ST. GEORGE — Friday the 13th was anything but unlucky for Tom Zulewski.
Zulewski, a Cedar City resident, walked away from the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” game show $50,000 richer July 13.
He had to hold onto his lucrative secret until Thursday night when his showing on the hit TV game show finally aired on the KJZZ channel in Utah.
“Now I can tell everything,” Zulewski said in an interview with Cedar City News.
Zulewski, a sports reporter for Iron County Today, is the first Southern Utahn to play on the show in its near-20-year run.
“Nobody else from this end of the state has played,” he said. “I’m the first.”
He represented Southern Utah well, coming out with more cash than most participants walk away with on average.
But it might not have been, considering his close call on the $5,000 question asking about a highway sign in Colorado when he almost got tripped up. While almost mouthing the wrong answer, he stopped himself just in time to correct himself.
“That was the save of the game right there,” he said.
Zulewiski then made it to the $50k question with the help of all three of his “life-lines.” With no help available, he correctly answered the question about Jesse Owens, the American track star from the 1936 Olympics held in Nazi Germany.
Then he was finally done in on the $100k question, which asked him, “Which of these Gandhis is not related to the other three Gandhis listed?”
“That one was harsh,” Zulewski said.
However, winning $50,000 was more than Zulewski could have dreamed of, calling his winnings “life-changing money.”
“The most money you’ve ever seen in your life,” show host Chris Harrison said in congratulations after Zulewski explained that it was about double his yearly salary.
In the end, the money was only one part of a transformative experience for Zulewski, he said.
“One of the greatest parts was all the connections I made along the way.”
Starting from the beginning of the day, he said innumerable people made a difference in making his big day a success.
First, he managed to hitch a ride from a friendly construction worker to the show’s studio in Las Vegas after he lost track of his own car. Then he got to meet his “plus-one” and his makeup artist whom he both already happened to know as online acquaintances.
And when filming finally began and his nerves began to get the better of him, he was reassured by the show’s host who told him to take his time.
“Chris Harrison is just as nice in person as he is on TV,” Zulewski said.
When he finally receives his payout later this year, Zulewski said he will continue giving back to his community.
“I’m making a difference in people’s lives with the stories I’m telling and I’d like to at least continue on … and continue to give back to them,” he said, explaining that he’ll start by supporting an upcoming basketball tournament in Cedar City.
As for himself, he plans to buy a new car and go on a “baseball roadtrip” with his mother, who was at the show supporting him from the audience.
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