That guy on that show

April 06 2013

Hello, Listservians! Right now I'm an aspiring voice actor, but back in 2000 I had a successful experience on the US version of the game show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire", so I figured I'd start there.

Security was super-tight—look up "Charles Van Doren" to see why. We were escorted everywhere (even to the bathroom) by steely-eyed production assistants, our pre-show buffet came with a free set of lawyers, and all phones, wallets, etc. were locked up prior to entering the set. One contestant was almost kicked out because he brought a book into the green room in case he got bored.

My taxes weren't covered; in 2001 I handed over 39% federal and 8% (California) state. ABC was VERY clear about my fiscal responsibilities and provided many helpful IRS forms; I can't speak for how the other networks handle things.

This conversation (more or less) took place in my supervisor's office at work in the week between the show's taping and airing:

Supervisor: So, Joe, what did you want to see me about?

Me: Well...you know I can't tell you how I did on Millionaire until it airs...but I got a call and they want me on the Rosie O'Donnell Show on Thursday. I might need a couple more days off...

Supervisor: (pause) Right…I understand. Shouldn't be a problem.

My brother Tony was in college at the time. His full name was in the campus phone directory, so he received a lot of calls after the show aired. Several were from female undergrads asking if he was related to that guy on the TV, and maybe if he was free later they could get a cup of coffee? His girlfriend (now wife) was NOT amused.

My other brother Nate was one of my Phone-A-Friends. He is a baseball fanatic and was a sports writer at the time, so when a $32,000 baseball question came up, he was the obvious person to ask. In the 30 seconds available he gave what he said was “possibly” the answer, but just after the phone cut off he realized it was incorrect and had the mother of all forehead-slap moments. Fortunately, his emphasis on "possibly" gave me the impetus to puzzle out the right answer. After the taping was over and I got back to my hotel, there were two phone messages for me – one from a New York Times Magazine reporter confirming some biographical data, and one very, very apologetic one from Nate.

Yes, I let him twist in the wind ever-so-briefly. I'm only human.

Nate also has Von Hippel–Lindau disease (or VHL). VHL presents itself as vascular tumors in the eyes, kidneys, and other organs. Once you know it's there, you go through periodic retinal scans and MRIs to keep tabs on things, and if something shows up you go through lasers and cryosurgery. Nate has gone through a lot.

Two months ago, I spent time at his home in Colorado helping with shopping and the kids while he recovered from eye surgery meant to keep his vision above 20/200 (it seems to have been successful). Recently he started a program to help the newly visually impaired regain their independence; he's learning skiing, he'll be rock climbing soon, and as a final exam they'll drop him off at some random Denver intersection and tell him to find his way back. I look at him, and I will be damned and milled and drip-brewed if I could keep it together even half as well as he does.

Joseph Trela
Antioch, California, USA
trelajoseph@gmail.com


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