- Golfer Benefits
By: Steve Derderian
Here’s a question for you (no cheating): First appearing in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and still part of the Games to this day, which of these was added by Nazi propagandists?
A. The Olympic Flag
B. The Olympic Medal Ceremony
C. The Olympic torch relay
D. The releasing of doves
(We’ll get to the answer later).
Rick Beltaire spent more than 15 years of his life dreaming of the moment he’d be asked a question like this on TV for a chance to win money. And getting this question, among others, back in 2016 helped him earn a $50,000 prize with which he’s used to play golf across the country, and most recently overseas.
But doing so took more than 30 auditions, requiring countless train rides back and forth to New York City with a close friend of his. First there was the 30-question multiple choice test with 100 other show enthusiasts, with about a dozen strong performers chosen for an interview with the show’s producers. While their fate for being on the show wasn’t known that day — it was sent via postcard and later email — Beltaire was often in the audience for a front-row seat to watch his favorite show in the world: ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.’
“Millionaire was my game because you didn’t have to know the answer, you just had to pick it,” Beltaire said. “The reason I liked it is because when you succeed it isn’t at the expense of other players, like ‘Jeopardy’ or ‘The Price Is Right'”.
Beltaire grew up in Cleveland but has spent most of his life in the Bay State where he found a career as a local radio personality for WBRK 1340 AM in Pittsfield. There he developed his radio name, which he used on ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’. (His real last name is Weinberg). An avid golfer, Beltaire joined Country Club of Pittsfield in the 1980s and has been a member ever since.
“I’ve played since 5, when I was hitting plastic golf balls in the backyard,” he said. “I enjoyed the natural beauty. It’s quiet, and something about the game spoke to me.”
But in his late 20s, Beltaire faced a crossroads and found himself making an ultimatum. “I decided that if I didn’t go out west and see the Grand Canyon and play Pebble Beach, I’d never do it,” he said.
Beltaire quit his job, spent a day at one of the 7 natural wonders of the world followed by rounds of golf at Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach (greens fees back then cost about as much as an iPhone case today).
After the trip, he returned to Massachusetts to resume a career in radio, but the itch to travel the country and the world to play golf never subsided.
Flash forward to 1999, and a new show was taking ABC by storm to the tune of 30 million viewers per show. Originally a British show, ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ debuted in the United States in August 1999 with Regis Philbin as the host, and Beltaire was hooked.
Back then, potential contestants of the original prime time version had to compete in a telephone contest which had them dial a toll-free number and answer three questions by putting objects or events in order. Callers had 10 seconds to enter the order on a keypad, with any incorrect answer ending the call. The candidates who answered all three questions correctly were selected into a random drawing in which approximately hundreds of contestants competed for 10 spots on the show, dubbed the ‘Fastest Finger.’
Beltaire said he once was selected for a paid trip to attend the original show and was escorted to The Big Apple in a Lincoln Town Car and given spending money. Beltaire never made it to the hot seat, but decided he was going to keep trying.
Once the show moved to syndication, and Meredith Vieira was selected as host, Beltaire began attending those grueling tryout sessions in New York. While sitting in the audience, he technically got on the show for the first time, getting to answer one question for $1,000 in an end-of-show filler segment. However, he wasn’t about to quit his pursuit of playing the full game.
Always sporting his Millionaire socks, he got good at passing the tests, but impressing the producers was much less in his control. Initially, Beltaire was straight to the point when asked about his desire to be on the show, but being the radio personality he is, he once decided to play a character. He once spun a tale to the producers that he met his fiancé auditioning for the show. Later he said that said fiancé wanted to go to Africa for 2 years, to join the PeaceCorps.
Beltaire eventually got into the player pool for two seasons, but his name was never called for the hot seat.
In 2016, Beltaire’s urgency went to another level when the show’s production moved to Las Vegas and Chris Harrison, who’s most famous for hosting ‘The Bachelor’, was now hosting. Auditions were held across the country, including New York, but they weren’t as frequent. Instead of waiting for “the good postcard”, he was now awaiting “the good email” (fittingly his account has Vieira in the name). That same year he retired from radio, and time seemed to be running out.
