My eight-year-old daughter wants me to be a millionaire. Badly.
She got the idea by watching the ABC-TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, hosted by Regis Philbin.
Stripped of its bells and whistles, the game is simple: If you correctly answer 15 questions in a row, you win $1 million.
The format is designed to draw in young viewers. Many people don't understand why a lot of the questions, especially at the beginning, are so easy. ABC's official thinking is that if kids are interested, their parents will watch, too. It's the same philosophy that made McDonald's a success.
My daughter, Sara, has become a fanatical devotee of the game. She refuses to take a bath until it's over. When she asks me a question, she adds, "Final answer?" Just like "Saint Regis," as she calls him, does on the show.
She's regularly been asking one question in particular: "If you win a million dollars, Daddy, how much would I get?"
As I no more expect to win Regis's pot than I do the Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes, I agreed to give her $32,000, the minimum amount contestants usually win and enough to pay for a few courses when she gets to college.
She thought for a moment before announcing, "You have to get on that show."
"Yeah, sure," I said.
"I mean it. You have to get on that show."
That's when I learned she'd memorized the phone number Regis gives at the end of each show, the one you call to qualify as a contestant. She picked up the phone and began dialing. The line was busy.
Using the redial feature–which I'd never shown her–she called for four hours. Finally, without a word, she put the phone to my ear. It was the electronic voice of Regis.
Using the phone's keypad, I had to answer three questions of increasing difficulty. I was allowed ten seconds for each. If I got them right, my name would be thrown into a pool, and if it was selected, I might be whisked to New York as a contestant.
The first question required me to alphabetize four countries. No problem. The second asked me to rank four authors "from oldest to newest." They were Voltaire, Jack London, Carl Jung, and John Grisham. Did the question mean birthdays? Did it mean oldest to youngest or youngest to oldest? I don't know, because after putting the names in Voltaire-London-Jung-Grisham order, I was informed I'd made a mistake and was being disconnected.
I was dizzy with disappointment as I looked into Sara's eyes. I'd let her down.
"I don't know what I did wrong," I said. "But I'm out. I didn't get it right."
"You have to call again," she said. "You have to win a million dollars. You can call three times!"
Once more she began dialing, over and over. After a day of trying, she hadn't gotten through and went to bed.
At the crack of dawn, she began again. Finally, after uncharacteristically rushing home from third grade, she got through, once again putting the phone to my ear.
The first question again was alphabetizing. The second asked me to rank four vacuum-cleaner brands from oldest to newest. They were the something Steamback, the Hoover canister, the Dirt Devil, and the Dustbuster.
My heart sank as I contemplated the relative ages of the Dirt Devil and the Dustbuster. After the phone voice called me an idiot and disconnected me, I turned to my precious daughter, looked her in the eye, and said, "I got them all right."
Sara was ecstatic. She couldn't wait to tell Mommy I was going to be on "the Saint Regis show."
I explained the long odds of the drawing and pointed out that the producers might not call back at all. I hope that for now I've defused the situation. The show is scheduled to return this month, and I'm trying to get ready. Does anyone know of a good book on vacuum cleaners?