Westmont Magazine Who's Playing for a Million Dollars?
As a joke at work, Rob McDaniel ’90 starting dialing the contestant line for the ABC television show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Anyone answering three questions correctly has a chance to advance to the next round of the selection process.
Rob often got the answers right, but doubted he would be one of 40 people chosen randomly to receive a return call. He had watched the popular program only occasionally. Much to his astonishment, the studio contacted him one day and asked him to call back in two weeks to take a five-question quiz.
But the time conflicted with a business meeting in Los Angeles, Calif., with important international clients. Rob, the operations manager for a telecommunications company in Seattle, Wash., went anyway and asked to take a break to call the show. The other attendees listened delightedly as he answered all the questions correctly.
He was then instructed to wait by the phone for six hours to find out if he would be one of 10 people chosen for the show. But he had to catch a plane in three hours and hoped the call would come sooner. It did, with 10 minutes to spare, and he made the flight and the show.
So Rob and his wife, Kim, a mental health therapist with her own practice, spent four days in New York City. The studio paid for their travel and hotel room, sent a car to the airport to pick them up, and even gave them spending money. “It was wonderful,” Rob says. “It was worth it just for the trip to New York!”
The 10 contestants on the show stayed at the same hotel and became acquainted. Each met with an interviewer who gleaned interesting facts from their lives, and they practiced putting things in chronological order for “fastest finger,” the contest they had to win to actually play for a million dollars.
As the 10 appear on only one show they have few chances to prevail in this qualifying round. Luckily for Rob, his finger was fastest on the fourth try, and he got to the hot seat right at the end of the hour. He answered two questions and then had to wait for the next day. ABC tapes only one show a day.
“I was so nervous I didn’t sleep at all that night,” he confesses. But the lack of rest didn’t show. Knowing that Ian Fleming wrote a children’s book and that Veterans Affairs was the last department elevated to cabinet status helped him win $125,000.
Rob reveals behind-the-scenes information about the show. “Regis doesn’t know the answers, so don’t take any clues from him,” he notes. “Contestants have up to an hour to answer and are never pressured for a response. You can choose among five friends who wait on hold until you decide to ’phone a friend.’”
After setting aside 28 percent for taxes, Rob is investing the money for his children’s education and spending some on his home. “It doesn’t seem real and it hasn’t changed my life,” he says. When the show aired, the McDaniels threw a big party, but Rob couldn’t watch. He finally saw it later on videotape.
He’s more excited about his marriage to Kim and their life in Seattle with their two daughters. “The last four years of my life have been incredible, and that’s what really matters,” he says.