Regis Philbin talked about him almost as much as Kathie Lee talks about Cody.
Rosie O’Donnell begged him to be on her show in front of a live, national audience of millions.
He was recognized at supermarkets and on the streets of New York. But he’s not an average star.
Since early January, GW alumnus Jason Block has basked in this unexpected, instant fame. Block won $125,000 Jan. 12 on the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is the popular ABC game show hosted by Philbin, in which contestants have to answer multiple-choice questions that are increasingly difficult to win more money. A contestant can stop at any time and take the money he already has garnered or he can continue to answer questions in the hopes of winning the grand prize – $1 million.
Block’s game-show fairy tale began when he called the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? 800-hotline and answered three questions correctly within 10 seconds.
As a result of this success, Block was placed in a random drawing of 40 people. After being chosen from this group, he had to call the 800-number again. This time Block needed to answer five questions correctly and to do it in less time than his competitors.
After getting past this last obstacle, Block’s dream had a small chance at becoming reality. He was chosen for the top 10 contestants on that night’s taping.
A Lincoln Continental greeted him at his Brooklyn apartment. The driver whisked him off to the ABC studio in New York City.
ABC employees locked up all reading devices, Walkmans, cellular phones or anything that might give one contestant an advantage over another. Then the contestants ate for the first time before getting interviewed, signing releases and talking with lawyers.
The potential contestants also watched a tape of the show and did a run-through of the night’s program. Finally, they ate again.
They fed us a whole buffet spread, Block said with a twinge of New York in every syllable. They really fed you well.
Philbin called Block down to the podium 30 or 40 minutes into the taping. He appeared at the end of the Jan. 11 episode. At the end of that night, Block had won $16,000 and had two life lines left. Contestants can use life lines to get help with difficult questions from a relative or a friend.
A fellow GW alumnus, who participated in college bowls with Block, helped him answer the question: What is the name of a tree whose leaves fall off every year? The answer was deciduous, and his life line had saved him.
But the show was finished before Block had the chance to win more. He would be invited back for the Jan. 12 taping.
Regis was cool, Block said. He let me read the closing copy `cause I always wanted to be a game-show host.
The next night, Block called it quits on the question: Who was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? The answer was Aretha Franklin, but Block was unsure.
My girlfriend told me to take the money and run, Block said.
His girlfriend and her 100-year-old grandmother were in the audience and have received some notoriety as well. Block said his girlfriend thought the show was the most stressful time of her life.
Block admitted his girlfriend was not alone.
The first night was a stress mess, he said. My legs were shaking while I was in the hot seat.
The stress disappeared after the winnings arrived. O’Donnell was impressed with Block from the first night and talked about him on her show the morning of Jan. 12, before the second taping.
Block agreed to be on her show after he won the $125,000.
Rosie is class personified, Block said. She sent a full stretch limo with champagne to my apartment in Brooklyn.
O’Donnell gave him a set of CDs of all the Grammy-nominated artists. But one special O’Donnell moment was especially memorable.
Edie Falco from HBO’s hit series the Sopranos was at the studio taping a show with O’Donnell. Block asked to meet her. Later, O’Donnell came to Block with a message.
Edie Falco wants to meet you, O’Donnell said to Block as he remembers it.
I was floored, Block said.
But Block’s first pangs of fame came at GW. He remembers winning his first rounds of trivia before graduating college in 1990.
GW won fourth place in a national college bowl tournament in which Block participated.
Despite having great memories of GW, Block said he is thrilled to have returned to his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y.
New York has an energy unlike any other city in the world, Block said. New York has the best of everything and the worst of everything.
After his chance at millions, Block, who tried to get on the show numerous times before succeeding, waxed philosophical.
If you persevere, you’ll do well.