Is This Thing On? Lynn’s ‘Win Ben Stein’s Money’ Episode is Televised

So after a stop and start, the episode finally aired. The original airing date was May 24 so I sent postcards to my mailing list and generally alerted the world. I went to my boyfriend’s house and he gave me a consolation prize of the book and the film of “The Perfect Storm.”

Todd had wrapped it himself and stuck a big computer-generated “Miss Lynn Benson’s ‘Win Ben Stein’s Money’ Consolation Prize” placard on it, complete with graphics of Ben and Nancy. It was so sweet I nearly passed out. At 4:45, Todd’s phone rang. I’d left his number on my home answering machine so that people could call me to say how great I looked on TV.

It was Mike, calling from Boston.

“Uhm, I’m watching the show and, uhm, you’re not on it.” Todd and I watched at 7:30 till 7:31, then turned on “Out of Sight” instead. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was the first time I spent the night in his bed. Don’t worry, we behaved.

  • * *

A few people called and e-mailed to say they hadn’t seen me on TV so I told them I’d let them know if I learned when it might air again. Having no idea whether the episode had been postponed or already aired was maddening.

I checked the schedule on-line at No dice.
“Shit!” I summarized. “I spent $500 to do the show and another $200 on publicity and now I might not even get to see it.”

Finally, while surfing the Web on July 4th I decided to re-open my investigation. I found the Comedy Central search page and typed the keyword “noir.” It returned with a snappy, “Hey Chief, is this what you’re looking for?” and listed: 7/12/2001 7:30 PM All Times ET/PT Win Ben Stein’s Money (ep#5048) [cc] Not all is black & white as three suspects try to steal $5,000 of Private I. Ben Stein’s money in this Film Noir tribute.


I called and left messages for Mom and Dad, both out with better things to do. Called Dean, my dearest friend from high school, and left a message with his cookie that I’d be on TV later the next week. Mom and I sent e-mails to everyone we knew, and I called my friends from Trinity.

I sent an e-mail to my ex-boyfriend Todd (things happen quick around here — try and keep up) who invited me to watch it at his house. At first I demurred but later accepted, figuring who am I trying to kid? “The Perfect Storm” was not only the name of his consolation prize to me but also perfectly summed up our relationship, which was brief and intense, leaving me drenched, breathless and dashed against the rocks. I’m still awaiting my FEMA disaster aid.

I called John and asked if he’d like to have a late lunch on the 12th, followed by busting in to The Cats and watching it on their 4:30 East Coast satellite feed.

“Be on time,” he reminded me.

I, who am always on time. On a day of intense personal importance. As if.

On the day itself I took a walk to expel some of the building free-radical energy. John and I met at Andale Taqueria in Los Gatos. I had the first of what became many beers of the day, evening and subsequent morning. John and I had a great lunch, the most comfortable time we’ve spent together since the dot-com bomb. But by the time we were done with our burritos I looked at my phone and it was only quarter to 4:00.

“There’s a TCBY a couple doors down. Want to get some yogurt?” We walked up the street and he was sure to point out his stellar parking spot. John always gets the good parking spots. Of course, John has a killer car and is suave as hell, so it oughtn’t to surprise anyone.

Ordering and eating our yogurt took up another 25 minutes, after which we stood and agreed to meet at The Cats. Except for my cabins, The Cats is my favorite place in Los Gatos. It is a ramshackle roadhouse that’s been there so long it used to be a bordello. I guess it used to be a gay bar in the 70s, but hello, wasn’t nearly every bar a gay bar in the 70s? I mean, disco? Now it’s a regular bar with live music nearly every night except for Monday (when they’re closed).

My parents went to The Cats once when they were living in Sunnyvale in the 1960s. Dad never forgot the entertainment that night. “It was some folkie on a guitar with a lisp. One of his songs was ‘Little Green Appleth.’ I wanted to ask him, ‘Why that song, man?'” Deep in reminiscence, Dad sang me the chorus: Oh, God didn’t make little green appleth And it don’t rain in Indianaopolith In the thummertime…

Anyway, I moved to my mountain homestead on December 1 (y2k) and left for London on the fifth. The first time I went to The Cats was shortly after I returned from across the Pond. I met Alan the bartender on my first visit. He was the first non-landlord person I met in Los Gatos.

I remembered this as I rattled the door handle of the establishment at 4:20. T-10 and counting. A minute later, Alan appeared. “Hi Alan. I know you’re not open until 4:30, but can my friend and I come in? I’m going to be on TV tonight.” He let me in and I took a seat by the window, waiting for John.

