COULTERVILLE -- Seventeen years of waiting came to an end for Steeleville resident and Pistol City Restaurant and Saloon General Manager Kyle Hinnerichs last year and his restaurant held a viewing party last Friday to mark the occasion.
Hinnerichs's appearance on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" also came with a bonus for patrons of the restaurant as Hinnerichs pledged 1 percent of his winnings to a lucky customer.
After rather quickly moving up the board, Hinnerichs reached the following $50,000 question:
"While Syria is considered the most dangerous place on Earth, for the last five years, the Global Peace Index has ranked what country as the world's safest?"
Hinnerichs was given the choices of Japan, Canada, Iceland or New Zealand and called down his plus-one, six-time "Jeopardy!" champion and winner of the 2015 Jeopardy Tournament of Champions Alex Jacob, to help him answer the question.
After some discussion, Jacob told Hinnerichs that he would pick New Zealand if he was in Hinnerichs's spot. The latter concurred with the Jeopardy champion and went with New Zealand as his final answer.
But it was the wrong answer, with Iceland being the correct response.
"At no point was I ever really going toward Iceland," Hinnerichs said in an interview after his appearance aired at Pistol City. "The problem is that, from the very beginning - and you can see this if you watch the video - there's a panoramic shot from behind me where the contestant's looking up at a really big video monitor that has these questions on it and you can see the shot behind me.
"When I look up at the initial question, I put my hand to my mouth because I swear I thought I knew it cold."
Hinnerichs said one of the things he had run across prior to the show was a study that listed Switzerland as the world's safest country.
"If Switzerland had been on that list, I wouldn't have called Alex down, I would have just said 'Switzerland, final answer' and it doesn't show up on the list," he said. "Then, we've got to kinda start from scratch."
Hinnerichs said he ruled out Canada and Japan right away due to Canada's geographic size and Japan's reputation for organized crime.
"Japan and Canada, in my mind, were complete throwaways," he said. "It was always going to be Iceland or New Zealand, I just didn't know which."
Instead of $50,000, Hinnerichs walked away with $5,000. He could have also chosen to walk away with $30,000 instead of answering the $50,000 question.
"Although walking away with $30,000 - certainly now - sounds like an acceptable choice, this is a once-in-a-lifetime," Hinnerichs said. "I am never ever gonna probably get the chance to...because if you hit $50,000, not only can you not go home with less than that, you're locked in at 50 (thousand) and you get an absolute free look at the $100,000 question.
"In my prep work for the show, I was getting to $50,000 about 80 percent of the time and I knew the $100,000 question about 50 percent of the time."
Hinnerichs noted that with that much upside, he couldn't walk away with $30,000.
"Knowing now what I know, that I still got it wrong, no regrets," he said. "I would have done it the same way."
Hinnerichs started auditioning for the show in 1999 and taped his appearance, which stretches over parts of two shows, in August 2016 in Las Vegas. He has been trying to get on "Jeopardy!" since 1994 and has passed the qualification test three times, but has never made it into the contestant pool.
"The good news is once you get a little bit of exposure on one of these shows, you're kind of a known entity," Hinnerichs said. "Producers know you're not some wild card who's going to freeze up on camera."
Hinnerichs was asked what it is like to watch himself on television.
"It's horrible," he said. "My goodness is it horrible. The biggest thing is, and my wife's convinced it's because I was nervous, I had no idea I was anywhere near that nasal.
"And, for reasons unknown to me, I couldn't keep my tongue in my mouth and I have no idea where that came from. In the moment, the first three or four questions, I don't know if I could have told you what my name is."
"It could have been a mistake in that I might have rushed it a little bit," Hinnerichs said. "I identified Tim Cook as Apple's CEO, I knew Elon Musk was Tesla, also not there.
"Two things in play, if I could have remembered Marissa Meyer was CEO of Yahoo and they were Silicon Valley, then Howard Schultz had to be the right answer by process of elimination."
Lastly, Hinnerichs was asked if he had fun.
"Boy, that's hard to answer," he said. "It just is. Literally, for 17 years, this was the goal. Jeopardy comes with a certain amount of prestige; everybody knows the status that goes along with Jeopardy and that's a completely different thing.
"But 'Millionaire' was always kind of easy money. Particularly back in the Regis (Philbin) days, my goodness, some of those early questions in 1999 and 2000, you could so easily get to $125,000 to $250,000 and not really be all that smart."
Philbin hosted the U.S. version of the show from its inception in 1999 to 2002. Current host Chris Harrison began his tenure in September 2015.
"I have a little bit of regret I didn't get on back then, but everything happens in time," Hinnerichs said. "Would I trade the experience? No, just didn't turn out the way I would have wanted."
After the show aired, Hinnerichs said he felt bad awarding only 1 percent ($50) of his winnings given the seven months of waiting. He bumped it to 5 percent ($250), with Judy Herman winning the big cash prize.
Ten other Pistol City customers won $25 gift certificates to the restaurant.