Archive for Monday, July 24, 2000

Close not enough for million

Winning contestant also a column-reader

July 24, 2000


A week or so ago, 24-year-old David Goodman of Maryland became the youngest person to win the grand prize of $1 million on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

It turns out David is a fan of this column. He's read it for years.

Imagine how flattered I was to learn that. A smart kid like him being a fan of mine. Just 24 years old, and with a million dollars in his pocket. And he's a fan of mine! What a country. Quite naturally, I wondered:

What's in it for me?

So, I called David to congratulate him on his big triumph. He graciously said, "I have to point out that answering trivia questions is not nearly as important as writing a column that millions of people read like you do, Tony."

Seemed like as good a time as any to ask him for money.

"You know, my share," I said. "What are you doing for me?"

David hemmed and hawed about providing me "a couple of paragraphs for a column." Like I care.

I asked David what he was going to do with all that money if he wasn't going to give it to me. After taxes, he'd have $600,000.

"I need to buy a house with a humongous mortgage for a write-off," he said.

What a coincidence, I said. My house just this second came on the market. For, um, $600,000.

David seemed like a sweet kid, and clearly, he's a whiz. Most people go out way early -- though not as early as a woman the other night, who went out at $1,000 on the question: "The Sheriff Of Nottingham was the sworn enemy of?"

One answer, obviously, was Robin Hood. Another was Robinson Crusoe. The others were more preposterous -- like Boris Yeltsin and Tammy Faye Baker.

The woman says, "I think it's Robinson Crusoe."

Regis gave her a disapproving look, and suggested she use a lifeline.

So, she went for the 50/50, leaving Robin Hood and Robinson Crusoe.

And she said, "I think it's d) Robinson Crusoe."

Regis firmly suggested she use another lifeline. He practically shook her by the lapels to get her not to choose Robinson Crusoe.

"It's Robinson Crusoe," she said.

What a donkey.

David Goodman had to negotiate hard questions, one of which stunned me. It was: "The Lilith Fair musical tour was named for what character from an ancient text?"

The answers were: Lot's wife; Adam's first wife; Helen of Troy; a muse of lyrical poetry.

Time out.

Adam's first wife?

Eve wasn't Adam's first wife? Eve was what, Adam's trophy wife?

"It would have worked out fine," my friend Nancy suggested, "if only she were scared of snakes, like most women."

David thinks he heard about Lilith in a college mythology course. Lilith is referred to in the ancient writings of scholars trying to interpret contradictions in the Bible. In one passage, the Bible says God created man and woman at the same time. But a later passage refers to Eve being plucked from Adam's rib. Lilith's existence was advanced to explain this discrepancy.

"It changes my mind about Adam," Nancy said. "I didn't know he was on the rebound."

I was still pondering Lilith leaving Adam: "Where did she go? Cancun? I mean, what else was around then? There's the Garden of Eden, right? And what else, Pittsburgh?"

Do we know Eve was Adam's second wife? If there was a Lilith, maybe there was a LaToya, or a Skye?

But David nailed the Lilith question. Then, he slam-dunked the Paddington Bear question for the million. "What was Paddington Bear's country of origin? Peru, Canada, Iceland or India?"

Come on. Iceland and Peru are idiotic; no connection to England, where Paddington Bear ended up. It had to be India, a major British colony.

It was, er, Peru.

Who associates bears with Peru? Llamas, sure. And that hideous flute music. But bears?

That question was the first time David had to use his lifeline: "They kept asking me stuff I knew."

I congratulated David again on his good fortune, and asked him what was the strongest part of his trivia game.

He said his expertise was European monarchs and famous battles.

"If they had asked me for $1 million: 'Who was the King of France in 650?' I'd have been happy to say: 'Dagobert,"' David told me.

(Silly me, I'd have said: "Jerry Lewis.")

"And if I'm not right," David said, "then, I'm darned close."

But don't you have to be right for the million dollars?

I looked it up. Dagobert I was the King of France. Until his death in 639.

How much do you win for darned close?

-- Tony Kornheiser is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.

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