The alarm sounded signaling the show’s end, and assistants scuttled out to dab at make-up and bring me upstairs for a wardrobe change. In no time I was back, and Regis launched into his lines.
“We’re here today to see if our returning contestant can add to her winnings!” I clapped my hands, bunking elbows with him. We started over. Then I returned to the hot seat and we moved onto the first question without chit-chat. I chose correctly, and worked my way to a Big Level Question.
“Okay, now, for $25,000: the national fruit of the Philippines is A) Watermelon; B) Mango; C) Pineapple; D) Coconut.” My senses were on high alert. It was dim where the audience intently watched, and bright, under the glaring lights. My forehead was moist, my hands like ice. The clock on the screen in front of me added to the tension. Fifteen seconds for the early questions, then thirty, the length of time commensurate with the difficulty of the question. The question! I had to concentrate. I envisioned a Jamaican friend who loved her mango tree, and eliminated “B.” Coconut was a condiment for Indian food, but they abound in Hawaii. Watermelon? It comes from church picnics. I was out of control.
Tick, tick, tick. I said I would walk, the key word to indicate I was done. Regis reached for my check, which wasn’t a million dollars, but at least I hadn’t disgraced myself. “Wait!” I said. (I hadn’t yet said, “final answer.”) “Mango!” I blurted, an answer that clearly came from a Divine source, because I truly didn’t know it.
“She got it!” Regis said, somewhere between shock and the thrill of recognizing great television. “One second to go! It’s never been closer than that!”
I said I hadn’t embarrassed myself. Not yet. I had been legal secretary for years and countless times seen the blindfolded Lady Justice holding a set of scales. My next question was, what was in her other hand: gavel, torch, sword, or lion? How can you hold a lion? Scratch that one. Sword? Maybe. It seemed that her other hand was about waist level.
“What do you think they’re talking about?” Regis prompted.
I stared at “Torch.” Was I overlooking the obvious? “The Statue of Liberty? No,” I said, quickly, but was now certain everyone wondered how I could possibly confuse Lady Justice with Lady Liberty. Tick, tick, tick.
My host filled a bit more air time. “J-u-s-t-i-c-e.” Justice, judge, gavel, my neurons screamed. Why couldn’t I see the hand without the scales?
“Part of me wants to say ‘sword,’ but . . . ‘gavel,’ final answer!”
“Aw, it was ‘sword,’ but here you go.” Regis reached over and handed me my check. A stagehand whisked my numb body to a black-curtained booth just off set, where I signed some papers and was handed a dummy check (I’d receive the real one in a month). A few moments later I retrieved my belongings and was out into the wintry night.
Tomorrow: the conclusion, and the moral of the story . . .