One in a million: Nevada freshman appears on 'Millionaire'

9/25/2007 | By: Staff Report  |

Richard Hansen is an adventurer -- he's a world traveler who has met the pope, plans to get a job in the U.S. State Department, loves cycling, is a fantasy football leaguer and ... is a millionaire.

Well, viewers won't know if this University of Nevada, Reno freshman can include that last patch to his adventure jacket until the airing of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" at 7 p.m. Sept. 26, on Reno's KTVN-TV (CBS) or at 7:30 p.m. in Las Vegas on KTNV-TV (ABC).

"I can't say anything that gives an inkling of what I did on the program," Hansen said. "The key is to get people to watch the program." (Editor's note: Search this story for three clues that might give you an idea of how much Hansen made on the game show.)

Hansen was born and raised in Las Vegas, and is the son of Niels and Kathleen Hansen. He is a 2007 graduate of the city's Bonanza High School. He decided to attend the University as a political science major because of its "real" college feel.

"UNLV doesn't have a real college feel to it because it's a new campus," Hansen said. "I like it here. It's very leafy compared to Las Vegas. For winter, I have a 20-pound leather jacket with fur lining."

It was Hansen's uncle who came up with the idea of how Hansen could pay for college.

"My uncle said, "Why don't you just sign up for an audition on 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,''' Hansen remembered. "A week after I signed up, they told me I had an audition in five days."

"Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" is a television game show in its sixth season where contestants are asked to correctly answer 15 successive multiple-choice questions of increasing difficulty to win up to $1 million. Along the way, contestants can use several "lifelines" to help them out, including "50:50," "Phone-a-Friend" and "Ask the Audience." The hit game show will mark its 1,000th episode in November.

Hansen flew to ABC television studios in New York City with his father and brother, Michael.  Contestant hopefuls take a 30-question multiple-choice test for the tryout. Those who fare well on the test have the opportunity for a two-minute interview with "Millionaire" producers.

"The audition experience was like a job interview on steroids," Hansen said. "The personal interview with the producers was the worst. You have to seem really interesting, so I was really over the top and totally nuts."

Two weeks later, Hansen received a postcard in the mail indicating he had been selected.

"Most of my learning I did on my own ... I do read a lot (and) keep up with current events," Hansen said. "I was in A.P. courses in high school and in the Honor Society. My (high school) GPA was so-so. I think college is a better structure of class and environment for me. I'm doing well so far."  

On his second flight back to New York, he flew with four goals in mind if he won big on the show: He would stop borrowing money from his parents, fix his car, pay for college and travel.

"My primary goal is paying for college, outside of that, I want to travel for sure and then I would love to see how much money I have left over," he said. (Clue No. 1.)

A seemingly confident, clever and charismatic young man, Hansen said he was very nervous when he finally got in the "hot seat" on "Millionaire."

"The experience was nerve-wracking," he said.  "It was very tiring, but in the end it gives you that endorphin rush."

Hansen said that it was difficult to concentrate on the question being asked.  

"When you're sitting in the hot seat and you're thinking about a question, you can't hear it on TV, but you hear everyone around you whispering – all the audience members are whispering to each other," he said.

Hansen said the show is a pretty solid production.

"They don't really edit down too much; they tell you to take as much time to think about a question as you'd like, even the easier ones," he said. "You don't want to screw up at like $200. I wouldn't have come back home, I would've just stayed up there." (Clue No. 2.)

As the game show's well-known slogan goes, here's Hansen's final answer in our closing conversation to the question: As a contestant on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," did you: A)win a lot of money; B) win a little money; C)win no money; D)can't talk about it.

"My lips are sealed," he said. "They might take my money away (Clue No. 3.) if I say anything that goes to print."

This will probably not be the last we see of Richard Hansen on national TV.  Shortly after his time on "Millionaire," he applied for the college tournament for the game show "Jeopardy!" but found a clause that states you can't be a contestant if you've been on another nationally syndicated game show within the last year.

"So, I just have to wait until next year," Hansen said.


For more news on the University of Nevada, Reno, follow @unevadareno on Twitter.

Get Nevada Today in your Inbox!