, Gloucester, MA

February 25, 2009

'Millionaire' contestant misses out of $25K magic

By Jonathan L'Ecuyer

Gloucester resident Mary Flaherty didn't consult a Magic 8 Ball before taking her place in the "hot seat" on the New York City set of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" last September, but it might have helped if she had.

Flaherty, an attorney and Legal Studies professor at Suffolk University in Boston, walked away with $16,000 on yesterday's installment of the syndicated TV quiz show, seen locally on WCVB Channel 5 at 12:30 p.m.

Flaherty, 48, cruised through the first several questions and quickly accumulated $16,000 with each of her four lifelines — "Ask The Audience," "Double Dip," "Ask the Expert" and "Phone A Friend" — intact.

The animated mother of two daughters said her brain is full of "useless trivia," but the game's $25,000 question trumped her knowledge in the category "Geometric Figures."

The $25,000 question read: "The fortune-telling die inside a standard Magic 8 Ball is an icosahedron, meaning it has how many triangular faces?"

Flaherty first called her brother Christopher Flaherty, of Silver Spring, Md., who at first told his sister he didn't know the answer, but in the last second before the call was disconnected, suggested the answer to be "20."

Flaherty wasn't confident of Christopher's answer (which in the end was the correct choice) and opted to ask the audience, but when the studio audience's vote was evenly spread among the four answers, Flaherty was not convinced and decided not to answer the question and walk away with the guaranteed $16,000 despite having two more lifelines left.

If she had guessed incorrectly, she would have fallen back to $1,000.

Flaherty, who vowed to take her family on a trip to Finland this year, said she didn't use her "Ask the Expert" lifeline because she didn't think the expert, Ashleigh Banfield, an international reporter and co-host of "Banfield & Ford: Courtside" on Tru-TV, would know the answer.

She also said that as time ticked away on her $25,000 question, she became "a little flustered."

Flaherty said she wouldn't have quit her job as a college professor if she had won the $1 million grand prize, but was hoping to win a significant amount of money to purchase a large and handicap accessible home for her and her fiance who is confined to a wheelchair.

Still, Flaherty said, "it was a very exciting" experience.

Flaherty will have to wait another month to receive a check for her winnings.

Jonathan L'Ecuyer can be reached at