“Is it your game show?” Alan asked. He’d been well-versed on my adventure.

“Yeah. It’s on at 4:30 on Comedy Central.” Even though I haven’t had DirecTV since moving away from Redwood City, I remembered that the channel we wanted was 249. Ben Stein fandom is a lasting legacy, indeed.

John arrived and I waited impatiently for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to be over already. His moment of Zen featured the stripping of the man who won Wimbledon, so that assuaged my anxiety. A bit.

I remembered that there were never commercials between the end of Daily Show and the beginning of WBS$, so I perched on the edge of my seat and the introduction began.

“Lynn, it’s in color!” John exclaimed.

“That’s just the beginning — it’s always in color.” I said, too scared to blink. My breath caught in my throat.

The introduction cut away to the show. In black and white. YES!

“Oooh, there’s Lynn!” John said delightedly as Ben walked past the contestant podiums on-screen.

We watched as Ben did a film noir voiceover to the action and then Nancy began introducing the contestants. I was second in line. Nancy commented on the fact that I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains and draw water from a well (I think she was picturing me cranking up the bucket Heidi-style, but after all, what do Southern Californians know about water besides attempted theft?).

Ben piped in, “Where she lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains happens to be the place where they grow the chronicest weed in all of California.”

I laughed, and Nancy added, “All right, you’re my new best friend, Lynn.”

They edited the show by not showing Terry’s incorrect first answer. He’d chosen the first question and answered it incorrectly. I rang in with the right answer, and won the follow-up prize as well (thanks to Becky’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy).

The scoreboard read Lynn: $100, men: $0.

Alas, it was not to continue…

The questions I rang in first with, I answered incorrectly. Welcome to my life. The best part of the show for me was when Nancy said “I didn’t know it either, Lynn,” after I incorrectly answered a question about the equinox, and followed that up with, “Lynn might not know what ‘equi-‘ means but she does have the best chronic.”

Both she and Ben said that my appearance on the show could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Ben? Nancy? How about it?

By the time the episode was over, everyone in The Cats knew I’d been on TV.

John left and I enjoyed my second beer of the day, then got in my truck and drove to Todd’s, stopping at the grocery store for Smartfood and a six-pack of Lagunitas IPA.

My cell phone rang after I was underway — it was my friend Brad, calling to offer good luck wishes. He sounded disappointed that I’d already seen the episode, and asked me to not tell him how the game ended. I made him promise to read the “day of taping” column once it was over, so he’d know I wasn’t a complete dumb-ass that day. He asked where I was going to watch the 7:30 broadcast and I said I’d be at Todd’s.

“Hmmmm… how long has it been since he’s seen you?”

“A couple of weeks.”
“Maybe he’ll want to snuggle.”

Todd cooked me dinner and we watched the episode. He taped it on the cassette he’d prepared the first time the show was supposed to air, marking out the May date in favor of the correct July date.

Mom called and said I looked great on TV.

Dad was out of town so I wasn’t expecting to hear from him.

Todd, alas, made no overtures that could be construed as pre-snuggling, so after the show was over I left his house and drove to downtown San Jose, where I met friends for Big Lil’s “Stand Up, it’s Thursday Night” comedy review show.

Afterwards we went back to one of their apartments and they asked to see the tape of my TV appearance, so we popped it in and I watched it again. At the end of my segment, once I got the boot, Jim looked over at me.

“Jeez, Lynn, you look like you’re at Disneyland,” commenting about my smileyness.

I didn’t tell him that once it became apparent that I wasn’t going to win, I just thought about my parents sitting there together, watching me from the audience.

* * *

So, it’s been a month since my debut and it didn’t change my life, sigh. Mom’s friends sent her e-mails complimenting me on my appearance.

Jeffrey blamed my poor performance on my white-trash rental car: “Bad carma.”

One of my favorite customers from days-gone-by at Aimnet said I came off as funny and charming and commented that the camera “obviously” likes me.

I told Steve, who hadn’t seen the episode, that Ben Stein said Santa Cruz County grows the best pot in the state.

“Wrong: Mendocino,” he replied.

Brandon said he didn’t care for my hat.

Katherine couldn’t watch it because that was the day her poodle decided to burrow under the German shepherd’s fence (both Gigi and Katherine are recovering nicely).

A guy I went on a date with a few years ago called my work number and asked if that had been me on TV a couple of weeks ago.

I told Mark, who hadn’t seen the episode, that that Ben Stein said Santa Cruz County grows the best pot in the state.

