Sargon de Jesus has always been a trivia buff and a fan of game shows that test trivia smarts. So when he earned an appearance on the popular TV game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, de Jesus was "totally psyched" and ready to take his shot at some big money.
As someone who has cultivated a vast array of interests and talents, de Jesus possesses a broad and varied base of experience upon which to draw.
The 24-year-old, who has nemaline myopathy (NM), holds a bachelor's of science degree in geological sciences and literary translation and a master's in geological sciences, both earned at Brown University in Providence, R.I. A Washington, D.C., resident, he works as a science writer for an environmental consulting firm, making technical science "digestible and understandable to the general public." Raised bilingual (English and French), he also does some freelance translating.
De Jesus co-founded the nation's first collegiate whistling choir called "Lip Service," sings in an a cappella group that goes by the name "Suspicious Cheese Lords," and "calls" instructions at contra dances (a type of folk dancing that blends elements of swing, line and square dancing).
He also enjoys photography and "being outside and seeing the natural world," and has turned an interest in hiking into a personal challenge to climb to the highest point in the lower 48 states. So far, de Jesus has managed 15 high points, some of which are high peaks, one of which was "just a street corner."
To the "hot seat"
On Sept. 9, de Jesus taped what would be split into two Millionaire episodes, broadcast Oct. 1 and Oct. 2, 2009.
It was "exciting and surreal" to spend the day on the set, he says, "a blast."
"Once I got there I was dreadfully nervous!" de Jesus says of the “hot seat” where contestants attempt to answer a succession of questions in their bid for $1 million.
He successfully answered the first two questions before time ran out for the episode, then moved on to the third question at what would mark the beginning of the Oct. 2 episode.
"You lose about 50 IQ points due to nervousness when you're sitting there," de Jesus jokes. "You begin to second-guess yourself."
In fact, de Jesus did second-guess himself on the $3,000 question, which was: Which of these children's games traditionally ends when someone reaches "tensies"? A: Simon Says, B: Leapfrog, C: Hopscotch, D: Jacks. Although he was reasonably confident the answer was "D," he used one of his "lifelines" and polled the audience for reassurance.
He was tripped up two questions later when asked: Singing about the state where she was born, Faith Hill had a hit song in 2005 with what title? A: Minnesota Girl, B: Pennsylvania Girl, C: Mississippi Girl (correct answer), D: Oregon Girl.
De Jesus asked to use another lifeline with only a few seconds left, having forgotten that the particular lifeline he'd requested was not yet available to him. "It was a sort of disconnect," he notes. Time ran out before de Jesus could choose another lifeline, and he walked away with $3,000 in winnings.
Although he admits his first reaction at an early exit was disappointment, de Jesus says he's grateful for the experience and definitely would do it again.
"I got some pocket change out of it," he adds, noting that he plans to save his earnings or maybe enclose the balcony in his new apartment.
"Either way," he says, "I appreciate the experience."