Longfellow resident wins $125,000 on `Millionaire,' answering 12 of 15 questions

NEIGHBORS

March 01, 2000|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PUT THESE events in chronological order, if you can.

a) St. Louis Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV.

b) Tiger Woods turns pro.

c) Posh Spice gets married.

d) Johnny Carson retires.

Is that your final answer?

Last week, Longfellow resident Mark Prysant correctly answered the question (d, b, c, a) in the fastest time -- earning him a chance to win big bucks on the hit ABC television show, "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire."

Prysant, 38, a government mathematician, has been calling the program's contestant phone line every day since last fall in hopes of qualifying for the show, which has 30 million viewers.

"It's simple enough to do," he said. "You call and answer some questions."

After qualifying in two preliminary rounds by phone, Prysant was flown to New York, given a room at The Hotel Empire, a T-shirt and a $50 per diem, courtesy of the show's producers.

Contestants are invited to bring a companion. Prysant, who is not married, asked his sister, Shelley Moehrle of New Jersey, to accompany him to the taping Feb. 15.

At a reception for contestants at the hotel, Prysant met his competitors.

"It's interesting to find out the viewpoints these people have about the competition and learn about their backgrounds," Prysant said.

One contestant, a former professional wrestler going by the name Notorious Norm, stands out in Prysant's mind. Norm is studying to be a mortician.

"He was a bit different," Prysant said.

On the day of the taping, contestants and their companions are bused to the television studio where they are sequestered to prevent cheating.

"You and your companion are escorted everywhere, even the bathroom," Prysant said.

They were fed brunch, and watched a tape of the British version of the show. Contestants were interviewed for personal information and introduced to Regis Philbin, the program's host.

"He seemed to be a nice guy," Prysant said. "During breaks, he would come backstage and talk to us."

Before taping begins, the 10 contestants are given the opportunity to practice punching in answers on their keyboards. They also practice getting into the "Hot Seat" -- the chair contestants sit in when vying for a million dollars.

"The Hot Seat is so high and without a center of balance, so you have to back up into it," Prysant said.

He had trouble getting into the chair before taping and almost tipped it over after his name was called to compete in the final round.

"They had to reshoot that," he said.

Prysant answered 12 of 15 questions successfully.

"I was confident on almost all of them," he said.

A question about Jesus gave him the most trouble. "The problem is, I'm Jewish," he said.

The question was, "In the New Testament, which prisoner did Pontius Pilate allow to go free instead of Jesus?"

The choices were: a) Saul, b) Barabbas, c) Judas Iscariot, or d) Lazarus.

Prysant said, "I took a very, very long time on this question," before choosing the correct answer, b.

The question that finally stumped him read, "Where are the `shores of Tripoli' referred to in the `Marines' hymn?"

His choices were Lebanon, Costa Rica, Italy and Libya.

"I thought, `I really believe it's Libya. I'm not certain, and I'm at a point where I have a good chunk of the college fund won.' " he said. "So I decided to play it safe."

Although his instincts proved to be correct, Prysant decided to let the question go and walked away with $125,000. He estimates that he'll keep nearly 55 percent of his prize money. Taxes will eat up the rest.

Prysant plans to save most of his winnings for his 5-year-old son Eli.

Competing on game shows is sort of a family affair for Prysant. In the 1970s, his aunt, Iris Bertram, won $30,000 on the program, "Three On A Match," with Bill Cullen as master of ceremonies. She was the highest game-show winner ever on NBC at the time.

While most of his winnings are designated for practical purposes, Prysant thinks he might use some of the money for a vacation.

"What I might do at some point in the next couple of years is visit Alaska," he said. "It's the only state I haven't been to."

Read across America

Pupils at Bryant Woods Elementary School will have a chance to compete in a couple of game shows tonight during the school's Read Across America celebration.

Sponsored by the National Education Association, Read Across America is a national program designed to spotlight reading while honoring Dr. Seuss, or Theodor Geisel, who was born March 2, 1904. It is held in schools across the country on or around his birthday.

Pupils and their parents are invited to become contestants in "Who Wants to Be a Readingaire?" and "Wheel of Literature." Prizes such as bookmarks and stickers are up for grabs.

The media center will become Downtown Seussville, offering activities that encourage reading, and refreshments.

Leslie Weinberg, a Gifted and Talented resource teacher, has been planning the event for weeks with help from staff members Debbie Velencia, Allyson Sealfon, Victoria Lawson, Elizabeth Spieth, Jamie Sharfstein, Gwen Jones, Kristen Podson, Kristina Puckett and Becky Gioffre.

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