“Wrong: Mendocino,” he replied.

I called Dean-o this past Saturday but he wasn’t home, so I left him a message asking if he’d like to attend the Moffett Air Expo and, by the way, had he seen me on TV? I checked my home voicemail an hour later and was happy to hear his voice.

“Yes, Lynn, I saw you on TV and what can I say, you looked supreme. It was actually kind of strange, seeing you on television, but more about that later.”

What was even more strange was that it turned out he’d left me that message before checking his own answering machine.

Doo dee doo doo, doo dee doo doo…

The final kicker is that I received my lovely parting gift two months ahead of schedule. Instead of a $215 backpack, though, I opened the box to reveal $215 worth of backpacks and water-bottle carriers.

Which, come to think of it, might prove handy as I’m hiking around the Santa Cruz Mountains, in search of the chronicest weed in California.

It’s Showtime, Baby! Lynn Appears on ‘Win Ben Stein’s Money’

My original January taping date was postponed. Ben chose the Inauguration (attending as a family friend of the Bushes) over working that day.

“What, he’d rather hang out with the President than meet you?” Mom huffed.

The reprieve gave me extra time to prepare. Becky loaned me her excellent Dictionary of Cultural Literacy and I studied it every night before bed. Mom taped episodes for me so I could practice “ringing in” on the buzzer. This was key as I do not have television service in my cabins.

Other friends e-mailed their favorite trivia questions to me. After reading that students who listened to Mozart before an exam performed better than those who didn’t, I bought a CD of Mozart piano duets and taped it.

It wasn’t until the second week of January that my cell phone rang. “Hi Lynn, this is Harv from ‘Win Ben Stein’s Money.’ How are you?”

“Good question, Harv: How am I?” I asked.

He laughed. “Well, probably pretty good, in light of what I’m about to say. Are you still interested in participating in a themed episode?”

I was eager to wear a costume on the show. That way, it would seem more like being in a play and less like me testing my own wits.

Harv continued. “Our writers have come up with a theme episode and I think it would be perfect for you. Are you familiar with film noir?”

“Movies from the 30s and 40s with beautiful, deadly women and the men who love and arrest them, right?”

“You got it. Well, our writers have developed a film noir show and we’d love for you to participate. They’ve written some great bits for Ben and Nancy and we’re filming the entire episode in black and white. Do you have anything in your closet that could suit the theme?”

I made a mental inventory of my closet and hat rack. “Definitely.”

“Super. The taping date will be Thursday, February 8. I’ll send you another contestant bulletin so you know where to park and where your guests should meet.”

“Thanks, Harv. I’m really looking forward to this.”

Whenever I have an early morning flight out of San Jose International (airport code SJC), I spend the night at my buddy Steve’s house. Not only is he one of my favorite people in the world, but he lives one block from light-rail and one mile from the airport.

We ate Chinese take-out the night before. My fortune cookie promised future riches beyond my imagination. Good sign. Steve set the alarm clock near the loveseat before going to bed, but the loveseat deemed itself unworthy for sleeping so I pulled the cushions off the couch and put them on the floor, where I slept until the alarm woke me at 5:00 the next morning.

I brushed my teeth in Steve’s kitchen sink and peed outside so as not to awaken him, donned my fabulous lucky panties, my travelling clothes and was at the airport by 5:50.

While waiting in line at the gate I noticed some valentines stapled to the wall behind the counter: “Scott loves the Women of SJC.” “The women of SJC love Scott.”

The Southwest agent gave me boarding pass 23, my lucky number. Woo hoo!

I dozed on the plane ride between pages of A Very Long Engagement, a book that the night before made me cry on page 63.

The plane landed at Burbank, the Lilliputian airport, at Gate A1. Positivity abounding, I had my combat boots shined at the airport for $4, plus a $2 tip. As I rose from the chair another man lingered, considering having his own shoes shined. “He did a beautiful job. Really,” I told the potential patron, “I could eat off of these.”

I called the Cheapy Rental Car counterman from my cell phone. He gave me a Ford Escort. It was pink. Nothing screams “White Trash!” like a pink Ford Escort with somebody else’s Taco Bell garbage in the back seat. I shall not rent from him again.

After putting my bags in the hideous car I returned to the hotel for breakfast, ordering the Burbank Special: an English muffin with Canadian bacon, poached eggs and processed-cheese slices vulcanized on top. I ate quickly, fearing that once the cheese cooled I might break a tooth.

