Local 'Millionaire' contestant goes for the big bucks tonight

August 20, 2009 1:46:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Three weeks ago, Jim Robinson was thrilled to get the phone call he''d been waiting on for nearly a decade. When producers summoned the Columbus resident to New York City as a potential contestant on ABC''s special two-week 10th anniversary edition of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," it was the culmination of a dream. 


"I''ve been trying to get on ''Millionaire'' for 10 years," the 47-year-old said. "I physically auditioned four times -- once in New Orleans, twice in New York City and then in Nashville in June."  


The perseverance paid off for the West Lowndes Middle School and High School assessment coordinator. Tonight, Jim appears as a finalist competing in the Fastest Finger rounds, along with nine other determined hopefuls trying to advance to the Hot Seat opposite host Regis Philbin. The show airs locally at 7 p.m. 


"This was more fun than I''ve ever had in my life," Jim shared with contagious energy. "I''m still enjoying the high. When you''ve had a dream for a decade, it''s just a special, special experience." 




What a nice guy 


After securing an audition appointment through the show''s web site, the local educator was given a test of 30 multiple-choice questions, and 10 minutes to answer them. After scoring well, he earned a one-on-one interview with a producer. 


"If they like you enough, you get an interview with a second producer, and they do a video, too. The day I was doing it, I was really excited, and I think they liked my energy -- and it didn''t hurt that I wore a vest ''printed'' with money," he laughed. 


The surviving ten finalists advance to the nerve-wracking Fastest Finger round. 


"That was the most stressful part," stated Jim. "Your on sensory overload anyway, with the lights, the sound, the surroundings -- it''s very surreal." 


The Mississippi State University alumnus credits Philbin with helping the on-air finalists handle the excited tension.  


"He is such a nice man -- so supportive, so gentle, a very kind man. He introduced himself, shook hands with everybody, talked to us. Regis was very gracious, and you felt he wanted you to do well." 






Aside from studying maps in case geography figured prominently in his future, Jim felt the best preparation for the competition would come from life itself. 


"The breadth and scope (of what you could be asked) is just too much to try to study for," he remarked. "I think it''s more of a lifestyle. I''ve always loved trivia. I like to read; I''ve always watched TV like crazy. I like to learn new things. You have to just sort of have a curious mind. You know, you can be brilliant in book-smarts, but not know who Paris Hilton''s best friend is." 


Jim''s four college degrees -- in psychology, education, residential design and nursing -- certainly didn''t hurt either.  




Royal treatment 


"We were met by a limo at the airport, taken to a very nice, upscale hotel and received a small per diem," the contestant said. "Talk about royal treatment. ... It really was the experience of a lifetime. They really make you feel, if only for a few minutes, like a big, big star." 


Of course, the question on everyone''s mind is: Does Jim make it out of the Fastest Finger round into the Hot Seat? Possibly even advance to the grand finale airing Aug. 23?  


Under strict orders from the show, the local educator has to keep that information under wraps. We''ll have to tune in tonight at 7 to find out.  


"But," he smiled, "the show is very exciting; you wouldn''t want to miss it anyway."

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.