Junior Jason Shapiro is a fan of Matchbox 20, Monty Python and Duke basketball. Typical Dukie, right? But on the first day of classes, while the rest of us were reading syllabus after syllabus and re-establishing routines for the rest of the semester, Shapiro was sitting in the hot seat in Orlando, Fla., answering trivia questions. For all we know, this seemingly inconspicuous Cameron Crazy and math major might now walk among us a millionaire.
Shapiro has always been a trivia buff, serving as captain of his high school Brain Brawl team and picking up random tidbits of information everywhere he could. He finally got a chance to prove his prowess when he was chosen to play in the college edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Shapiro’s experience with the show began while he was surfing the Internet for game show sites, looking for information for a final project last semester. “I kind of clicked on the Millionaire site by accident, and saw that they were having tryouts in Wake Forest,” he said.
It had always been a dream of his to appear on a game show, so he seized the opportunity, took the 30-question multiple-choice test, gave an interview and was told he might receive a postcard in the mail. Out of the 30 students trying out at the same time, Shapiro and five others made it into the subject pool. After receiving the notification postcard, he got a phone call a few weeks later while driving home to Coral Springs, Fla., telling him he would appear on the show.
He pulled off the freeway into a gas station and started making celebratory phone calls. “It was either call nobody or call everybody,” he said, “so I quickly decided to call everyone I knew.”
“On the road while he was driving home, he got the call and he was pretty much hysterical,” said junior Pradeep Baliga, Shapiro’s friend and primary lifeline for the show. “If any one of us had to be on the show, it had to be him.”
The show was filmed Jan. 12 in Disney World, preceded by a rushed seven-hour tour of all four theme parks: a quick compensation in advance, full of roller coasters and Mickey Mouse, before the nerves set in the next day. “It was the first day of school, but that didn’t really matter,” Shapiro said with a laugh, adding that it was a great experience that he would love to repeat.
Though it’s impossible to simply sit down and study in preparation for the show, Shapiro said he just paid attention to anything interesting he heard. “I think I just know a bunch of random stuff,” he said. “Obviously anything math I should be able to get, I like sports, and I’m normally pretty good on pop culture.”
To try to learn about everything else, Shapiro read books and talked to people in between video game bouts of Madden football during winter break, fueling his curiosity and stocking up on information. “I was talking to him one time,” Baliga remembered, “and he just said, ‘Tell me everything you know about Russia.’”
Despite the bright lights, television cameras, millions of prospective viewers and large sums of money at stake, Shapiro said nerves surprisingly weren’t an issue and were instead replaced by a surreal feeling. “I really thought I’d be nervous, but when you’re sitting there in the chair, you don’t really feel like yourself,” he said. “I was just kind of hazy.”
The suspense and Millionaire mania didn’t end in the studio in Orlando—it extended to a dorm room at Duke containing a speakerphone, two computers and up to 12 of Shapiro’s friends prepared to Google his question if he needed a lifeline.
“It was nerve-wracking actually,” Baliga said. “One of my friend’s moms called and just asked for him, but when the phone rang we all basically had a collective heart attack.”
At risk of losing his prize, Shapiro is forbidden to discuss the details of the show, including the questions and the amount of money he won, with anyone until the episode airs Feb. 24 and 25.
“He could very well be a millionaire, but he could just have $200 to spare,” Baliga said. “His roommate jokes around with him, telling him he can’t enter the room unless he pays a million dollars and asks if he can afford it.”
Shapiro admitted he can’t wait to watch himself on television, although he already knows what’s going to happen.
“It was just so great and so much fun,” he summed up the experience. “Hopefully, I’ll get to be on every other game show.”