It was the most “unreal” experience for Bridgewater resident Elyse Peterson, who won $63,500 when she was a contestant on ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
“It was easily the most unreal experience of my life, and I’m still not entirely convinced that it actually happened,” she said.
In May, Peterson took the audition test, which consisted of 30 questions, with the requirement that you pass before moving on to the second portion, the face-to-face interview with one of the show’s assistant producers.
From there, Peterson said, potential contestants have the opportunity to move on to the third interview, which is on camera.
“At the end of that portion, they said I would get a postcard in the mail saying whether I’d made it into the contestant pool, and in about two weeks I did,” she said. “The postcard said that my being in the contestant pool was valid for about two years, and that if they didn’t contact me within that time frame I could try again.”
About four months later, Peterson said, she received a phone call from the show asking her to tape an episode that week—and she jumped at the chance, taping a show Sept. 27 that aired Nov. 30.
“Fortunate really, as they said the episode could potentially air any time from October to next July,” she said.
At the end of the airing, Peterson said, she walked away instead of answering the $100,000 question, one on “Double Retrospect,” a 32,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.
“They asked whose artwork was featured on the puzzle and I had no clue, but I will never forget that it is Keith Haring,” she said.
The way the game works, Peterson said, is that the dollar values are shuffled. For example, her $25,000 question, she said, was about Christopher Wallace, a.k.a the Notorious B.I.G—but it was only her third question.
“Since the values were shuffled, I wasn’t expecting to reach such a large dollar value so early on, and I was so excited,” she said.
But, Peterson said, she doesn’t know if she could have prepared for this kind of show.
“The questions are so random that they can pull from any aspect of life, and you just have to hope you get lucky with questions,” she said. “They asked me one question about the origin of the name Dixie Cups that completely threw me for a loop, and I was glad I had lifelines to help me out.”
With the money she earned, minus paying the taxes, Peterson said she is planning to pay down her student loans and credit card bill, before splurging a little.
“Whatever’s left after that, I’ll probably leave for either saving or a little bit of fun, most likely a new laptop and some more tattoos,” she said.
A lifelong resident of Bridgewater, and a 2004 graduate of Bridgewater-Raritan High School, Peterson said she attended Montclair State University for a bachelor’s degree in 2008 and a Master’s in 2011, both in geosciences. Now, she works in environmental consulting for a firm down the shore.
But she is very excited to have had the opportunity to be on the television show.
“I don’t really know if you can prepare for a show like this,” she said. “Meredith Vieira was one of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met, and I’m glad to have had that chance.”