My chance at the Million Second Quiz

I grew up in family games. My parents, both gifted Bridge players, taught my brother and me about strategy and deductive reasoning using board games. My mother would look at me across a colorful Mastermind board, surveying my latest attempt to crack her code, and ask "Now what do you know?" Needless to say, my love of games extended to game shows, especially where strategy was concerned. From a young age, I'd watch shows like The Price Is Right and Jeopardy and critique the contestants' strategy. Why didn't they understand probability? Why didn't they know how to maximize their Daily Double betting? I knew that if I were given the chance, I would be awesome.

One day, my inbox dinged with an e-mail from NBC, and it was an invitation to try out for a new game show. This was my shot! I was excited! And then I read the description of the show. Trivia. Trivia?! I have a horrible memory and a penchant for forgetting things I've already learned and should remember. Traveling so often, I am more out-of-touch with current events than I should be and way out of touch with celebrity/pop culture. I had conflicting feelings about this amazing opportunity that fell into my lap. On one hand, I didn't want to pass up the opportunity, on the other hand, I knew I was drawing stone dead, and I didn't want to be embarrassed on national television.

After giving it a lot of thought, I decided any potentially fleeting (or forever-lasting) humiliation was worth it, and so I did the only thing I could do: I crammed. My memory is atrocious, but I do a lot of work to make up for that in poker, so I figured I could do the same with trivia. I theorized about what kinds of questions they were likely to ask. I figured they ask about Oscar winners, Olympic cities, about classic television shows. I made online flashcards using a website called Quizlet and I studied them over and over until they were memorized. I went to a website called infoplease, which offers timelines and list of things like each year's most pertinent current events and most relevant celebrities. I reviewed People magazines and read TMZ. I played the Million Second Quiz app to be certain I was getting the right ratio of history, politics, general knowledge, and entertainment. For entire 8 to 10-hour days, I studied. I fell asleep playing their app. I made Miranda ask me random questions about Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter's name or the first battle of the American Civil War. I breathed, ate, and slept Million Second Quiz.


The thing is, I still wasn't certain I'd be cast. I'd been in for in-person interviews. I'd given them pictures of my family and friends to supplement tv interviews. They'd sought me out personally, so it seemed like I'd be a shoe-in. Then two weeks went by and I didn't hear from them, so I figured I was out. Then, on the Sunday morning after I'd gotten back from Barcelona, I got an e-mail advising me to report the next morning by 10am. The e-mail was cryptic and non-specific, and I had no idea what I was in for. I understood there were to be twelve contestants, all vying for the "Money Seat." I'd been ushered through the process thus far, so I thought my show chances were fairly polarized--either not make it and be home by 1pm, or be on the show and be home by 10. Boy was I wrong.

I went through a long day of filling out long forms full of rules and legalese, to sitting in rooms crowded with other hopefuls, to watching television presentations from a psychologist telling you what to do if the show causes a nervous breakdown. Finally, after three hours and my third room, I looked around at the other seventy people present and realized I was one of a huge number of potential contestants. There were people who had waited in line in the street and people who won a chance by playing the app, and we were all huddled together in the same huge room. But I had already been interviewed and producers liked me. That had to count for something, right?

Well, sort of. After sitting in a room for 4 hours and taking quizzes on computers, they finally called my group at 5:45 pm. They took my phone and I texted people to make sure they DVR'ed the show. I was going to be on!


The timing seemed right, and I thought I'd at least get my two and half minutes of TV game show fame. I eagerly followed the production assistant, only to find myself in another room where thirty people were already waiting. I waited, and waited, and waited some more. I finally got to try my hand at the show at 4am, on no sleep and little food. I lasted one bout and lost 11 to 8. Game over. GG.

My Million Second Quiz experience did burst my game show bubble a bit, but I have to look on the bright side. Look at all that I learned. I know the first winter Olympics was in Chamonix, France. I know Kim Kardashian's father was OJ Simpson's lawyer. And I know I won't be going on any more trivia game shows any time soon.

Vanessa Selbst is a member of Team PokerStars Pro

Vanessa Selbst
@PokerStars in Vanessa Selbst