By Ken Stone
When not working at ASML Cymer in San Diego, La Mirada native David Tamayo watches game shows and hones his own trivia skills. He also bites his lip.Six months ago, he went to Caesars Entertainment Studios in Las Vegas to be a contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
On Friday, Tamayo gets to exhale and reveal his fortune, good or bad, to friends and co-workers at the semiconductor company that makes deep ultraviolet light sources for chipmakers.
He’ll be in the limelight locally at 1 p.m. on KABC and at 5 p.m. on KDFX in Palm Springs.
“Geography and sports are my strengths, but I dabble in most categories,” says Tamayo, 31, who lives in Carmel Valley with Sophia, his wife of 1 1/2 years.
He’s a project manager at Cymer, which also has used him in TV commercials as a “brand ambassador.”
“David enjoys running and playing basketball,” said a company profile. “He’s also a regular at trivia nights around San Diego.”
Originally from the Los Angeles suburb, Tamayo came to San Diego 14 years ago to study at UC San Diego, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and an MBA. Before becoming a project manager, he was on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, farming algae for biofuel purposes.
“Millionaire,” formerly on ABC, calls itself America’s richest game show.
“Hosted by Chris Harrison, ‘Millionaire’ features contestants from all over the country and from all walks of life,” the show’s website says. “In the show’s classic format, contestants must answer 14 trivia questions correctly with the aid of three lifelines — Ask the Audience, Plus One and 50/50 — to win $1 million.”
Tamayo was interviewed via email:
MYNEWSLA.COM: How did you land a spot on “Millionaire”?DAVID TAMAYO: I have always been a fan of the show, and I went up to Burbank for a tryout after applying online. After passing the onsite multiple choice exam and interview rounds, I was placed in the contestant pool. A few weeks later, I got the call to be an actual contestant on the show! It was surreal.
Been on any other game show?
Yes, in 2013, I was on the Nerds vs. Hotties Wipeout Episode. It was more physically demanding than I expected, but was still stoked to be able to jump onto that playground. Although I finished in second place, was bummed out I missed on first place and the $50,000 prize. “Who wants to be a Millionaire” is my opportunity to right the ship.
What’s your strategy on “Millionaire”? Walk away with money in hand or go for it?
It all depends on how much money I am risking. As much as I’d like to say I’d go for it, walking away with money always sounds nice, especially after leaving with nothing from “Wipeout.” One thing I know is that I want to just soak in the moment. I love “Millionaire” and want to make my family and friends proud.
What would you do with any prize money?
My in-laws speak only Mandarin. I would love to put some money towards Mandarin classes, or if I’m lazy, hire a translator for whenever they visit San Diego. Would also put some money towards an extended trip to New Zealand and visit the “Lord of the Rings” movie sets.
How do you calm nerves or stay focused while playing?
I have some stage experience from my improv comedy years back in the day, so that definitely helps nerves. Also, knowing I have done a number of embarrassing things in my lifetime (i.e. Wipeout), I’m thick-headed to a lot of things that could worry me while onstage.
If the show still has “Call a friend” feature, who do you call? Or how do you get help on show?
They have updated the “phone a friend” lifeline to the “+1” lifeline. To eliminate the risk of your phone a friend not answering, or just googling the answer to the question, you now have to bring your friend to the studio as your “+1”. Once you use the lifeline, your +1 joins you onstage to help you with the question. The “50:50” and “Ask the Audience” are the two lifelines I would be able to use.
Is this game easier or harder than “Jeopardy!”?
A little bit of both. In “Jeopardy,” getting the categories ahead of the question can assist your approach to what categories to select first; whereas in “Millionaire,” it’s the luck of the draw when your specialty category shows up (if at all). On the flip side, there is the advantage of not competing against other contestants in “Millionaire,” you can focus solely on the questions.
What kind of TV do you watch? Favorite shows?
Outside of the standard game shows, I enjoy competitive reality shows (“The Amazing Race,” “Survivor”), comedies (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Rick and Morty”), HBO dramas (“Game of Thrones,” “Westworld”) and the Olympic Games.
What do you do for fun in San Diego?
I’m an avid runner and a regular hiker. I’m often running around the Embarcadero or going up Mount Woodson. I also like to play trivia at the local breweries on a regular basis.
What’s your career goal? Hobby goals?
I definitely have the game-show bug. Growing up, my family and I would watch “Millionaire,” “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune,” and those moments ended up to be some of my fondest memories.
Being a contestant on these shows has been a great tool to help me stay close with my family, especially my grandparents, who are diehard “Millionaire” fans. Looking forward, I would love to get on a few more shows. “The Amazing Race,” “Jeopardy” and “The Price is Right” are on my game-show bucket list.
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