Richer, not smarter
Wachusett grad quits while ahead
Larry Rettig may be the happiest “drop-out” in the country today — he is $100,000 richer.
The former Holden resident appeared on Fox’s new game show, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” Thursday night and came out a winner, although he conceded defeat to host Jeff Foxworthy.
If a contestant fails to answer all 11 questions and win $1 million, it is called “dropping out.” Mr. Rettig’s penalty? He had to admit to the host, and the nation, that he was not smarter than a fifth-grader.
Despite his overall success, Mr. Rettig, 31, showed several times just how much he has forgotten since his elementary school days.
Although he boasted on camera to achieving A’s and B’s as a student, Mr. Rettig had to rely on the expertise of those roughly 20 years younger than him. “I got lucky a few times,” he said. “Those kids saved me.”
Those “kids” are the show’s five cast members, who answer the questions along with contestants.
The quiz show takes its questions directly from textbooks in first through fifth grade.
Contestants who struggle with a question can turn to the children for help. The show calls it “cheating,” but Mr. Rettig had another term for it: Survival. He was allowed to cheat three times, and he needed it. “It is amazing how much those kids memorize,” he said. “You forget about how much you had to learn at that age.”
Mr. Rettig, who graduated from Wachusett Regional High School in 1994, happened upon the show by chance.
In October, he moved to Thousand Oaks, Calif., with his wife, Emily, and their daughter, Renee Belle Rettig.
Prior to his cross-country trek, he had lived in Central Massachusetts all of his life. He was born in Worcester and grew up in Holden, attending Dawson Elementary School. As to whether he might share his winnings with his former school, Mr. Rettig was blunt. “I didn’t answer that many questions,” he laughed. “They probably don’t want to claim me.”
After graduating from Wachusett, Mr. Rettig attended Worcester State College, majoring in health science, and graduating in 1999. His studies there paid dividends with the sixth question. It was the first, and only time, he displayed confidence on the show. The question, in the category of third-grade health science, asked what the largest bone in the body is. His answer — the femur — earned him $50,000.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Mr. Rettig worked in Worcester as an advertising salesman. He left the job last year to take an executive sales job at Diversified Panel Systems in Oxnard, Calif.
An occasional video editor, Mr. Rettig was browsing Craigslist.org in January for freelance editing jobs he could do during weekends. He stumbled on an online advertisement for a game show seeking fathers age 30 to 55 for “the world’s easiest game show,” he said. He sent a picture along with an e-mail explaining why the producers should pick him.
They called him in for an audition. “They didn’t tell us anything about the show,” he said. “They asked me sample questions (on camera) and I probably got half of them right. They also asked what I would do if I won a million dollars. I just dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes.”
He was asked back, at which point he realized the premise of the show. “They actually had kids there trying out for the show,” he said. “That is when I got the hint.” He did a run-through and the children auditioning acted as his teammates. The first question they asked him, he got wrong. “It was a math question, which is kind of odd,” he said. “That is my best subject.” But the producers let him continue. He ended up with $50,000 of “fake money. You play riskier because it is not real,” he said. “With nothing to lose, you keep going.”
After that round, he said, he felt confident — but not for long. In the third, and final audition, he only answered two questions right. “I bombed on the third one in front of the executives,” he said. “I didn’t think I would get called back.”
He was wrong. Four days later he received a phone call that would change his life. “After that last audition I was not sure I would make it,” he said. “I was pretty surprised they called me.”
Mr. Rettig was given little time to prepare for the show. He immediately e-mailed his friends, telling them he was chosen as a contestant. “I had some people throw questions at me,” he said. “A lot of my friends are married to teachers, and they (helped me).”
He also studied with his wife. “None of the stuff we studied for was on the show,” he said. “It was a waste of time. I stayed up late to study and it was all for nothing.”
Mr. Rettig has two children, Renee, 2, and Pierce, who was born in November. Because of their age, he said, they were of little assistance. Some contestants had the benefit of having children in elementary school. “That would have been a huge help,” he said. “A lot of contestants had that luxury.”
His colleagues were supportive of him, he said, allowing him to work shorter days under two stipulations. “If I won $1 million, I could not quit,” he said. “And they said I better come back with at least $25,000 to make it worth it.”
He received phone calls of encouragement from friends, family members, former co-workers, “just a lot of people,” he said. “I even got a phone call from my senior class president, wishing me luck.”
With all the anticipation, he said, “I was fried,” by the end of the week. “The nights leading up to it, I was having a hard time sleeping,” he said.
He taped the show three weeks ago, spending more than six hours at the studio before his segment was taped. He was accompanied by his wife and daughter, his mother, Tammy Randall of Thousand Oaks, and his sister, Kaitlyn Bell, 16.
His excitement was tempered by the nerves of appearing on national television for the first time. “As soon as I was backstage and behind the set, I needed water,” he said. “I kept getting dry mouth.”
It made the show more difficult.
“A simple question becomes harder, knowing millions of people are watching,” he said. “I didn’t want to look dumb.”
Unfortunately, he almost did just that with the first question. He was asked how many “E’s” were in the phrase “pledge of allegiance.” Mr. Rettig kept adding the article, “the” to those three words. “If I had answered five because I included ‘the,’ I would have lost right then and there with no money,” he said. The host had to repeat the phrase several times before Mr. Rettig caught on. “Jeff Foxworthy saved me,” he said.
Besides winning the money, Mr. Rettig said, one of the biggest thrills was interacting with Mr. Foxworthy. “It was cool to talk to him in between breaks,” he said. They discussed their families, Mr. Rettig’s Massachusetts roots and the Boston Red Sox. Mr. Foxworthy happens to be a good friend of Jason Varitek, Mr. Rettig said.
During the show, the comedian was less kind to Mr. Rettig. At one point, he called him a “redneck” after Mr. Rettig said he would spend $1 million on a camouflage Lamborghini. “They wanted to hear (an answer) and that was the first thing that came to my mind,” Mr. Rettig explained of the Lamborghini choice. “I was trying to think of something expensive.”
Even if he had won no money, Mr. Rettig said, the experience would have been worth it. “It was definitely a fun experience,” he said. “It was neat to see the whole television process from start to finish.”
As to how he will spend his $100,000, Mr. Rettig was coy. “I am probably going to Vegas and put it all on red,” he joked.
He also suggested that other quiz shows may be on the horizon. “I consider myself an opportunistic guy,” he said. “If there is quick money, you have to do it.” He already has a show in mind: “Jeopardy.” “I’m coming after Ken Jennings’ record,” he joked. .