Local man on ‘Millionaire’

Published 10:18 pm Friday, September 7, 2012

Competitor: Clarence Tucker Jr. of Suffolk competes on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” with host Meredith Vieira. The episode, in which Tucker won $1,000, aired Tuesday. (Disney-ABC)

Clarence Tucker Jr. was comfortable answering questions about giraffes and jazz musicians, but it was bankruptcy that tripped him up.

The 38-year-old Suffolk resident appeared on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” on Tuesday, but left with only $1,000 in winnings after giving an incorrect answer on the third question.

“I was fortunate to get the experience,” Tucker said in a phone interview Friday. “A lot of people auditioned in Hampton Roads, and they picked four people.”

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Tucker describes himself as a “trivia buff” and played on the College Bowl team when he was a student at Norfolk State University. He decided to try out for “Millionaire” after being encouraged by the residents at the Norfolk nursing home where he is a physical therapist.

The residents watch the game show every morning, Tucker said. After hearing him give correct answers to the questions on the screen, they told him, “You need to go on the show,” he said.

One of the residents showed him a newspaper article about auditions in Hampton Roads. After trying out, he was picked for the show and flew to New York to tape his episode on Aug. 21.

“I was nervous,” he said. “But I was less nervous when I went to play than I was leading up to it.”

The environment on stage is “pressure packed” but surreal, Tucker said.

“The studio is smaller than it looks on television,” he said. “The audience is right on top of you. The screen is humongous. The lights are bright, and it seems like so much going on at one time.”

Tucker said host Meredith Vieira is “very friendly and beautiful.”

Tucker’s first question was about the Cincinnati Zoo’s 2012 Valentine’s Day cards, which contain the phrase “Stand Necks to Me.” He correctly guessed that the photo on the cards featured two giraffes.

The correct answer gave him a $7,000 start, and he moved on to a question about an iconic photograph titled “Harlem 1958.” He correctly identified the people featured in the photo as jazz musicians, which gave him another $2,000.

But then came the question that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

“My first two questions were very easy,” he said. “But you don’t remember the ones you got right. You remember the one you got wrong.”

The question was: “Appropriately, a company that declares bankruptcy a second time is said to be filing for what?”

The correct answer was Chapter 22, derived from Chapter 11 bankruptcy times two. However, Tucker had Chapter 13 — the individual bankruptcy code — in his head, and multiplied it by two to get Chapter 26, which was also an available response.

“My reasoning was sound, but I just had my bankruptcies mixed up,” he said.

His incorrect answer meant he left with only $1,000 and left all his lifelines unused.

Tucker’s friends and family, after seeing the show air, told him they didn’t know the answer either, he said.

“So I don’t feel bad that I missed on an easy question,” he said. His mother was the only one who was disappointed. “I think she had spent some money in her head already,” he joked.

Tucker said he doesn’t regret the experience. He even got to mention his nursing home residents on the air, which they were excited about, he said.

“I wouldn’t change anything, except I would jump that question,” he said.