Post-breakfast, I called my wisest client for some last-minute advice. “Just be yourself,” he offered.

I thanked him, and then picked a bone with him over the fact that the book he’d recommended made me cry on page 63. We rang off and I retrieved my bag from my car, to change from modern-woman Lynn Benson to femme-fatale Lynn Benson. This required stripping completely naked in the handicapped stall of the Ramada’s ladies room. My costume consisted of my mid-calf bias-cut Ralph Lauren navy skirt, a long-sleeved pale-yellow sweater with a deep v-neck and the purple cloche hat I bought in Toronto a few years prior. The ensemble didn’t quite match, but as the show would be filmed in black and white I figured it wouldn’t matter.

I chose to wear my super-lucky panties by wearing none at all — it wouldn’t do to get a wedgie on national TV. Once dressed, I ran through my toilette from toothpaste to toner to full TV war paint. Those who saw me enter the ladies room were very surprised when I emerged. I think this had more to do with my costume change than my breakfast choice.

I drove the now-familiar route to the KTLA studios, noticing a movie poster for the upcoming “Sweet November,” which I took as another good sign because November is my birth month. I stopped at Rite-Aid for some last-minute supplies (lipstick, safety pins, water and an eyelash curler) and pulled into KTLA’s “Producer Lot A” 75 minutes before my call time.

Not seeing a parking attendant, I popped my Mozart tape into the cassette deck and read more of Becky’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Another happy coincidence occurred when I glanced at the car’s digital clock and it read 11:23, which is my birthday. About that same time the absent parking attendant returned, and walked around to the driver’s side of my ugly-as-sin rental car.

“Win Ben Stein’s Money,” I answered before he could ask.



“What, are you studying?”

“Yeah,” I said, pushing the button forward to roll up my window and return to the book. Close to noon I left the car, packed the book and my cell phone in the trunk (no cell phones would be allowed on the set) and was preparing to close the trunk when I saw another man dressed in a zoot suit. I smiled at him.

“I bet I know which show you’re taping.”

He smiled back, kind of. We all queued up outside of the guard station and were brought in by some of the same contestant wranglers I remembered from my testing date. They brought us through the parking lot (I hadn’t noticed before that Ben Stein’s license plate phonetically spells “Clear Eyes,” one of the products he promotes) and into the studio building.

We walked up two flights of stairs to a room where we could leave our extra changes of clothes. Then we went to the Green Room where Harv read the rules and regulations to all of us. We signed about 14 forms apiece and were invited to have a Krispy Kreme donut. I ate half of one, hoping the sugar rush would grant me a competitive edge.

“OK, the first show we’re going to tape is the film noir episode.” Harv named me, Terry (the man I’d seen in the parking lot) and the third contestant.

We moved into the hallway to be fitted with microphones. Next thing I knew, a man’s hand was running up the back of my sweater, then around front to pin a mic to my V-neck.

“Uh, hi…” I said, making small talk to assuage the awkwardness of having a strange man’s hands up my front. “What’s your name?”



Chris and Harv led us down to the warehouse adjacent to the sound stage. It was the same place I’d taken the entrance exam. Terry told us that two years ago he’d won $10,000 over two nights playing “Jeopardy.” I concentrated on breathing and staying calm. We talked about movies and funny Ben Stein stories.

Upon learning that I live in the Santa Cruz mountains, Chris warned me that Ben was likely to make some sort of marijuana joke.

“Every day Ben sidles up to a staff member and whispers in their ear, ‘Yo, who’s got the chronic stash?’ ”

“Guess that’s why he’s a pitchman for Clear Eyes,” I commented.

She laughed.

Around 1:00 they let us on to the sound stage. The set dressers outdid themselves. I saw a door with “B. Stein, Private Investigator” to the right of the stage, a big wooden desk with an Underwood typewriter, and other film noir-ish props. Fabulous. I was delighted to see the raven that serves as a mascot on the set.

Harv put me behind the center podium and the two men to either side of me. A prop handler slipped each contestant’s name onto the front of our podiums.

It was about this time that the audience started filing in. This was to be the highest point of my day. Mom had told me a couple of weeks prior that it was fine with her if I invited Dad. They’ve been divorced for more than 10 years and it would be the first time I’d been in the same room with both of my parents since my cousin Clint got married in the early 1990s. I saw them enter with John and my friend Nick, who lives in Southern California and had driven up for the day. They waved. I surreptitiously waved back.

It’s true what they say about filming: it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. It wasn’t until 2:00 that Ben Stein himself appeared on the set. He shook our hands and spoke to each of us in turn.