“Some of my golf buddies, they’d say, ‘give it up, you’ll never be on the show,’” Beltaire said.
But sure enough, during a summer tryout, one producer interview turned into another. Beltaire wasn’t sure if it was his persistence or personality, but he was finally getting the news he’d be awaiting so long: He was going to the show. After several discussion about his outfit — a light blue floral shirt, which Beltaire never would have worn was it his choice — he flew to Vegas to achieve his dream.
With his nephew Ethan by his side as the +1 lifeline (replacing phone a friend), Beltaire breezed through the first five questions with ease to reach the $5,000 guaranteed threshold. Then things got harder.
On question 6, he was asked (in part): As an “old pal” of Helen Fielding, Salman Rushdie agreed to “make a fool” of himself by appearing in what film?
A. Sex In The City
B. When Harry Met Sally
C. Love Actually
D. Bridget Jones Diary
He used the ask the audience lifeline, but the results yielded 38% D and 35% A. Most players in that spot might’ve used another lifeline, but Beltaire felt Fielding wrote Bridget Jones Dairy, and sure enough was correct.
Beltaire needed his 50:50 lifeline on the $30,000 question, and as soon as two incorrect answers disappeared, he immediately said “D. Final Answer”. Right again.
To reach the $50,000 threshold he needed Ethan to answer which is Costco’s No. 1 selling item. Ethan went with toilet paper, and after about 2 minutes of deliberating he went with that answer. Harrison said, “I’m so glad you came to play, and you’re going to keep playing.” Beltaire had officially won at least $50K.
Now we’re back to the question at the beginning. Beltaire had just watched an Olympics documentary on PBS weeks prior and knew the answer was C. Now he had $100,000 in the bank, but it wasn’t guaranteed unless he walked away. He had to answer four more questions to win the grand prize.
At that point, that show’s taping was over, but after a 15-minute break for a wardrobe change, taping resumed for the $250,000 question, which Beltaire still thinks of to this day:
While Marilyn Monroe’s version is more famous, who sang “Happy Birthday” to JFK for his 46th and final birthday at the Waldorf-Astoria on May 23, 1963?
A. Julie Andrews
B. Natalie Wood
C. Grace Kelly
D. Aubrey Hepburn
Beltaire quickly ruled out Kelly. Had he been 40 years younger, Beltaire said he would’ve walked away without giving it much thought. He thought Natalie Wood had some connect with JFK, and after reflecting briefly on his journey to this point, he said if he lost here “if it happens it happens”. Then he leaned in and said “Natalie Wood, final answer”. Unfortunately, that’s where the road ended, but a great memory made in the process.
After taxes, Beltaire was left with about $38K of winnings, and just like 40 years prior, knew that if he didn’t travel to play golf, he never would. The list includes trips to Bandon Dunes, Kiawah, nearly half the courses on the Robert Trent Jones Trail, Sand Hollow in Utah, Wolf Creek in Nevada, and Florida’s TPC Sawgrass and Bay Hill.
But this year, Beltaire wanted something he’d never done before: play overseas. With his winnings running low, he booked the Mass Golf trip to Ireland this past September, a 6-course, 7-night excursion to some of the country’s prized gems.
Beltaire was blown away by Ireland. So much so that Old Head Golf Links, Ballybunion Golf Club, Tralee Golf Club are now in his top tier of courses with Pebble Beach, The River Course Black Wolf and the Sheep Range at Bandon Dunes. Additional rounds at Waterville and Lahinch weren’t far behind either.
“It was everything I thought it would be and more,” Beltaire said. “The entire staff did a great job, and I was impressed with the people.”
In the meantime, Harrison hosted the show through May 2019 before it was canceled again. The show was rebooted in 2020, and after a brief run with Jimmy Kimmel as host, ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ is no longer on the air.
Beltaire’s winnings have been spent by this point, but if he travels now, it’s for golf. While he never won $1 million on the show, taking part in this journey and getting to explore some of the world’s greatest golf courses was a grand prize in itself.
He’s only got one more thing on his bucket list: seeing the Cleveland Browns play in the Super Bowl. Perhaps they can take a lesson in persistence from Beltaire.