April 11, 2001

Alumnus Gets Up Close on 'Millionaire'

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Regis Philbin’s famous words “Is that your final answer?” were asked of Cornell alumnus Anthony Mangaser ’97 when he appeared on ABC’s game show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

Like many contestants, Mangaser answered yes — but unlike most he later walked away with a quarter million dollars.

The appearance last week was Mangaser’s third game show performance. In 1999, he won a trip to Louisiana by taking second place on “Jeopardy!”

Mangaser wanted to appear on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” because “it was a logical choice for my next goal,” he said. “Besides, right now, it’s the biggest game show out there, so everyone wants to be on.”

During the selection process, Mangaser correctly answered a series of questions to qualify as a finalist. Later in the show’s taping, finalists are given the opportunity to become contestants by answering a “Fast Fingers” question correctly and faster than the other contestant hopefuls.

Mangaser proved the speed of his “fast fingers” on the April 1 show, earning him the right to test his knowledge of various trivia on April 3.

“It was near the end of the show, so I knew I had to win the ‘Fast Fingers’ to get into the ‘hot seat’. When I saw my name blinking I gave a big fist-pump and excitedly walked over to Regis. It’s a big emotional release when you know you’re playing for millions,” Mangaser said.

While in the “hot seat,” Mangaser correctly answered the $250,000 question. However, after viewing the $500,000 question, he decided to walk away.

The $500,000 question that stumped Mangaser was, “The Voyager space probes contain salutations to extraterrestrial from which U.S. leader?” Attempting to answer the question, Mangaser used one of his lifelines and called a high school friend, Mike Donner.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking to be pulled out of class and told that the next phone call I would get would be from Regis,” said Donner, a Rochester high school teacher.

Donner was unable to come up with the correct answer, Jimmy Carter, within the allotted time frame.

“I discovered the right answer ten seconds after I got off the phone,” he said.

Mangaser shared Donner’s nervous sentiments.

“The show tapes with a live studio audience, so it gets pretty tense during taping, but otherwise I had a really fun time. The whole day was great!” he said.

“Tony was a very entertaining contestant in the ‘hot seat’, and Regis really had a great time with him,” said Trisha Miller, publicist for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

The questions asked on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” focus on general knowledge or information that is taught in school.

Mangaser said, “When a question is asked on a show, it can spark a memory from any class, be it a Shakespeare question or perhaps something on Beethoven.”

Mangaser majored in biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“The broad range of courses that I took at Cornell helped,” he said.

Mangaser offers this piece of advice to any aspiring game show contestants who currently benefit from the breadth of Cornell courses: “With so many game shows on the market today, there’s bound to be one that makes you think, ‘I can do that! Of course, even if you don’t win, you always come back with parting gifts or just the enjoyment of the experience.

“Besides,” he added, “you can always try out again for another show.”

Archived article by Sarah Willey