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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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So, who wants to be my lifeline
Believe it or not, Mom was right. Passing the tests to qualify for Millionaire was a breeze.
By Steve Persall, Times Film Critic
Published July 13, 2007
How do I love thee, Meredith Vieira? Let me count the ways backward from 1-million and just stop right there.
I'll play your little game, telling you what you expect to hear. But listen straight up: First I look at the purse.
Saucy minx, not even putting a question mark on your show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire because you know everyone does. I like that in a game show host.
Obviously, I have plenty of rivals for Meredith's attention and bankroll. Nearly 5,000 of us suitors recently lined up at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center declaring our intentions and she wasn't even there.
My mother set us up. Mom has wanted me on a quiz show since the IQ scores came back, regardless of how many times I disproved them over the years.
But now, between Mom and Meredith, I had two reasons to apply. Add to that the fact that the tryout consisted of two tests - and one of them was a movie trivia test - and I had to do it.
I arrived at 6:45 a.m., more than two hours before testing began but after nearly 400 other hopefuls. Leaning on crutches ahead of me was Peter Nason, 44, of Wesley Chapel, who had knee surgery a few days earlier and was far too cheery.
"I'll take the discomfort with the fun," he declared.
In the interest of good karma, I shoved aside cruel thoughts of pushing him aside.
Good thing, since I spent the next three hours bonding with Peter and his dad, George, who was there lending wheelchair and moral support. Nice guys.
Our little group also included Tampa's Dan Ferrara, 60, who once qualified online to audition in New York for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Ferrara flew up, took the test and flew home three hours later. He didn't make the cut but he kept the show's monogrammed pencil and bought a NYFD cap. Both were with him for luck this day in Tampa.
Leading the wanna-be winners' queue was Judy Taber, 65, of Naples. She established a base camp at a nearby hotel Thursday then started the line at 1 p.m. - 20 hours before auditions began. Taber shared the stakeout with her hairdresser, Jenni Hair. Her husband's name is Harrison. He prefers being called Harry.
Amazing, the things you learn while waiting in line to find out how smart you are.
As our group's testing time neared, I remembered a mini-TV stashed in the folding chair I brought. In what can only have been a moment of divine Vieira-ness, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was on.
Minutes later, one of the answers to an audition test question was the same Cool Hand Luke tidbit that Meredith slipped to me on my mini-TV.
I felt golden.
Producers asked everyone not to reveal the 30 questions, since thousands of others will be taking the test later in other cities.
So I will only say that two movie questions made me nervous. Each offered four films with something in common - an actor and genre - and asked which was released first. But I felt good about the other 28 questions, and I knew I could get two wrong and still pass, so that round was pretty easy.
Next came the general trivia test and a better sense of what it's like to be in the hot seat. Questions about a foreign language, a weird chemical term and a few others all had me guessing.
Pencils down, papers in and the Scantron started grading. Within minutes, a producer was reading out the results, starting with four applicants who passed both exams.
I was one of them.
I haven't felt so Einsteinian since my second-grade teacher named a reading group after me.
But I still don't know if I'll be on the show. Producers are tight-lipped about particulars: how many Tampa applicants passed, how many they're placing in contestant pools, and how long they remain there. Applicants who passed will receive postcards in few weeks informing them if their scores, head shots and brief interviews were good enough for TV.
But somehow I know that Meredith and I have a common destiny, me on the hot seat and her staring me down with those ice-blue eyes. Ask me anything, although I'd prefer something cinematic.
And remember, it's a "1" and six zeroes on the check.