A funny thing happened as Lisa Karahalios went for it all on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

The host, Chris Harrison, had just asked her a question. Lisa gave her answer, having no idea that events on the other side of the globe would completely overshadow her moment in the hot seat.

“It was the last question of the first episode,” the former Lewiston woman explains. “It was the $20,000 question. He asked it; I explained my answer and chose it as my final answer.”

It was a big moment. But just then, ABC News came on with a “Special Report” to announce that President Donald Trump was not withdrawing troops from Iraq.

“So my friends on the West Coast didn’t see if I answered the $20,000 question correctly,” Karahalios says. “My phone was blown up with texts from my angry friends who couldn’t believe I got pre-empted by Trump.”

By now, they all know that she did indeed answer that question correctly. When it was time to go for $30,000, though, she walked away because as it turns out, Karahalios has no idea which government official signs U.S. passports.


The 54-year-old Lewiston High School graduate appeared on the nationally syndicated game show over two days after Christmas. Karahalios, an independent study teacher in Los Angeles, is no stranger to the game show circuit. In 2001, she came in second place in “Jeopardy,” scoring around $3,000. Before that, she was on “Debt,” with host Wink Martindale, on which she won about $7,400.

We caught up with her recently to ask about her experience on “Millionaire” and those other shows.

Did you watch game shows as a kid? All the time. My favorite was “Beat the Clock.” We had the board game version that we kids played, every day, one summer at our camp in Freeport. (Back when middle-class people in Maine could afford waterfront property. ;o) It was the only board game the adults played with us. In addition to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” my current favorites are the classic shows that are still around: “Let’s Make a Deal,” “The Price Is Right,” “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.” It was a big moment for me when I got to meet game show icon Wink Martindale when I was a contestant on “Debt.”

When did you decide you wanted to take a swing as a contestant? When the show first aired in 1999, hosted by Regis Philbin, you had to call in and answer questions with your touch-tone phone. The questions were very difficult, and it was before using the internet was common. They asked questions like, “Put the following watch brands in order of when they were brought to the market.” After months of trying, I gave up. Then two years ago, I saw that they were auditioning contestants, and I waited in line for a live audition. I passed the knowledge test, but didn’t make the cut after the interview. I was very disappointed, but figured that the odds were small that people make it on.

Because of that, I almost didn’t bother the second time when I saw they were auditioning. I am glad I did. There’s a life lesson in there, I’m sure!

What is the application process like? The application process for “Millionaire” was more onerous than Jeopardy. For Jeopardy, I went to the studio, took a test, passed it and played a quick mock game. They called me with a tape date and told me to bring my driver’s license and three changes of clothing. “Millionaire” was an extensive set of personal questions, then two live video interviews. One, testing knowledge, and one to see how you answer questions.


Once chosen, there is more you have to do: answer more questions, fill out paperwork for you and your plus-one, and send pictures in different outfits you and your plus-one want to wear. You can’t wear blue; I discovered that most of my nice clothes are blue! Luckily I had a nice tan suit I bought when I was an officer in the teachers’ union and wanted to look nicely dressed when representing teachers.

What was it like being on the big stage of Millionaire? The show films in Las Vegas in a huge open space. The waiting area for the contestants has an open ceiling (like most of our camps in Maine) so we could hear the games going on. The sound of the music and audience was really loud. It was nerve wracking, especially wondering if you would tape that day or have to come back the next day and have another sleepless night. Luckily, the games before me went quickly,and it was my time. They had rehearsed with us ahead of time, and took us through, literally, step by step. The crew was fantastic. They made us feel confident that we would do well if we read the questions carefully. If people wonder why the contestants talk so much when answering the questions, it’s because it really helps. A nice man who taped the same day as I did, went too quickly with an easy question, and walked away with nothing.

How was Chris Harrison? Chris Harrison was very professional and encouraging. He is better looking in person. I focused on his crystal blue eyes to keep myself from getting distracted by the activity around me.

Did you have a particular study method for preparing? The four days leading up to the taping, I was driving across the country from Maine to Vegas, so didn’t have much time to cram. My plus-one, retired teacher Jeff Pott, quizzed me about the dates of presidents and their vice presidents, and the real names of famous rappers, but none of that came up. The only way to do well on knowledge-based game shows is to have had an interest in the world throughout your life. All my K-12 teachers in the Lewiston schools were great, and made education a positive experience for me.

What else is going on in your life? This is the first year in my 19 years of teaching that I am not in the classroom working directly with kids. I am the English learner and homeless student coordinator at an independent study school in Los Angeles. Like the road to being a contestant on “Millionaire,” being a coordinator has a lot of I’s to dot, T’s to cross, and strict deadlines.

The calendar on my work desk gets each day crossed off that gets me closer to being home in Maine during the summer. You can have the winter months.

A photo from the production of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” with Lisa Karahalios and host Chris Harrison in July 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Jacob Kepler-Disney/ABC Home Entertainment and TV Distribution)

A photo from the production of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” with Lisa Karahalios and host Chris Harrison in July 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Jacob Kepler-Disney/ABC Home Entertainment and TV Distribution)

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