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McKeesport 'Millionaire' contestant agonizingly watches self on TV

Wednesday, February 23, 2000

By Johnna A. Pro, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Take it from McKeesport's Norman Connors. Winning a million on national television ain't easy.

"When you're up there, it's so much harder. It's so much more difficult," said Connors, who won $32,000 on ABC's Television's hit quiz show, "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"

Norman Connors watches his appearance on "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" with his wife, Eve, last night in their home in McKeesport. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette) 

The show, which was taped on Feb. 15, aired last night.

Connors, 27, and his wife, Eve, 25, who've been married 18 months, watched together, reliving every moment of his sometimes hilarious but agonizing attempt to capture all the money.

"If you don't win the million, you're going to forever kick yourself," said Eve Connors.

For his part, Norman Connors said he regrets using his lifelines early in the show and for forgetting to thank the audience.

But when you're on the stage of the most popular television quiz show in the country, it's hard to think straight, Connors said.

The tiny studio, the loud music, the flashing lights and the pressure to win all conspire to make even the most self-assured contestant second-guess himself, without Regis Philbin's prompting.

"Your mind starts playing tricks," said Connors, a former wrestler and a student at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science.

Like the question about which insecticide, "Kills Bugs Dead."

Connors knew the answer.

Eve, sitting in the audience, knew the answer. And she knew he knew the answer.

"I tried to drive it into his head like with telepathy," she said last night, clenching her teeth and squeezing her eyes together to show how she'd tried to help her husband.

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Ultimately, it was the audience who helped Connors arrive at the answer he already knew but couldn't come up with.


So with one of his three lifelines down, Connors used his wit and the help of two other lifelines -- a call to a friend and a 50-50 option that eliminates two of four answers -- he reached the $32,000 level.

The money was his after he correctly answered that Ross Perot announced he was running for president in 1992 on the "Larry King Live" show.

Philo T. Farnsworth, though, did him in in the $64,000 round. For the record, Farnsworth created the first electronic television.

Connors won't ever forget that.

And Philbin may never forget Connors.

"Hey, I was worried he was going to wrestle me to the ground and embalm me," Philbin quipped as he bid Connors goodbye.

Connors got to the show's "hot seat" within days of making a call to the contestant hot line.

In round one, which contestants participate in on the phone, Connors answered the questions correctly and became part of pool of potential contestants selected through a random drawing to move on to round two.

In round two, again conducted over the phone, Connors answered the questions. He was among the 10 people who answered those questioned the quickest and was invited to New York.

In round three, played on the air, a fellow contestant had beaten Connors to the hot seat. When that man lost, though, Connors had a shot.

In 3.65 seconds, he listed four Winona Ryder films in order of when they were released.

"It was like nine days from the first call," said Connors, who prior to being on the show had only watched it occasionally.

And even though he'd already lived through the experience, last night's airing was no less nerve-wracking.

Watching the show as he curled at Eve's feet at their apartment above the Jaycox-Jaworski Funeral Home, Connors was surprised at how jittery he felt.

"I'm here biting my nails, like it's going to change the outcome," Connors said laughing.

Eve assured her husband that he looked fabulous in the gray satin shirt he wore on television.

He, in turn, repeatedly told her how beautiful she looked on camera. Eve got a lot of face time last night, too.

Both recoiled with embarrassment when Connors, with some prompting from Philbin, got the audience clapping as he demonstrated a song the couple uses to get their pet chinchilla to take a bath.

The worst part of watching last night, though, was an interruption by ABC News.

Millionaire may be the popular show on television but, in a presidential election year, even Philbin doesn't outrank Peter Jennings. The anchor broke into regularly scheduled programming to tell viewers that Sen. John McCain had won the Republican nomination in Michigan.

"Upstaged by John McCain," said Connors putting his hands on his head in mock agony. "That's the ultimate slap in the face."

"Well, now I know who we're not voting for," quipped Eve.

The couple plans to invest their winnings, although a portion of it will be spent on a cruise to go whale-watching.

Millionaire, which typically is broadcast on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, will have a special edition tonight.

Among those who tried unsuccessfully to get to the hot seat was Alex Lobus, 36, of Baldwin Borough, a real estate agent and woodworker.

Lobus said that during the portion of the show when the 10 finalists compete against each other to play the final round, he knew the answer each time. But he had the same problem he had during practice rounds -- working the electronic answer keypad.

"I got three stinkin' letters in. During the break, Regis came over and yelled at me," Lobus said, chuckling.

Still, Lobus said last night he plans to keep trying to make a return to the show.

"I've got to practice my typing," Lobus said.

On the day of the show, Lobus learned just a short time before the taping that one of five people slated to help him if he had to phone for help was disqualified because he lived in Canada.

Is that your final answer?

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