One in a Million Trillion

This is primarily a bookmarking post for future reference. I’ve been watching DVD collections of the Errol Morris series, First Person, over the last few days and found the episode, “One in a Million Trillion: An Interview with Rick Rosner,” particularly interesting. In the episode, Rosner describes how he sought to repeat the experience of going to high school several times until he could “get it right.” Rosner managed to forge transcripts, identification cards, and other materials and would then “transfer” into a new high school in a different state. Essentially he engages in a series of “do-overs” he compares to time travel (or at least the repetitions of an alternate-reality film such as Groundhog Day).

This desire for a do-over colors Rosner’s adult life, as well. Rosner describes his obsessive attempts to get onto the show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Once on the show, Rosner loses on what he believes to be a poorly-worded question (“What capital city is located at the highest altitude above sea level? A. Mexico City, B. Quito, C. Bogotá, D. Kathmandu”), eventually spending the next several years of life seeking to get another chance on the show to make up for the faulty question (Rosner’s correspondence to Millionaire producers is available here).

Over the course of his research, Rosner develops, according to Errol Morris’s website, “a theory of cosmology in which the universe is seen as trillions of years old. ‘Why so old!?’ you might ask: To give the universe the opportunity to endlessly redo itself” (side note: these reviews offer a slightly different take on Rosner’s experiences).


  1. Jonathan Said,

    January 3, 2006 @ 10:38 am

    I’ve been recommending these interviews, particularly the Rosner and “World’s Smartest Man” ones, to anyone who’ll listen for a while now. Rosner’s is the paradigmatic American story.

  2. Chuck Said,

    January 3, 2006 @ 10:54 am

    Was going to mention “World’s Smartest Man,” too. Rosner’s resonated more for me, but both interviews are fascinating. I read somewhere that Morris spent 11 hours interviewing him, so I’d love to see some of the footage that didn’t make the cut.

  3. girish Said,

    January 3, 2006 @ 3:52 pm

    Fascinating. Sounds like a movie Herzog might have made, given his taste for obsessives. Thanks for the tip, Chuck.

  4. Chuck Said,

    January 3, 2006 @ 4:41 pm

    All of the First Person episodes are well worth watching, and these guys seem to fit well with other Morris subjects (the interviewees from Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, etc), especially given their obsessiveness.

  5. Chuck Said,

    January 3, 2006 @ 4:49 pm

    I should add that some of the First Person interviews are a bit different. The interview with the pilot, Denny Fitch, who guided a United plane that had lost all hydraulic power to the ground [from an Onion interview: In 1989, Fitch, a pilot trainer, was a passenger on a United Airlines flight that lost all hydraulic control. He worked with the pilots and was able to bring the plan to a controlled crash landing and save more than half the passengers].

    The interview with Fitch was absolutely compelling (also assuming that the same crash provided the basis for the Peter Weir film, Fearless?). But, like Rosner, Fitch’s story also speaks to questions of chance or fate (what if he’d taken a different flight? arrived at the airport a few minutes later?).

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