He was intrigued to hear that I lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains and did indeed mention the cash crop that the area is famous for. I didn’t have the opportunity to tell him that he and I are probably the only two registered Republicans ever to live in Santa Cruz County.

“Hey, we’ve got a lot of vineyards, too, don’t forget,” I chided smilingly.

It was a big thrill to meet him — he seems a very genuine individual.

Then Nancy came over to us. She was all dolled up in a nipped-waist coat with a staggering amount of black liner on her eyes and fake eyelashes out to here. Nice lady, charming and very funny. Super slender, too.

The entire audience was in the studio at this point and a not-so-swell comedian was trying to warm them up. “Please, somebody shoot me,” the comedian said after yet another of his jokes fell flat. “You’re already dead!” I heard my dad respond.

Each contestant pulled a Ping-Pong ball out of a bag to see who would get to go first. Mine was not the brightly painted ball, so no love for Lynn.

The make-up lady went over our faces with a powder brush and the show began!

The contestant to my right was questioned and then the camera focused on me. “Lynn lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains. So, Lynn, we hear that’s where they grow the finest pot in the world.”

I just smiled. I mean, I was taping a show for national television, being teased by one of my favorite celebrities. What else was I going to do?

Nancy continued reading from the card. “And it says that you live in two cabins and get your water from a well.” “Yes, that’s right.” “Well, welcome to civilization.”

John told me later that Ben made me out to be a pot farmer who gets her well water one bucket at a time. What do Southern Californians know about water, anyway?

Terry chose the first question but botched his answer. I rang in and answered correctly. This meant I received a follow-up question, one that I answered correctly thanks to Becky’s book.

For one brief, shining moment, it was Lynn: $100, boys: zilch.

Alas, the trend did not continue. The show folks had warned us beforehand that the buzzers aren’t activated until the question has been read. I’d practiced for weeks with videotapes, ringing in the second the question was read.

Unfortunately, I overtrained. Though I knew most of the answers, I rang in too quickly. Maybe my next job will be as the electrician for “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” ’cause the guy they had was asleep at the switch.

During the commercial break I caught Harv’s eye. “I don’t think this thing is working.” We tested it and it was OK.

Too bad for me. Out at the end of the first round. Bummer.

Of course, when one gets out in the first round, one must wait around for the second and third rounds to be done. I sat to the side of the aisle, below the audience bleachers. Mom gave me a thumbs-up and Dad patted my shoulder.

Naturally, during the second round, there were two questions that nobody, including Ben Stein, knew the answers to. I knew ’em both (“Where is the Rosetta Stone housed?” and “Who is novelist Carol Higgins Clark’s mother,” to which one contestant answered “Agatha Christie.” Mom was laughing about that one for the rest of the day).

These two questions would have put me into the third round even though I’d earned only $100 by the end of the first. I would not have done as well as Terry did in the third round, though: He ended up tying Ben’s score and going home with $1400. If you watch the show to the very end when the roll the credits, you will likely hear me calling “Woo hoo!” in the background.

I should have my lovely parting gifts, $205 worth of outdoor gear (probably backpacks), 90 days after my show airs. Hopefully I’ll have them in time for a backpacking trip before the season is over.

I figure that I spent $500 on two plane tickets, two car rentals, and new clothes, so it’s not the worst investment I ever made…

When all’s said and done, though, it was worth it to share a lunch with my Mom and my Dad and John and Nick at Musso and Frank. It was especially worth it to walk up Hollywood Blvd. with the four of them to visit the Frederick’s of Hollywood Celebrity Lingerie Museum, where we saw one of Uncle Milty’s dresses and a tiny doll-sized bra.

“Who’s bra is that?” John asked.

“Calista Flockhart’s,” I answered.

He laughed.

As I left the room I heard him repeating the line to Dad.

It was super-especially worth it when Nick cornered me in the secondhand bookshop we stopped in at. “You looked great… gorgeous, really. I wanted to eat you alive. I told your Mom that I figured by the time they were done with the taping you’d have a show of your own.”

We returned our respective rental cars and hung out at the airport, drinking copious drinks (except for John), talking about books and waiting for our flights. John took a picture with me, Mom and Dad — the first such picture to exist since my Junior Prom in 1988. I kissed both of my parents goodbye and boarded the San Jose-bound plane with John.

I was so high on life by that time, I expect I could have flown home without benefit of an airplane. And I’m not even a pot farmer in the Santa Cruz Mountains.