What if the chance to win thousands of dollars depended on determining the correct answer to the following question: What appliance is equivalent to an electric broom?
Unlikely as this situation may seem, yesterday Shani Malloy ’08 faced just that during her appearance on the ABC television game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” which is scheduled to continue today at 12:30 p.m. on Fox 61 WTIC-TV. Malloy, who filmed the show during July, advanced past the $300 question before the show ended with her still in the hot seat.
Although many Yalies spend their summers in exotic places doing off-the-wall things, Malloy said most of her fellow students found her experience particularly unusual.
“I’m still kind of weirded out by the whole thing,” Malloy said. “In Kappa [Kappa Gamma sorority], we were going over what we did in the summer. I said, ‘Oh, well, I was on a game show,’ and everyone looked at me and said, ‘What a weird lie to tell, Shani. You’re so strange.’ Once the initial shock is over, though, and everyone actually believes you, it’s really exciting.”
Malloy said that although she watched “Millionaire” two summers ago when she worked an office job, she was never a “die-hard fan” and, in fact, it was a friend who inspired her to audition for the game show.
“We were hanging out and watching ‘Family Guy,’ and there was a reference to the ‘Twilight Zone’ that no one else understood, while I was laughing hysterically,” Malloy said. “My friend told me that I knew so much random stuff that I should go on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ so I went online, applied, and got an audition.”
When Malloy was younger, she often played games like Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit with her family, which may have cultivated her “natural curiosity,” Malloy’s mother Claudia McGuire Malloy said. She said she thought her daughter’s decision to audition for the show was a great idea.
“She’s very composed and thinks on her feet,” McGuire Malloy said. “It was just natural for her.”
But in college, where Malloy spends much of her time cheerleading and with her sorority, studying random facts is not necessarily a priority.
“Shani isn’t necessarily all that into trivia,” Malloy’s friend and roommate Tiffany Chen ’08 said. “It’s just that she’s the type of person who would decide to do it and actually go through with it.”
The “Millionaire” audition process involves, among other things, an online application, a preliminary quiz, and multiple interviews. While the online portion requests basic information such as name, address and telephone number, the quiz is the second step in the process and serves as an elimination round which, Malloy said, pared down her group of hopefuls to 30 or 40 out of an estimated 100.
“The questions were right in the middle [in terms of difficulty]; there were no extremes either way,” Malloy said. “There were no hard ones like ‘Define this crazy scientific term’ but there weren’t any questions like ‘What does a dog say?’ either.”
Following that round, Malloy was interviewed by two separate producers. The interview process was to ensure that each contestant was charismatic and could inspire support from the studio audience, Malloy said.
“I think they’re looking for people the audience can relate to and like,” Malloy said. “I’m sure they get a lot of people who are brilliant, but are really shy, won’t talk to Meredith [Vieira], or don’t have much interesting to say other than the fact that they are brilliant.”
If a potential contestant successfully completes the interview, his or her name is added to a pool of applicants from which names are chosen to film the show. A name will eventually expire, according to the official rules on the Millionaire Web site, and potential contestants who do not return phone calls or refuse to adhere to certain terms will be disqualified.
This was not a problem for Malloy, because she received the phone call before she even knew she was in the contestant pool.
“She called and left a wonderful message on the telephone,” McGuire Malloy said. “She said, ‘Mom, I’m going to be on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’! Yay!’ She was so excited — we were all so excited.”
Malloy’s preparations for the show involved printing off pages of material from Web sites such as Trivia.com and trying to learn by heart “the biggest, tallest, smallest — the extremes of everything,” she said. She also watched tapes of old Millionaire episodes. When she arrived in New York to film the show, Malloy said she was nervous but also felt ready.
But unbeknownst to her, Malloy’s preparations were not yet complete.
“We had to practice getting in and out of the chair because apparently it tips over sometimes,” Malloy said. “So we took about half an hour learning how to climb in and out of the chair. It was a big deal.”
Malloy said that it was while waiting in the “green room” — where selected contestants remain until they are called onto the set — that she got to meet some of her fellow contestants, who aided each other and reviewed trivia while waiting for their turns in the hot seat.
“Because you’re not competing against one another, everyone there is really open to sharing their knowledge,” Malloy said. “People are just hoping that you can get something from them that will be useful to you on the show. We actually had a really long conversation about all the Great Lakes for some reason.”
Malloy signed a contract forbidding her from revealing the outcome of the show until after its broadcast, even to her family and best friends. Chen, whom Malloy selected to serve as one of her five potential “Phone-a-Friend” lifelines as a science and music expert, said that although she does not yet know the outcome of her roommate’s appearance on the show, she is confident that Malloy did well.
“I’m sure she made quite a lot of money,” Chen said.
A group of Malloy’s suitemates and other peers gathered yesterday in their Berkeley common room to support their friend in her television debut.
“There was a whole group of people there watching the show,” Ellie Brophy ’08 said. “Everyone was cheering whenever she got an answer right. Some people sprinted straight from class and got there at 12:45.”
Although Malloy sat next to her friends during the show, her mind was on other things as she already knew the outcome.
“Shani was there sitting on the couch with us,” Ashali Singham ’08 said. “The whole time Shani was worrying about how she’d look on camera — and we were all busy worrying about her answering the questions.”
As for the monetary reward, Malloy said she was not too concerned with the dollar value of her prize.
“My attitude going in there was that if I got any money at all, that was money I would have now that I didn’t have yesterday,” she said. “Whether I won the $1 million or just $500, it’s money I didn’t used to have. I was going to be happy with whatever I got — unless I left with zero. That’d be bad.”
Overall, Malloy said the experience was incredible, although it was difficult not to tell those around her the results of her participation during the two-month gap between the filming of the show and its eventual airing.
“I went from my summer living situation, when I was with so many different people, back home, and then out to Yale again, and to keep telling all those people, ‘I’m not at liberty to disclose that information’ did get very hard,” she said. “It’ll be nice not to have to bottle up the results anymore.”
And as for the mysterious electric broom, which Malloy had to identify in one of her questions yesterday?
“It’s a vacuum cleaner,” Brophy said.