NU degree finally pays off

When you’re sitting in the hot seat and Regis hits on your mom, you know you’re going to have a good time on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

For Jamie Hammond, who got his master’s degree from Medill in 1995 and appeared on ABC’s hit show in August, Philbin’s flirting was just the beginning of Hammond’s $64,000 odyssey.

It wasn’t a million bucks, but Hammond said the money was “coming in very, very handy” in paying for his wedding and honeymoon, now just two weeks away.

Romance was in the air at the beginning of his stint on the popular game show as Philbin laid the line on Hammond’s loan-arranging mom, Roberta, “I’ll take a loan from you anytime.”

With his fiancée taking the bar exam in San Francisco, Hammond brought his mother to New York for his tapings. The two days in the Big Apple would make a quick but cash-filled end to months of competition.

Hammond said he first became a regular watcher in February and began calling the show’s contestant line late last spring. He said he would dial on the way to work and during downtime: “It’s not that hard to sit there and press redial.”

About 240,000 people get through on the line every day to an automated set of questions, Hammond said, and about 7,000 answer correctly. About 200-250 people are called back by ABC to move to the second round.

In late June, Hammond got called back.

After finding himself that close to being a contestant, he began to study. He played the online version of the game several times and even read a book of lists.

The book was perfect for the second round’s “fastest-finger”style of competition, Hammond said. The same type of competition used to put televised contestants into the hot seat, “fastest-finger” involves putting lists in order faster than one’s opponents.

Although he said the second round was when he felt the most nervous during the “Millionaire” process, he managed to defeat his competition, a success that paved — and paid — his way to New York.

At the ABC building where the show is taped, Hammond said security was extremely tight. Contestants were banned from bringing reading materials, cellular phones and writing implements inside.

“They want you sequestered, basically,” he said. “You’re escorted around even to the bathroom.”

Hammond said security was strict for the staff as well. Only certain people on the staff interact with the contestants, he said, and the show’s writers even worked in a different building in New York.

Going into the show, Hammond said his goal was to simply get past the $1,000 level. If a contestant answers a question wrong before that point, he or she would walk away with nothing — a nationally-televised fate that would make Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes feel like a rip-off.

If that happened, Hammond said, “you’ve got a nice trip to New York and that’s it.”

Avoiding the worst, however, he got into the hot seat, quickly passed the $1,000 level, and charged onto the $2,000 level before the end of his first show.

For his second show, Hammond said he wasn’t as nervous, and his mother was joined in the audience by his brother (whom Regis did not hit on).

He used the last of his three lifelines to move past the $8,000 level and was able to deduce his way up to $64,000, but that was where his luck ran out.

Unable to answer the question, he walked away with the money, but he admitted he was perhaps a few pages of a magazine away from the million dollar grand prize.

That morning he picked up a copy of the “Time Out in New York” tourist magazine, but he read the movie reviews and not those for the theater.

Of course the question that stopped him was: What color is the painting that is the central focus of the Tony-Award winning play “Art?”

Having never seen the play or read about it, he decided to take “the only choice I had” and walk away. (The poster is white, by the way.)

With $64,000 in his pocket, Hammond said the walk was a happy one — and perhaps not his last on the show.

Due to “Millionaire” rules, he can’t be a contestant again for another two years. Nevertheless, Hammond said he wants to be back in the hot seat.

“When my two-years of non-eligibility are up, I’m getting back on that phone.” nyou

Medill junior Patrick Cooper is an nyou staffer. He can be reached at [email protected].