June 13, 2008
Cortland teacher wins $8,000 on ‘Millionaire’
Bill Lee stumped on $16,000 question about actor who fought assassins naked in sauna
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Former Cortland High School student Andrew DeRado, left, and Cortland eighth- and ninth-grade Principal Mac Knight, center, congratulate Cortland High School teacher Bill Lee, right, as he arrives at a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” party in his honor at Gator’s in Cortland.
A Cortland High School English teacher walked away with $8,000 on ABC’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” in a program that aired Thursday night.
Bill Lee, who teaches 11th and 12th grade English, decided to walk away with his winnings after using his remaining “Lifelines” on the ninth question.
In “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” contestants answer increasingly difficult trivia questions in multiple-choice format for increasing amounts of money. As they progress, they can opt to keep the money they’ve already won instead of trying to answer another question.
Contestants also are afforded three “lifelines:” they can poll the studio audience, call a pre-designated friend, or eliminate two wrong answers from the initial four possible responses.
Lee had answered most of the other questions relatively easily. The second question was “New inventions are often called the greatest thing since what,” and Lee quickly picked “Sliced bread.”
He used the first of his three Lifelines on a question about how to indicate the mathematical expression “four factorial.”
“I’m going to trust this lovely audience,” Lee said to Millionaire host Meredith Vieira. The audience poll indicated a 60 percent majority favored “4!,” which turned out to be correct.
Friends and fellow teachers gathered at Gator’s Tavern in Cortland to watch Lee’s appearance on the show. They cheered as Lee answered each question.
The questions kept getting tougher, but Lee made his way through the subjects of South Korea and European auto manufacturers without cracking.
But when the ninth question rolled around — What film star acted in a 2007 movie where he had to fight off two assassins while totally naked — Lee didn’t get as much help.
With $16,000 up for grabs, he used a second Lifeline to call his friend, Cortland High School social studies teacher Dan Lord, who could only tell him, “I don’t know.” After using his last Lifeline to eliminate two incorrect answers, Lee decided to walk away.
The correct answer was Viggo Mortensen, who appeared in 2007’s “Eastern Promises.”
The show was taped in October, but Lee was contractually forbidden from disclosing how much he’d won on the show until it aired Thursday. He walked into Gator’s after his appearance to cheers, hugs, and applause.
Lee said he thought he looked “too serious” on the air, but that the experience had been an adventure.
Lee traveled to Manhattan to audition for the show last year, and returned for the actual taping in late October, which took place at ABC Studios on Central West.
Some material is edited out of the show for the final cut, he said. For instance, during a question about a quote from former president George H. W. Bush, Lee told Vieira that he had been a life-long Democrat — a quip that didn’t make the air.
On the last question, too, some of the show was edited, he said.
“I took a lot longer than it appears on TV,” he said.
Lee said he had decided that he was not going to do any guessing while he and other contestants waited for their turn in the studio’s green room.
Lee said he plans to start a scholarship fund named for this year’s senior class with most of his winnings. While what’s left of the $8,000 after taxes won’t be enough on its own to do that, Lee’s gathered friends donated money into a large bowl that was passed around Gator’s Thursday night.
He said he hopes that in about five years, there will be enough money built up in the fund to be able to provide a self-perpetuating annual scholarship.
Bonnie Meldrim, a second-grade teacher who co-advises this year’s senior class with Lee, said students had been excited to see their teacher on television.
“It was really fun for them to see their teacher on TV,” she said.
She said the opportunity couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person than Lee.
“He loves going to school every single day,” she said. “That takes a pretty special person, and that’s Bill.”
And even though Lee didn’t wind up returning to Cortland as a millionaire, he said the experience was worthwhile.
“I went down there a rich man,” he said. “I love my wife and my kids, and I love my job. It was fun. I went for the adventure.”
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