Ponte Vedra teen competes on hit TV game show


Ever wonder what it’s like to be on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” One Ponte Vedra teen knows, and it isn’t an easy process.

Chase Magnano, a 15-year-old Ponte Vedra High School student, will appear on the show’s “Whiz Kids” edition Oct. 3 and 4. Magnano couldn’t say how he fared on the show, but he did say it was a tough process, and well worth it.

Magnano first learned about the opportunity through his involvement with Duke University Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP), a nonprofit organization that serves academically gifted and talented youth. After he made the initial contact two summers ago, he had to fill out a laborious application, send in essays, answer multiple trivia questions and complete several interviews to test his performance. He eventually made the contestant pool and received an email stating he would be on the show, which was filmed this summer in Las Vegas.

“I was super excited,” Magnano said. “It was incredible, especially to see how all the hard work I’ve done over the years paid off. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Once a contestant is selected to appear on the show, perhaps that’s when the real hard work begins. Magnano had to prepare for the randomness and difficulty of questions in multiple categories. Magnano said the questions and categories on the teen show are largely academic, so he devised a plan of attack.

“I watched all the previous episodes I could find of the kid editions of the show, and then I used that to make a spreadsheet and then came up with a good list of different topic areas to study,” Magnano said.

He also got some help from his mom, Elizabeth Paul Magnano.

“He was cramming, I tell you,” Elizabeth said. “Trying to memorize all these random facts. I was sending him trivia questions from the internet every five minutes.”

Magnano said he found the experience rewarding and that it changed the way he views TV game shows now, knowing about certain angles and production issues. He also had praise for the show’s host, Chris Harrison.

“He was very helpful,” Magnano said. “He’s a good comic relief, especially given the high-pressure situation that you’re in when you’re on national television like that.”

And if Magnano does win any money (find out Oct 3 and 4), he plans to donate some of it to his charity, JaxTHRIVE, which aims to provide refugee education, academically and culturally, throughout the school year.

Magnano said he was inspired by his mother, who worked in refugee camps in Thailand after college, to become involved with refugee organizations.

“She raised me with an altruistic empathy, so when I got an opportunity like this, I wanted to use it in a positive way,” Magnano said.

This summer, Magnano visited a few refugee camps in Hamburg, Germany, where he spent time with teen refugees and their families. The experience made Magnano want to help refugees in the Jacksonville area. 

So, Magnano and his friend, Grace Freedman, started JaxTHRIVE, organizes volunteers from schools all throughout Jacksonville to help assist with refugee education.

While any winnings may go to help his charity, Magnano also feels the adventure of competing on the high-pressure game show changed his life too.

“It was an incredible experience, and I think it just changed me so much on how I view things,” he said. “It was so much fun, getting to go there for the experience. If anyone has the opportunity, it’s definitely something I recommend.”

Magnano will appear on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” Oct. 3 and 4, with the show airing at 5 p.m. on ABC-affiliate WJXX TV-25.