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Gainesville college student finally gets ‘Millionaire’ moment

POSTED: April 3, 2009 12:05 a.m.
/VALLEYCREST PRODUCTIONS, LTD.

Justin Floyd, a college student from Gainesville, talks with Meredith Vieira, the host of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" during a taping of the show in October. Floyd will appear on today's episode of the show, which airs at 4 p.m. on NBC (WXIA-11).

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Justin Floyd has been keeping a secret for almost six months. But today, the truth finally will be revealed.

Floyd, 21, is a Gainesville native and a senior at Columbia University in New York. Back in October, he was a contestant on the popular syndicated game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

He was not allowed to tell anyone, not even family members, how the show turned out. They’ll see for themselves at 4 p.m. today, when the episode is scheduled to air on NBC (WXIA-11 in Atlanta).

Floyd said his appearance on the show came about almost by chance.

“I just had a free afternoon last September, and I wandered down to see a taping of the show (in New York City),” he said.

“Afterward, they ask you if you want to take a test to be on the show. Immediately after I took the test, they called me in for an interview.”

Trisha Miller, spokeswoman for the “Millionaire” show, said the test is multiple choice and there’s a time limit.

“It covers a broad base of trivia knowledge,” she said. “If you do well on the test, we know you’re a pretty smart person.”
But the competition is not about who has the highest IQ. Miller said in the audition phase, the show’s producers are looking for people who can engage the TV audience.

“They want to get a sense of your personality, and hear about any interesting stories you might have,” she said.
Justin Floyd proved to be just the type of individual they were looking for. Though he appears younger than his age, he speaks with uncommon maturity.

“Living without learning is like not living at all,” he said Thursday during an interview with The Times. “(Learning) is what it means to be human.”

Floyd, who was raised by his grandparents, Lawrence and Dorothy Floyd of Gainesville, graduated from North Hall High a year early in 2005 and went to Georgia Tech to study chemistry.

But while he enjoyed science, his deep love of history compelled him to transfer to Columbia. When he’s not taking classes, he finds time to edit a progressive policy journal affiliated with the Roosevelt Institution, a think tank that explores the work of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Floyd also spent a year studying at Oxford University in England, and he plans to return there next year for postgraduate work in early European history.

“Ultimately, I’d like to have an academic position,” he said. “I’d also be interested in working for (an agency) such as the National Endowment for Humanities.”

But to succeed on “Millionaire,” Floyd knew he’d have to be well-versed in pop culture, too.

“I try to have a diverse range of knowledge on different subjects,” he said. “I have a fondness for trivia, and ‘Jeopardy’ has always been one of my favorite shows.”

For the “Millionaire” taping, Floyd was allowed to designate three “Phone a Friend” candidates to serve as a “lifeline” in case he didn’t know the answer to a question. All three live in Georgia.

Floyd couldn’t divulge Thursday whether he had to resort to any of his lifelines. But he said the mid-October taping was not as nerve-wracking as you might expect.

“The set is really much smaller than you would think it would be from seeing it on television,” he said.

“And (show host) Meredith Vieira was wonderful. She’s a very nice person, and she has a good chemistry with the contestants, even off-camera.”

Unlike the main character of the Oscar-winning movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” Floyd wasn’t counting on a game show to change his life for the better.

“It wasn’t really about winning money,” he said. “I just saw it as a nice way to spend an afternoon.”

But after sitting in the “hot seat” and being grilled on his trivia knowledge, Floyd realized he enjoyed the challenge.

“I would be interested in trying out for other game shows,” he said. “But right now I’m really busy at Columbia.”



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