Beachcomber Reporter Wins $32,000

Kirt Ramirez

When Eric Bailey posted pictures to Instagram about being a bus driver during the COVID-19 pandemic, he didn’t expect a producer from “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” to see his posts and then invite him to be on the hit game show.

Bailey, 33, who has driven a “Big Blue Bus” for the City of Santa Monica for the last seven years and also is a freelance reporter for the Beachcomber, almost dismissed this past summer’s message from the producer, thinking it was some sort of scam.

After realizing it was legitimate, Bailey accepted the offer and ended up winning $32,000.

“Obviously it was a good thing I followed up on it,” he said.

The show was taped August 25 at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, where Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! also are recorded. The Millionaire episode celebrating frontline workers with Bailey and his answer-helping friend Alberto Argueta, aired Nov. 1 on ABC.

A Millionaire video clip can be found via ABC’s website and YouTube channel, where Bailey appears cool, calm and collected with Argueta sitting behind him.

Precautions were taken before and during the show to protect against coronavirus exposure, Bailey said, which included no studio audience, wearing masks when off-camera and staying at least six feet apart from each other.

“Three days prior to taping, I had to go and take a COVID test and then just kind of self-isolate,” said Bailey, whose results came back negative.

Bailey said due to COVID-19 safeguards, things weren’t as hands on as they otherwise might be but that the experience with the show staff and host Jimmy Kimmel was enjoyable.

“You get to talk to him a little bit before taping just to get a feel for each other,” Bailey said of Kimmel. “So it’s not like you go out there and you have to stick to a script. We actually get to interact with him and it was actually really fun.”

Bailey said the staff prepared him beforehand by explaining various things and that he wasn’t caught off-guard by anything.

Though he said he was a bit nervous at first, Bailey credits his overall coolness to the ample time he had to sit and let the situation resonate before going onstage as well as the staff’s guidance.

“The production staff did a really good job at explaining everything step by step and giving the impression of: Just relax. Go out there and just have fun; because if you’re not having fun, you’re probably going to do really badly. Don’t think about the pressure, don’t think about TV, just go out there and have fun and that’s what I did.”

Bailey could ask Argueta for help and the buddy gave several correct answers.

At question 10 – for $32,000 – Bailey and Argueta – didn’t know a specific medical term.

“I didn’t know what olecranal skin was, which is excess skin of the elbow,” he said.

“I thought that by having the word ‘cranal’ in there it had to do with head. One of the options was excess skin of the chin. What my thought process was, you know how some people have excess skin hanging off their neck, I seriously thought that’s what it was. And I went with it.”

After giving the incorrect “final answer,” Bailey’s monetary figure did not drop, however.

“Even though I got it wrong, I think that given the circumstances of it being for a front-line worker, I think they just let me keep the $32,000 rather than drop it down to something,” he said.

Bailey hasn’t received the check yet but said he plans to put the winnings toward buying a house someday.

Originally from Lynwood, Bailey lives in Gardena with his wife and three-year old son.

Bailey started as an intern at the Beachcomber last year and graduated from Long Beach State with a bachelor’s degree in journalism this past August.

“I went to school during the day and drove at night,” he said of his university and work duties.

Asked if driving a bus during COVID conditions concerns him, he responded:

“It’s always going to be a concern,” he said. “It was a concern from day one.”

He said while others have opportunities to work from home, have reduced hours, or have other arrangements, his type of work requires him to be present.

“Things like transportation, like driving a bus or operating a train, you just have to be out there and roll with the punches and do the best that you can to stay safe.”


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