I lost on 'Millionaire,' baby

Friday, February 25, 2011 | by: Mat DeKinder

“Soy un perdedor
I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?”

--Beck

 

Let’s face it, losing sucks. You can try to put a positive spin on it with phrases like “moral victory,” or “character building,” but they are poor substitutes for victory.

We all lose from time to time, but for the most part we are fortunate enough to suffer our failures and setbacks in relative anonymity. To blow it on a grand scale, in front of millions of people; now that is something only to be claimed by the elitist grade of loser, among which I can now proudly count myself.

I lost on the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” in an experience that was at once bizarre, exhilarating, humbling, glorious and disappointing.

I suppose my greatest enemy in all this was expectation. My whole life my brain has absorbed useless information the way Jim Edmonds would absorb fly balls. So when I heard that “Millionaire” was auditioning here in St. Louis for an entire week’s worth of shows dedicated to my greatest passion – movies – I jumped at the chance.

I joined the crowd of hundreds of other geekily eager St. Louisans at Lumiere Place in October, and when I breezed through the test and two interviews it seemed like the Hand of Fate was guiding my efforts. Little did I know his bitter cousin, the Right Foot of Humility, was waiting in the wings to kick me square in the butt.

Less than four weeks later I was in New York City along with 10 other contestants, selected from the country’s best and brightest movie nerds. It was a little too early for visions of hot tubs and jet skis because at that point my biggest concern was still actually getting on the show.

An entire week’s worth of episodes was to be shot in one day and the number of us to actually make it on the air depended on how quickly they burned through contestants. With our order of appearance randomized, there was the very real possibility I would have gone through all of this for nothing.

We spent most of the morning meeting with lawyers and producers before being sequestered to a dingy little green-room deep in the inner catacombs of the studio. As we waited for our names to be called one by one, we contestants developed a strange camaraderie; similar to what I can only assume is that of hostages trapped in a bunker.

Finally, with our numbers dwindling and my chances running out, my name was called. I have been on television a handful of times in my life, but there is really nothing that can prepare you for the stressful and surreal experience of being on a game show.

It’s like having one of those dreams where you are naked at the mall. Your brain is quietly trying to figure out how you got there while the rest of you is hoping no one realizes how exposed you are.

From the second my foot hit the stage my recollection becomes spotty and blurred, the way car-crash victims remember their wrecks.

I remember the horror of not knowing the answer to the very first question as any preconceived notions of “strategy” grabbed their bags and bolted for the 36th Street subway.

I remember the relief of succeeding on not one, but two thinly educated guesses.

I remember thinking “Even if Meredith Vieira is only pretending to be this nice, that has to put her in the Celebrity Top 10 of Decency, right?”

I remember seeing all the lights and hearing the booming musical cues and thinking an astronaut stress test couldn’t be all that much different.

Finally, on my last question, I remember deciding to take a chance; scrambling around in the backfield like Brett Favre, I dangerously chucked my pass towards the endzone … only to watch it be intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

I was quickly whisked off stage, asked to sign some papers and deposited on the streets of New York with my lovely wife smiling encouragingly back at me in the span of what seemed to be roughly 4.6 seconds. It wasn’t until a couple of hours later while we were milling around Times Square that I paused to think, “Wait. What just happened?”

In the months between the taping of the show and it’s airdate last week, I had to patiently wait for my failure to be revealed to the world, coyly answering, “You’ll have to watch the show” to questions regarding how well I did. It was hard not to be bitter, leaving St. Louis with dreams of riches and glory only to return with the “Participant” ribbon equivalent of $1,000 (just enough to cover our airfare and hotel).

In that time I came to several conclusions, the first of which being that in order to fail on such a grand stage, you have to have a whole lot of success to get there. So there was that.

But most importantly, there is something about losing in such a public manner that strips away any delusions of grandeur and leaves the world staring at the person you truly are. Sure I could have blamed my loss on the difficulty of the questions, or the goofy format that randomized the money amounts, or how the sun got in my eyes; but in the end the loss is mine and mine alone.

I know a lot more about the man I am now than before I went on that silly game show and now I know I can withstand a pretty good kick to the gourds.

Plus it became crystal clear how stupidly blessed I am. I’m married to my best friend, I have two beautiful, albeit moderately rambunctious children, I’m in good health and I have a job I actually enjoy. Now would I trade all that for a million dollars? Well, um, give me a second, um, how many lifelines do I have left? Just kidding! It’s a definite “no.” Final answer.

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