Hit game show finds contestant in Spandex City

by Tori Hamby

Michael Fan prepares to answer another question from host Meredith Viera during the show’s taping in September. (Courtesy of Valleycrest Productions Ltd.)

A local comic storeowner put his trivia knowledge to the test on the popular television game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” this fall and walked away a bit richer.

Michael Fan, owner of Spandex City, 3611 Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road, appeared on the show on WBTV Nov. 4 and took home $25,000 in winnings.

“I love the show because when you root for a contestant you aren’t, by default, rooting against someone else,” Fan said.

Fan’s Millionaire journey began with luck. On a July evening, he was watching the show with his wife, Baoding, and two children, Talyn and Kiron, when they saw an announcement advertising auditions for the show in Charlotte the following day. Fan decided to give it a shot.

When he arrived at the Metrolina Expo Center, Fan and a couple hundred other Millionaire hopefuls were given a 30-question, 10-minute multiple-choice test that quizzed their knowledge on a wide variety of random topics. Fan scored high enough on the test to advance him to the interview round of auditions.

Fan sets out merchandise in his comic book shop, Spandex City, located at 3611 Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road, Charlotte. (Tori Hamby/MIM photo)

“I originally thought that I hadn’t passed because they skipped over my contestant number when they announced the numbers that had made it on to the next round,” he said. “I thought they were announcing the numbers in ascending order, when it was actually randomized, so I was thrilled to find out I had made it.”

During the interview process, the show’s contestant scouts must have seen something special in Fan because he was the only Charlotte hopeful to be picked for a second interview, this time on-camera.

“I think they liked the fact that I own a comic store,” Fan said. “I bet they probably thought that it was a fun, unique occupation. I’m sure they interview a lot of lawyers, consultants and such.”

A week after the audition, Fan received a postcard in the mail from Millionaire producers informing him that he had been selected for the contestant pool, meaning he could be chosen to go on the show any time during the next year-and-a-half. If producers don’t select a potential contestant during that time period, he or she has to audition again to be picked.

Fan, however, only had to wait a few months before receiving a call from producers asking him to fly to New York City the following week. Making the call to travel to New York for the show’s taping proved to be a big decision. Producers don’t pay for contestants’ travel expenses, so a missed question early on could have meant Fan and his family would have lost money on the whole experience.

Michael Fan, and his children Kiron, 9, and Talyn, 10, enjoy hanging out backstage after the show’s taping. (Courtesy of Michael Fan)

But he decided to make the trip anyway, along with his children, while his wife stayed home to manage and run the shop. Fan spent a day waiting in the contestant holding room before producers informed him that he was up next.

“I was pretty nervous,” Fan said. “It’s very different sitting at home and kind of knowing the answers and usually getting them right versus knowing that an incorrect answer could cause you to actually lose money. I’m a small business owner so I felt that I might have had more to lose than some of the other contestants.”

The show also changed its format last year. During the first round, contestants are given 10 questions, each worth a different amount of money ranging from $100 to $25,000 for a grand total of $68,600. The difficulty level and order of the questions are randomized, meaning that the correct answer to an exceedingly tough question may be worth only $100 and come late during round one. The value of each question remains hidden from the contestant until the answer is revealed or they use one of two “Jump the Question” lifelines. If they chose to jump, the money does not go into the contestant’s bank.

Aside from the two question jumps, contestants also may also poll the audience about the answer to a challenging question.

“I think the way they do it now is way more exciting for people watching at home,” Fan said.

Fan’s final question came down to a particularly random topic – laundry. On the eighth question, host Meredith Viera asked, “On a standard clothing care label, a circle with an X through it is a warning that means what?” Fan’s options were do not bleach, do not dry clean, do not iron or do not wash.

At that point in the game, Fan had accrued $50,000 and decided to ask the audience. A majority of audience members actually responded incorrectly choosing “do not bleach” as the answer. Ultimately, Fan decided to walk away with $25,000 – contestants have to cut their winnings in half if they chose to walk. Answering the question incorrectly would have reduced his winnings to a mere $1,000.

“Who looks at laundry symbols?” said Fan. “You might read the label, but you don’t look up the meaning of the different the symbols. I was already prepared to walk away with the money.”

Fan said he plans to use the money to cover a few longstanding expenses, help support Spandex City and take his family on a vacation to Florida. He said the expenses that come with being a small business owner pile up and that $25,000, especially after taxes are taken out, can deplete pretty quickly.   Fan opened Spandex City in 2010 after quitting his job in the software industry.

“I’ve loved superheroes ever since I can remember,” he said. “I remember being 3 and making my mom call me ‘Spidey’ for about a week. I refused to answer to Michael.”

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