NEW YORK — Richard Mason wants to be a millionaire.
Whether he wins the seven-figure jackpot will be revealed when ABC’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” airs Wednesday night.
The Santa Monica resident was one of 110 people from across the country who were selected to contend for the million dollar prize on the famous game show’s 10th anniversary this month.
An engineer at the Rand Corp., Mason, 38, flew to New York City with his wife, Maribeth, on Aug. 4 where he spent the day taping on the show’s iconic futuristic set. Episodes started airing on Aug. 9 and will conclude on Sunday.
A trivia buff, Mason was among the many Americans who flooded the phone lines during the show’s early years, hoping to land a spot among the 10 contestants who sit in a semi circle around host Regis Philbin, competing in the fastest finger question to land on the hot seat.
He and then girlfriend Maribeth both passed the phone test in 2001 and drove to San Diego to audition for the show but never received a call back. The trip however was not a lost cause as the couple came back engaged.
“I was happy to try again when the 10th anniversary was announced and it was very surprising to get a call back,” he said.
For the 10th anniversary, contestants had three ways to land a spot on the show — the traditional phone game, regional auditions that included an interview and on-site quiz, and the newest addition, the video submissions, which in two minutes allowed candidates to convince producers why they deserved to be on Millionaire and explain how they would spend their winnings.
Mason called in the beginning of July and successfully answered all five questions. A few weeks later, producers pulled his name at random.
The phone was checked frequently until then.
“I was thinking this is ridiculous,” he said. “It’s hardly worth my time to check to see if my phone is charged, why am I worried?”
Then on one late July morning, as Mason was about to step in the shower, his cell phone rang, flashing a number with a 212 area code.
“I was very excited and just amazed,” he said. “In my mind I had totally written off the possibility because it’s such a long shot.”
There was some preparation involved leading to game day, watching old episodes to study questions for the topics they covered and examine the arrangement of the buttons for the fastest finger quiz. He even attempted to buy an almanac from the bookstore but left empty handed because the specific title he had in mind was out of print.
“There’s an infinite world of knowledge to absorb so it’s tough to cover everything,” he said.
While Mason contractually could not describe specifics of how he performed on the show, he did discuss the hours leading up to the taping of the show, sitting in a green room with nine other contestants.
He could tell what channels the contestants took to get to New York, noting that the callers were introverted while those who auditioned “talked up a storm.”
Mason also got a chance to meet Philbin before the taping, learning that the game show host also has family in Santa Monica.
The experience on Millionaire taught the contestant to be open to new pieces of information, no matter how meaningless it may be, whether it’s facts about fruit or a movie director.
“You could say, gee, one week from today I could possibly win a million dollars if I knew this fact about lemons,” Mason said.