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Is he millionaire? Even his wife doesn't know

A Safety Harbor man's family will find out tonight by tuning in to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

By DEBORAH O'NEIL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


SAFETY HARBOR -- For all she knows, Virginia Papadopoulos and her husband could be thousands of dollars richer.

Is he a winner?
Like the rest of America, the Safety Harbor woman won't know until she tunes in to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? at 9 p.m. today. Her husband, Gus, will be among the 10 contestants to appear on tonight's episode of the hit television game show that draws an average of 29-million to 30-million viewers.

Executives at ABC ask the contestants not to reveal the show's outcome. Papadopoulos won't say whether he made it to the "hot seat" opposite Regis Philbin. He hasn't even told his wife, who says she does not want to know.

He has everyone in suspense.

"All of our friends are taking bets as to whether he made it to the chair or not," Mrs. Papadopoulos said. Her attitude is, "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. It's not Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?"

Papadopoulos has discovered the mystery has its own appeal.

"It's amazing how great people will treat you, like at the dentist's office, if you say, "Hey, I'm going to be on national TV,' " he said. "You get great looking teeth."

Papadopoulos, who will turn 40 Friday, has a master's degree in business administration from Vanderbilt University and works at Honeywell developing ways for the company's employees to do their jobs better. But he won the right to appear on the show in March, while he was home recuperating from surgery.

"It gave me lots of time to do things like hunt up game shows on the Internet," Papadopoulos said.

After about a dozen tries, Papadopoulos got through to the show's 1-800 number that poses three questions that each must be answered in 10 seconds. About 2-million people per day call that 1-800 number, said ABC publicist Pat Preblick, and about 240,000 actually get through.

Of the 240,000 who get through, only 6 percent answer the questions correctly. Their names get tossed into a random drawing. If their name is drawn -- and Papadopoulos' was -- they advance to another round with five more difficult questions.

Among the questions Papadopoulos had to answer: putting a list of movies with the word "Day' in their title in order of release and putting a list of Cher's boyfriends and husbands in the order of when they were with her.

"Shoot, Cher doesn't even know that, let alone me," Papadopoulos joked.

But apparently Papadopoulos got the questions right.

"ABC called one hour later and said, "You're on the show,' " Papadopoulos said.

He joins the ranks of 865 people who have appeared as finalists on the show, Preblick said.

Papadopoulos had little time to prepare. An earlier experience with game shows proved to him that studying doesn't necessarily give you an edge. In 1993, Papadopoulos appeared on Jeopardy. Even though he studied, let's just say, he didn't win.

"I had a bad day," Papadopoulos said. "We got Lee Press-on Nails and coupons for Klondike ice cream bars and some other lovely parting gifts. . . . I've tried to burn as many copies of that tape as I could."

The weekend of April 15, Papadopoulos, his wife and son flew to New York. ABC paid for him and his wife. While her husband was taping the episode from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mrs. Papadopoulos took their son to the American Museum of Natural History.

And how was host Regis Philbin?

"He's nice, but you could tell it was a long day for him, too," Papadopoulos said.

The couple plan to tune in and let their kindergartener stay up late tonight to see his dad on television.

Pressed for a hint about what to expect, Papadopoulos wouldn't budge: "Just watch the show."

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