TSU’s Pat Hardin in the ‘Hot Seat’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Features Editor

Dr. Pat Hardin, associate professor in the education department of Troy State University, wants to be a millionaire.

Tonight, she will have that chance when she appears as a contestant on the hugely popular television game show, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

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To find out whether Hardin gets "in the hot seat" or not, tune in to the show at 7 p.m. tonight on ABC television.

Contestants are asked not to reveal the outcome of their appearance before the show airs, but there is nothing to keep them from talking about the trying times of getting on the show and the wonderful experience of being a part of perhaps the greatest television game show of all times.

Hardin’s pursuit of "the hot seat" started more than a year ago. Seeing the good fortunes that come the way of those who successfully navigate the "mind"-field, Hardin decided to try to get on the show.

The first and, perhaps, the most frustrating step was trying to get an open telephone line.

Whenever "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" opens lines to potential contestants, the lines are jammed.

Hardin dialed and then hit redial again and again. Finally, she was "connected."

"Getting on the show is a complicated process," she said. "First, you have to answer three questions correctly. Then you hope for a callback. If you get that callback, you have a playoff round of five questions. If you answer them, you hope for another callback."

Hardin got a call through several times and answered all three questions twice.

By answering three questions, she got an opportunity to vie for five, which she did successfully. But no callback.

She had almost given up when, one night, Regis Philbin announced that the first 750 callers would get be invited to an audition in New Orleans – the Big Easy. Hardin gave it a try but it was no easy task getting through. Without her redial button, she wouldn’t have made it.

"The lines opened at 6 p.m. and I hit redail until for 15 minutes and then I got through," she said. "I was invited to come to New Orleans March 15 to be ‘tested’ for the show."

Hardin said the potential contestants were divided into groups of 125 and the application and questioning process took several hours. They were judged on presence, poise, sense of humor and, of course, fast fingers.

In her group, there people from all walks of life, including a doctor, a priest and one of only two female professional baseball umpires.

Those who qualified would be notified by post card that they were in the prospective contestant pool.

"If selected as a contestant, you only had 24 hours to respond," Hardin said. "My mother and I were in Mexico for spring break when I got the call – which I almost didn’t get."

Hardin had given her sister’s cell phone number as one of her contact numbers "because she always has the ‘cell’ with her."

"My sister was in the grocery store she got the call," Hardin said. "The hotel where we were staying didn’t have telephones in the rooms so she had to get us through the office."

Hardin said she thought her sister was just checking on them, but she and her mother went to a telephone booth and called.

"When my sister said, ‘They want you to come to New York to be on Millionaire,’ I started screaming and so did my mother. I don’t know what those people thought about those two crazy, screaming Americans in the telephone booth."

Hardin returned to Troy one day before she had to leave for New York. She took her mom with her and they arrived by plane on April 3.

"The show bought our plane tickets, paid for two nights in the hotel, which was a stone’s throw from Lincoln Center, and gave up $50 a day for three days," Hardin said.

The first day, Hardin attended contestants’ meetings where they learned what to do and what not to do.

"They had to approve our outfits, and we were asked to bring two," Hardin said. "We couldn’t wear anything with a logo, or turtlenecks, no checks or pinstripes, nothing white or black. And we had to turn in our phone-a-friend lists and we could have five friends."

Hardin said the "friends" are notified in advance and asked to be on standby for about six hours during the taping of the show. Because she was in Mexico until the eleventh hour, she asked several people from New Mexico, who were in her travel group, to be her "friends" in addition to her sisters.

On the day of taping, the contestants could not read books or newspapers,

use cell phones or have any outside contact.

"We were even escorted to the restroom," Hardin said, laughing. "They had makeup people work with us. They fluffed our hair and made up our faces, even on our hands – I guess, so they would show up if they were shown during the fastest finger competition. They coached us on how to respond during our introductions and what to do if we made it to the hot seat. There was much more to being a contestant than I thought."

Meeting Regis was the highlight of the day – until they contestants heard the words, "Lights! Camera! Action!" And, then the nerves kicked in.

Hardin couldn’t say what happened on the show, but she could say she and her mom had a great time in New York. They went to a Broadway show, went shopping, sight-seeing and dined at some great restaurants.

Whether she made it to the hot seat remains to be seen, but she’s been there now and done that and that’s more than the rest of us can say.