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Gulfport high school teacher wins $56,600 on 'Millionaire'

Lesley Cooper with Meredith Vieira on Who Wants to be a Millionaire last week.

Courtesy of Valleycrest Productions Ltd.

Lesley Cooper with Meredith Vieira on Who Wants to be a Millionaire last week.

The city of Boring is in Oregon. Not Arizona, or Alabama, or Vermont.

That factoid is seared into Boca Ciega High teacher Lesley Cooper's memory as one that stood between her and an extra $100,000 on the TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

The veteran teacher still took home $56,600, and advanced to the second round before deciding to walk away. And she had guessed correctly too, she said.

The Tampa Bay Times talked to Cooper, 56, a literature teacher with a master's degree in English, about appearing on the show last week.

How did you get on the show?

My mother had seen it in the paper, the Times, that Who Wants to be a Millionaire was coming here and looking for contestants for the show. She told me about it, and I went there with my son and daughter-in-law. We went to Grand Hyatt (in Tampa Bay), and I passed the test, a written test on general knowledge. Then I had an interview with a producer and on-camera interview. I wasn't nervous, it was just passing a test. Once I started talking to the producer, it was just like having a conversation. Then he said I had to go on to do an on-camera interview. Weeks later, I received in the mail a letter saying I was in the contestant pool. I called and they asked if I can come next week to be on the show.

How was it like being on it?

I just tried to experience it without thinking about it. If not, I would have totally lost it — I would have freaked out. I took it one step at a time so I wouldn't freak out. I went to New York with my sister and daughter-in-law and her mother. We got there in the morning, at the ABC studios in New York, and then the producers went over the procedures. . . . I didn't go on the first day but came back the next day. . . . You don't know what the other contestants have done. It was nerve-racking, as you are waiting to go. And when you go out there, they give you a run-through. . . . When you are there, the cameras are on, the audience is there . . . . my overall concern was just to get the answers right. I don't want to be embarrassed.

What's the biggest difference being on the show and just watching it on TV?

Caution. When you are home, you just shout things out; there is no consequence. But when you are there, you have to commit to the answer. And there is money on the line.

What did your students and colleagues think about you being on the show?

My colleagues were ecstatic . . . (they) were beaming. My students, they were over the moon. I always punctuate my sentences with "cha-ching," so they asked if I was going to say "cha-ching" on the show. They were just pleased as punch that one of their teachers would go. Even my church, my family on Facebook, my relatives out of state, everybody was thrilled.

What are you planning to do with your winnings?

I told them I hope to open some sort of a reading center for children, like how you have after-school care or something like that. This is just a reading center because we have a big literacy problem in our schools. It's an idea, but on a more immediate level, I'll do whatever anyone else does: pay bills and maybe go on a vacation. I was also thinking of going back to school and getting my doctorate in English. It's something I have been thinking about.

Gulfport high school teacher wins $56,600 on 'Millionaire' 03/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 10, 2012 3:31am]
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