I was always a trivia guy. Jeopardy! was too hard. I could never get through the test. Then Who Wants To Be A Millionaire comes on in August 1999. I found it interesting. Call the number. You get right through and it’s a touch tone game. You’ve got to answer three questions. If you get them right, you go into a drawing to get called for a second set of questions. That’s the hard part. I didn’t get the call back until several months after I started trying. Then you’ve got to answer five questions. If you get those five questions right, you’re basically on the show. It was that simple. I’m still surprised to this day about that. I get a call that I was on the show taping May 17, I think it was. This was 2000.
The game is all facets of human knowledge. I studied things that I thought I should know but I was weak on, such as parts of speech, the kings of England, you name it. All over the spectrum. Stuff to do with cooking. Because I didn’t know anything. My wife is the cook.
The day before the taping I was in Manhattan in a museum with my wife, looking at the different gems, because I didn’t know my gems. She asked me out of the blue if I had any more cooking questions. Then she asked me if I knew what the zest of an orange is. I had no idea. She told me what it was, but she confused me a little bit about whether it was the peel or the pulp.
This is why I definitely think there’s a God and that he likes to screw with you. The sixth question is, “What part of the orange is the zest?” Now, I’m afraid I messed that up because I wasn’t sure, because of what she told me, if it was the pulp or the peel. The correct answer is peel. I ended up asking the audience and they got it right, obviously.
During the taping, they don’t dub the music or anything in later. They just roll the camera. They play the music. Regis talks. If he screws up asking a question, he just asks it again later on, and they edit it.
Very, very nice man. I made sure he knew I went to Notre Dame and that I was a Yankees fan. He asked me some things about Notre Dame on air. I did answer them, but I was — what’s the right word — I was terrified. Not from being on TV or anything, just from . . . I would have been absolutely humiliated if I got one of the easy questions wrong.
My first question, I had to read it three or four times because I didn’t quite understand it, even though it was a simple question. “If you’re a coward, what do they say you have on your back?” It’s a yellow stripe. But I never remember there being a stripe. I just remember a coward being yellow. The other answers were ridiculous, purple polka dots and stuff like that. But I probably spent a couple of minutes, which they edited out, just rereading this question. Because if I got the first question wrong, I would have had to quit my job and move.
Regis, he saw that. They edited some of it out, but he did say something like, “Jim, I know what it’s like to be up there. Just keep on going.” I was just laser focused on getting those easy questions right. I really wasn’t in a state where I was going to banter with him. During the commercial, he asked me what dorm I lived in. I told him Keenan. I just gave him basically a one-word answer. I might have come off as being a little bit . . . not unfriendly, but not like if I had seen him in another circumstance.
I said to myself, “If I ever run into him, I’m going to apologize for the way I was on the show.” I almost ran into him at our reunion three years later because his 50th was my 25th, but I kept missing him and I never had a chance to say anything to him. This is perhaps my way of explaining.
I would have said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to BS with you. I didn’t mean to come off as being unfriendly or anything like that.” I’m sure he could have cared less. But, still, it would have been important to me.
You had to go home with $32,000 because the next level down is $1,000. It’s not the money so much as just the competition. The question was about manifest destiny, “The U.S. policy of manifest destiny had to do with what?” Territorial expansion was the answer. I got that right. That got me to $32,000. I was great after that. From that point on it, I could have told jokes with him. Then I got one more question about the movie Tootsie right. Then came to the one I got knocked out on.
“Child prodigy Midori plays what musical instrument?” There are four choices. I had the 50-50 left. I got rid of two of the wrong answers. It left violin and cello. I’m thinking pretty clearly by now. I said to myself, “You know, for $125,000, it’s probably the least obvious answer.” You would think it’d be a violin because it’s a child. But I say, “It’s probably cello because they’re trying to trick you.” I said, “Cello,” and it was violin.
More proof that there’s a God and that he likes to screw with you. After the show, we go for a little walk past Lincoln Center. There’s a poster: Appearing next month . . . Midori.
Jim Faggiana is a retired software engineer. He currently divides his time between his native Connecticut and his winter home in The Villages, Florida, playing softball and golf year-round.