The possibility of becoming a contestant on the long-running television game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was so alluring to John Jacob Back, he dropped everything to go to an open audition Wednesday morning.
"I didn't even eat breakfast. I just hopped in my car to get over here," said the retired teacher, who taught history and English for 35 years.
After a 40-minute drive from his Petersburg, Mich., home to Perrysburg, Mr. Back joined a line of other Millionaire hopefuls that curled out the door of the Hilton Garden Inn on Levis Commons Boulevard.
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," he said.
Supervising producer Geoff Rosen said by 9 a.m., a mere two hours after doors opened, nearly 1,000 people from the Toledo area -- and as far afield as New York, Maryland, California, and even Alaska -- had tried out. Auditions were held all day.
"The energy here is fantastic! We don't even need to hype them -- they're hyped!" said Mr. Rosen, himself not lacking in enthusiasm.
This was Millionaire's first Ohio casting call in 13 years of production; it was one of six locations chosen for the current "road" auditions.
"Sometimes it's smaller cities where you find the biggest gems," Mr. Rosen said.
The show's producers examine thousands of people in their search for ideal contestants. Those who score well on a 30-question, 10-minute test covering pop culture, science, sports, and general trivia are called back for face-to-face interviews with producers later in the day.
The key to a successful interview? Be confident, be energetic, and just be yourself, Mr. Rosen said.
"We want people who have passion. We want the audience to be on your side," he said. "We're also looking for anything that makes you different, that makes you stand out, like how far you've traveled, interesting hair."
Mr. Rosen said there was no set number for how many people from the Toledo audition would be chosen to compete on the show, but at least a few were likely to be selected. Those chosen could win one of 600 contestant slots to be available over two seasons.
The quiz show can be seen locally weekdays at 12:30 a.m. on WTVG-TV, Channel 13.
If called back for an interview, Emily Rippe of Toledo planned to talk about her regular participation in local Trivia Night events.
"I'm addicted to trivia. It's just a way of life," she said. "My boyfriend and I read questions to each other before we go to bed at night."
Others shared their thoughts about what they would do with any money they might win -- including Dave LaGrange, Waterville's police chief, who said he'd splurge and buy a '72 Oldsmobile convertible.
"Those suckers ain't cheap," he said, adding that even if he won big, he wouldn't quit his day job. But it would be a reward for what the chief's wife describes as his "compendium of useless knowledge."
Jennifer Hoffman said some winnings would help her pay off student loans and repair a fence at her Holland home that a thunderstorm destroyed last week. Any extra could go toward a vacation to celebrate her four-year wedding anniversary.
Ms. Rippe said she would use any winnings she might get on the show to travel and donate a portion to humanitarian causes.
"I've also already specified a chunk to my boss. He wanted 40 percent. He knows I'm a huge trivia buff, so he let me come in this morning," she said.
Added Mr. Rosen: "They wanted to come and wipe away their debt. We want to help them out."
For Jeff Kasza, the audition was a chance to appear on the show he watches during his lunch hour at Target or on his days off and possibly help him budget for seven children and three ex-wives.
Four years ago, the 53-year-old Toledo man even drove to New York City to try out for Millionaire. He said pop culture, especially the old television shows he grew up with, is his trivia niche; his kids always tap him to be on their team during family Trivial Pursuit games.
Mrs. Hoffman also has audition practice: She tried out for College Jeopardy! a few years ago in Cleveland. "I'm a game-show nerd," said Mrs. Hoffman, 27, a bubbly substitute teacher. "I love trivia."
Marty Ball, another self-described trivia fanatic, scored well enough on the test to qualify for a second audition.
"I've grown up my whole life with people saying, 'Man, you know a lot of things,' " he said. "I definitely know a lot of useless trivia -- well, now maybe not so useless."
Contact Sophie Broach at: email@example.com or 419-724-6210.