.com (as I mentioned on my taping), and the CD-ROM game.   Obviously playing on the computer you take away the pressure aspects of being on the hot seat, and you take more chances (you have nothing real to lose).  As to the difficulty of the questions asked, I absolutely feel the questions on the computer versions are harder than the ones asked on the show.  I agree that the questions asked on the show are easy, especially up to 1000 and in many cases up to $32,000.

feinberg-4.JPG (13061 bytes)Do you have any tips to offer to potential contestants for getting on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Simply to keep calling the number, don't get discouraged by not getting the round two call, and if you do qualify, enjoy the ride.  I would have been a very happy man just to have been flown up there for the experience, even if I hadn't made the hot seat.   And lastly, although this is not exactly a "tip,"  the producers and production assistants on this show are SO supportive, fun, and friendly.  As I have told many people, the money and TV time were great, but that will diminish with time.   The experience and fun time I had, largely due to the production staff, will be what I remember for a lifetime.

A Salute to Game Shows 1999-2001 Ben F. Schumin, Chris-Place.com.  All rights reserved.