[Editor's Note: Lester, who now seems to believe his first name is Abe, began another blog where he claims to be a detective. I invited him to write a piece for this blog since I was running out of stuff to write about. Here are the results of his first attempt. - DB]
Who Wants to be a Zillionaire
By Abe Lester
Before I retired, I carefully tried to figure out if my wife and I could stay afloat on my pension, and concluded that it was possible. Now, after three years of not working, I realize that unforeseen expenses can surface from the sea of providence and torpedo the soundest of budgets. How, I wonder, are we going to make ends meet?
One afternoon, after the mid-day news, I happened to be watching a popular game show, which I shall refer to as “Who Wants a Zillion Dollars.” I found that I could easily answer almost all of the multiple choice questions on the show. This is easy, I thought. All I have to do is get on this show and win a zillion dollars and my budget problems will be over. So I went on line and registered, thinking that I’d never get an audition.
Amazingly, two days later, I received an email, telling me to come on down. I was given a date and time to show up at the TV studio, located in Megalopolis, and told that I would have to take a brief written exam. If I passed the exam, I would then be given a video interview. Considering the caliber of questions on the show, I thought that I could easily pass the written exam. But the video interview worried me.
When I look into the mirror, I don’t see a videogenic person staring back at me. If I were to choose a TV character that I resemble most, it would be Uncle Fester from the Addams Family. I also don’t have the kind of bubbly personality that they like on a TV game show. I am so morose and depressing that viewers might actually turn off the TV if I came on the show. My son advised me to get drunk before the interview if I were to have any chance of being chosen. But I went to take the test anyway.
I took the bus into Megalopolis and got to the studio a little early. About a hundred people were waiting on line and chatting away with the effervescence and conviviality one might expect of prospective TV game show contestants. Two young and attractive attendants with headsets went up and down the line with their clipboards checking off names and making bad jokes, which everyone dutifully laughed at.
Then, precisely on time, we were ushered into a large room resembling a cafeteria and seated at tables. On each table there were a pencil, blank answer sheet, and envelope containing the thirty-question test. I was seated with three others, two women and a man, all about my age. The man had taken the test once before, so he became the resident expert. He started prepping us with questions from previous shows and I thought surely he had the best chance of the four of us to pass the test.
The feeling I got was of being back at school again, as a student, not a teacher, before a big exam like the SATs or the GREs, but without the gut-wrenching anxiety that those do-or-die tests always produced. I actually felt pretty confident, although I knew my weakness was popular culture, and there would be several questions about pop stars I had never heard of, reality shows I had never watched, and celebrities who had never done anything significant in their life except become famous. While waiting in the dermatologist’s office, I sometimes pick up People Magazine and see the same dozen or so celebrities over and over again every week, so I figure there can’t be all that much arcane trivia to trip me up on the test.
Boy was I wrong. The ten minute multiple choice test started and right off the bat there was a question about the name of Sean Ditty’s daughter. At least, I knew that Sean Ditty is a senator from Alabama (just kidding), but I had no idea what he or his wife named their daughter. I guessed Jesse James. Then there was another question about a reality TV couple named the Goslings. Apparently they had eight children and the question was about the gender ratios of those children. I had no idea, so I guessed five girls to three boys, since girl children are more entertaining on reality shoes than boy children. Later, when I got home, I looked up the answers and found that I had guessed right on both questions.
But when the test was over, I really wasn’t sure about how I had done. I felt confident about the questions that had nothing to do with pop culture. I knew that Neptune was considered the farthest planet from the Sun after the dethronement of Pluto. I knew that a division was the largest armed forces unit amongst the given choices. I even knew that “Hail Columbia” was the tune played for the public appearance of a vice-president. But I was not sure about the children of Sean Ditty and the Goslings.
There was a ten minute break while the test sheets were scanned. During the break, it was announced that out of one hundred applicants, seven would be chosen. The lucky seven would then proceed to the video interview and the rest of the applicants would have to quickly exit the building. One guy raised his hand and asked what I realized later was an excellent question: “Are the seven chosen based upon the best score on the test?” The attendant immediately gave a prepared answer that she had probably given a hundred times before: “Our policy is not to reveal the way the test is evaluated.”
During the break, the four of us at my table conferred. The man who I thought was so smart, didn’t know the answers to many of the questions of which I was certain. The two women were also at a loss about several questions and were disappointed when I told them their guesses were wrong. Now I was feeling more confident. I thought I had obviously done better than my table-mates.
The break lasted barely five minutes. The winners were announced and, to my shock and subsequent bewilderment, my name was not one of them. I was not one of the chosen.
This would have been completely understandable. There could certainly have been seven people in that room smarter than me. But it turned out that one of the women chosen was at my table! It seemed to me that I had scored better than anyone at my table, yet this woman was chosen over me!
The attendants quickly ushered the ninety-three losers out of the building. They obviously didn’t want to deal with anyone’s disappointment or frustration. I’m sure that in the past they must have had applicants who made a terrible scene after losing. I actually thought that some mistake had been made and I wanted to ask them to double check my exam sheet. I left the place in a state of mild disorientation. I didn’t even get a chance to bomb out on the video interview.
As I was walking away through the crowded streets of Megalopolis, trying to make sense of my failure, the other woman at my table, the one who didn’t win, appeared at my side.
“I thought you were going to win,” she said.
“Me too,” I said. “I’m disappointed. And it was all over so fast.”
“I know. It was all a blur. I traveled all the way from Maryland for this audition.”
“All the way from Maryland,” I said. “Just to answer some stupid question about Sean Ditty’s daughter. I don’t think you have to be smart to answer these questions. You have to be stupid.”
She laughed aloud, but I was not in a good mood and I wanted to be left alone. Yet this woman from Maryland kept following me down the street and talking. Either she was trying to prolong what she expected to be a more rewarding experience or she wanted me to invite her for a drink. At the first corner we came to, I turned off in a direction towards which I guessed she would not be going and wished her a nice day.
So what is the solution to the mystery of getting on a game show? I really don’t think they want anyone on the show who is too smart. The self-proclaimed expert at our table told us that there have hardly been any zillion dollar winners. Why would they want to be giving away a zillion dollars every week? They also don’t want anyone who is too stupid and might miss the first few easy questions. It is possible that the pat response given by the attendant about test evaluation is revealing. It may not be the best score that gets you a video interview, but some lower score, or, perhaps, a some other score based on pre-determined questions.
Whatever the answer is, I am determined to take the test again and get on that show. I’ll purposely get questions wrong if I have to. They have me hooked. And I need that zillion dollars to stay happily retired.