It's not everyday a Houstonian is on a nationally televised game show. Especially one where the top prize is a million dollars. I had the opportunity of being on The Price is Right in August and although I wasn't lucky enough to be a contestant, host Drew Carey did speak to me during a commercial break. That was a win for me as being on The Price is Right has been a dream of mine my entire life.
We caught up with Natalie Poranski, who filmed for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? this past July and asked her the questions on everyone's mind since her taping.
AA: When did you first know you wanted to be on WWTBAM?
NP: I have wanted to be on a game show since I was a kid and first saw Family Feud and The Price is Right. Then Jeopardy! came on the air in 1994 and my love of trivia began. (It's still the dream to be on Jeopardy!) When Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? debuted in 1999, I knew I had to get on the show. With Jeopardy! there's a chance that you end up on a show against a Ken Jennings or a Julia Collins thus pretty much eliminating any chance you have of winning much more than second or third place prize money. Where else was I going to get the opportunity to answer 14 questions correctly to win a million dollars? And to be able to do it without competing against anyone but myself? Wow!
AA: As live as game shows appear to be, how long did you have to wait to get an on-air date?
NP: I tried out on June 9th here in Houston. I got the call that I was going to be on the show on June 28th. I taped the show on July 10th and they had probably taped about 45 shows prior to that date. The season premiered on September 8th and they contacted me on September 9th to tell me that my episode was airing on September 26th. Not too bad of a turnaround. It could have aired at any point between now and the end of the season next spring. I feel pretty lucky that it is airing so quickly.
AA: In addition to waiting for your on-air date, did you feel pressure from your friends and loved ones to share your experience?
NP: For the most part, everyone has been very respectful of my inability to talk about it. Almost everyone jokingly asked me to tell them what happened, but very few people pushed it past the joking point. As a general rule, I'm an open book about my life so I was worried that I would have a hard time keeping it a secret.
AA: Speaking of secrets, can you tell us what happened on the show?
NP: Nope, I can't say a word until it airs or I could potentially forfeit the money that I win. That would be devastating to say the least. It's been fun to have people speculate on my performance on the show while they gauge my reactions for any telling clues. I found that just smiling at them was the best response.
AA: With the show in it's thirteenth season, what are some changes they've made since it started?
NP: The original lifelines were Ask the Audience, 50/50 and Phone-a-Friend. They replaced the 50/50 and the Phone a Friend with the Jump the Question lifeline. For the last few seasons, the three lifelines were comprised of Ask the Audience and two Jump the Question lifelines. This season, they replaced one of the Jump the Questions with the Plus One (+1). The Plus One is someone you bring with you to the show who you can call to the stage for help on a question.
AA: Who was your Plus 1? Besides someone you could be sure could be sworn to secrecy?
NP: I chose to bring my friend, Carrie Sawyer, as my Plus One (+1). Carrie and I met on my daughter's first birthday over 14 years ago when she moved to Houston for a few years. She's from New Hampshire and she moved home when her niece was born around 10 years ago. We've stayed close over the years and I've adopted her family as my own (whether they like it or not). I love the Sawyers! I chose Carrie because I knew it was an experience that she would enjoy as much as me. She's also a teacher with two masters degrees.
AA: Did you study in preparation for the show and, if so, what did you research?
NP: I had every intention of studying for the show. I was finally going to read The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World but only made it through the A's and part of the B's. I intended to read the archives for past Jeopardy! episodes at J! Archive. I wanted to memorize the presidents and their vice presidents in order. In the end, the only thing I did was watch my backlog of Jeopardy! episodes on the DVR. I also watched as many episodes of WWTBAM as I could in order to practice my strategy in various situations. Sometimes that was a little overwhelming - most days I would know most or all of the answers, but there were some days where most of the questions pertained to things I knew nothing about and I would have had to walk away three or four questions into the show.
Interview continues on the next page.
AA: How much money did you win? If I promise not to tell, will you tell me?
NP: I know you promise not to tell and I know you really, really mean it, but I have no control over who you might tell if I were to tell you. Because, legally, I'm not allowed to tell you. If I tell you and it came out that I told you, I forfeit my winnings. Forfeit. Not that I think you're all irresponsible secret-tellers, it's just that I lose all control of the situation.
AA: Aww, come on.
NP: Maybe one night you'll have had a little too much to drink while you're out with a good friend and they'll ask, "Hey, [insert your name here], didn't you have a friend that was on WWTBAM? How did she end up doing?" And you'll say, "Well, I'm not supposed to say anything, but I can trust you. You promise not to tell, right?" And now someone else, possibly someone I don't know, has the information. I can't take that chance.
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AA: How hard was it keeping it a secret for so many months? NP: My insistence upon keeping the amount I won a secret is simple. Whatever the amount is that I won, I need that money. Need it. Whether it's $1,000 or $1,000,000 or any number in between, it's an important amount of money for me. I've worked very, very hard over the past year, averaging nearly 60 hours a week at work to make ends meet while going to school full-time. I have student loans that will come due soon. Any amount of money I win, whatever amount it is, is needed and wanted and will do good in my life.
AA: Finally, what was your favorite part about being on the show?
NP: I don't think I can pinpoint just one thing. Every single moment was my favorite. From the audition experience here in Houston to getting the call that I was going to be on the show to traveling to Connecticut (via plane, train and automobile) to walking into the studio to my interactions with the amazing producers/contestant coordinators along the way. (Shout out to Daisy!) I have a huge smile on my face in the pictures from that day because I had one of the most fun and exciting days of my life, from start to finish. I was on a game show! I met Terry freaking Crews! Terry Crews said my name! He hugged and high-fived me! I saw friends and family that I hadn't seen in years! I had my hair and makeup done by professionals! It was an amazing day. One I will never forget. I HAD SO MUCH FUN! I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream and the entire experience from start to finish was priceless.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is in it's thirteenth season and is currently hosted by Terry Crews. Find out how Natalie did today at 3pm on KTRK Channel 13.