Somewhere in my closet is a white t-shirt with a small “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” logo on the front and CONTESTANT emblazoned across the back. I don’t think I’ve ever worn it. They gave us all a requisite fake check, too, for a million dollars. The real one that came in the mail later was for a thousand dollars, courtesy of a surprisingly obscure $16,000 question. Only a handful of people I’ve talked to in the last twelve years actually knew the name of Bjork’s band, though, which I suppose is some consolation.
The black “Jeopardy!” tote bag has been a useful size. They also presented me with a nice glass logo picture frame for my photo with Alex Trebek. My son noticed it the other day high on a shelf, recognized “the guy from TV,” and wanted to watch my episode. We did – at least, the first half, when I sailed through the Major League Baseball category and nailed a Daily Double with “What is Swahili?” It’s nice to just be able to pause the show there, while I still have a big lead.
The “Weakest Link” folks didn’t hand anything out, fitting since the whole experience was pretty low-key. After all, it was the syndicated version with George Gray, not the primetime one people remember. It’s for the best, really, that only an audience in the dozens saw my game; I answered quite a few questions correctly but somehow flubbed a rather obvious one about Steve Jobs.
We’ve all seen the congenial game show hosts assure the losing contestants, “We have some lovely parting gifts for you.” But just what are those lovely parting gifts? Are they simply the little souvenirs, and maybe a nominal check? What do you walk away with when such a thrilling opportunity – or any opportunity, for that matter – didn’t turn out how you were so certain it would? When you’re left clapping politely while someone else grins triumphantly?
As for the shows, they used to send the non-winners off with more, it seems. Maybe a year’s supply of something useful. A new appliance. Maybe a trip. One “Jeopardy!” staffer told us they stopped giving out trips around the time a contestant from Hawaii won – a trip to Hawaii.
What you take with you, then, mostly comes down what you make of it. As for me, I’ve embraced it as my story to tell. Little anecdotes for cocktail party chat. Like how Regis is rather arrogant, but Alex Trebek is quite personable. And how it wasn’t really nerve-wracking to sit in the “hot seat” because it seemed so surreal, but that thirty minutes of standing at the podium with a buzzer in your hand goes by so unbelievably fast it feels like thirty seconds.
Losing at anything is inevitably disappointing, all the more so the bigger the prize at stake. It doesn’t have to be the end of the story, though, or even the central theme of the narrative. Our life experiences are our tales to tell – to others but also to ourselves. While it’s oh-so-tempting to dwell on a loss and the mistakes that led it to it, we can instead choose to put a positive spin on it and claim as our consolation prize the best version of the story we now have to share.
It’s a powerful choice. Our own mental retelling of life events is what shapes our attitudes of who we are. From any experience, we can take away from it that which adds a new piece to the grand anthology of our lives. Both our victories and our defeats continually build each of us into the wonderfully unique people we are today.
It’s the loveliest of parting gifts. The fake check may not have any real value, but focusing on the positive – of any outcome – always does.