Lenoir man makes mark on 'Millionaire'

Jan. 15, 2014 @ 09:15 AM

Eric Stafford got an email about 9 a.m. Monday, telling him he’d be on that night’s episode of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

Stafford auditioned in Charlotte last summer after seeing that the show was looking for contestants. In October, he aced a 30-minute phone interview to qualify for the show, to be filmed in New York City in mid-October.

Stafford, 46, lives in Lenoir with his wife, Cathy, and two children, and he works for WHKY-TV14 as a production manager, but his TV job had nothing to do with his getting chosen as a contestant. The big thing, he said, is just going for it.

Most people think they’ll never get on a national show like “Millionaire,” but it’s a small world, and if you try, you just might make it, Stafford said.

“I feel like people need to open up themselves to the opportunity,” he said. “I would never have gotten to go if I didn’t have the gumption to go and do it.”

Originally, Stafford auditioned for the movie-themed episode of the show, but the time was filled with other contestants, so he was asked to stay on and compete in a different episode.

Unfortunately, Stafford walked away a few hundred thousand dollars short of becoming a millionaire, getting only the $1,000 everyone gets for having competed.

The question he answered incorrectly was, “In a 2013 press release about staffing changes, HSBC (a British bank) introduced what new turn of phrase to soften the blow of getting 'laid off?'”

Stafford, having expended his lifelines, went with “reunemployed.” The correct answer was “demised.”

As he walked off the set, someone was ready with his tax information and forms to make sure he got the $1,000, but it would be two and a half months until he would be able to watch what had just been filmed.

Everyone involved with the show was friendly and welcoming, Stafford said, especially Cedric the Entertainer, host of the show, who got a special gift from Stafford. Backstage, as Stafford and other guests awaited their chance to become millionaires, they played Pictionary on a whiteboard, and after seeing Stafford's drawing skill, some show interns asked him to draw a picture of Cedric.

The next day, they asked him to draw it on paper with a Sharpie. He did it in 15 minutes, signed a release and gave it to the host on the air, giving his appearance on the show a memorable twist.

In the future, he says, he’s open to more time in front of the camera.

“I’m a ham, so yeah, I’d pretty much do anything I could,” Stafford said. “If they wanted me to be a body on 'CSI,' I’d do that.”