February 11, 2004

Cornell Student Competes for Millions

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Natalie Gulyas ’05 won $16,000 on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” in Orlando, Fla. Since the actual show was filmed in early January, Gulyas has had to keep the outcome of the show a secret, but with the airing of the show this past Monday, Gulyas good fortune was revealed to her friends and the rest of Cornell.

Last July, while watching an episode of “Millionaire” Gulyas saw an advertisement for becoming a contestant. She went online and signed up. Within the week, she received an e-mail telling her to come to New York City for an audition.

On July 30, Gulyas and her mom, Suzan Gulyas, traveled to NYC. At the audition, Gulyas had to answer 30 multiple choice questions in 11 minutes. Beside her test was a post-it note with an identification number on it. “My number was 16, which was kind of wild because I ended up winning $16,000,” Gulyas said.

Gulyas made it to the next round and was interviewed by one of the producers. He asked her about her school and her studies and about questions she had answered previously through e-mail such as, “What would you do with one-million dollars?” or “What would the shows host, Meredith Viera, find interesting about you?” At the end of the interview, Gulyas was told that if she made the contestant pool, she would receive a post-card within the week. The producer also asked her if she would be interested in a special college edition of the show where they would fly the contestants down to Disney World. “I told him I was [interested] and that I had never been to Disney World before,” Gulyas said.

A week later, Gulyas received her postcard announcing that she was in the contestant pool. When Gulyas told her mother, she said “We didn’t necessarily start screaming, but it was the equivalent of screaming.”

The show’s producers randomly selected Gulyas out of the contestant pool. They called her the Friday before Thanksgiving to tell her she was to be a contestant on the college edition of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”.

When asked how she prepared for the show Gulyas said, “I got an almanac and trivia book and watched previous ‘Millionaire’ shows to see what kind of questions would be asked.”

On Jan. 7, Gulyas flew down to Orlando, Fla. and stayed at Pop Century Resort, one of the newest resorts at Walt Disney World. That afternoon, she met the other contestants in the lobby of the hotel. Together they went on the rides of Disney World and ended the night with the Illumi-Nations fireworks display.

The next day, Gulyas went to the studio to be the second contestant on the show. Before the show, Gulyas learned how to get in and out of the hotseat. “If you step on it wrong, the chair will fall over,” Gulyas said.

After getting her hair and makeup done, Gulyas waited backstage while Vassiliki Yiannoulis from Harvard University, who won $1000, was in the hot seat. Soon, Gulyas went on stage. “I saw my mom out of the corner of my eye, and she honestly looked like a deer caught in the headlights she was so nervous for me,” Gulyas said.

On being in the hotseat herself, Gulyas said, “I wasn’t nervous.”

Before the show, Gulyas had picked five people to be on her phone-a-friend list. As a lifeline, Gulyas chose to call a former professor, Mike Coste, from the former community college she attended in Colorado. Fortunately, Coste gave her the right answer to the question and she moved on.

At the $32,000 question — “Sucre and La Paz are both official capital cities of what South American country?” — Gulyas was unsure about the exact answer and decided not to risk the $16,000 she had already won. “I knew if there was point at which I wasn’t 100 percent sure, I was just going to walk away.”

On the whole experience she said, “I was just excited to be there.”

Gulyas will receive her check for $16,000 in March.

“I have no idea what I am going to do with the money,” Gulyas said.

Archived article by Casey Holmes