'Millionaire' winner celebrates with patients and peers


An aged patient forced his way up to the second floor of the Atlantic Physical Therapy offices, 1208 Tasker St., slowly climbing the stairs with a cane, and when he got to the top he shouted “Where’s the celebrity?!” Michelle Friedman greeted him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, per her custom.

Friedman, a 32-year-old Fairmount resident and longtime physical therapist for the East Passyunk Crossing office, had made her national television debut an hour before as a contestant on ABC’s “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” She and her colleagues keep a television set tuned in to daytime television in the large, main room full of exercise equipment and tables, where patients from the area and beyond come for rehabilitation through guided movement.

“My patients really inspired me to try out,” Friedman said after the viewing party and celebratory crew of staff and patients had cleared the room. “They’re always here during lunch, and it’s very mom-and-pop friendly [here]. We get very close.”

As the 12:30 p.m. Monday airtime approached, a few of the nearly 30 attendees were counting down the minutes aloud and shouting to staff and friends to get into the room as Cedric the Entertainer, the show’s syndicated host since last year, introduced Friedman “from Philadelphia.”

Patients past and present and co-workers alike were rapt, watching and cheering as each question was answered correctly, some of them hoping to win $100 if they came close to guessing how much she’d win.

Bob Ciullo, a 75-year-old patient from Belmar, N.J., took home a $100 bill for his guess of $12,000 – Friedman’s total winnings amounted to $13,000 for her appearance. She “walked away” after answering enough questions to get $26,000 “in the bank.”

Ciullo had been seeing Friedman for help with his hands: “The best treatment I ever had.” All of his medical doctors are in South Philly, he said.

“I guess I got lucky,” he smiled as he reluctantly accepted the crisp note Friedman squeezed into his hand.

The retired U.S. Treasury Department program analyst and native of the 2200 block of South Rosewood Street says he’s “trying to live to 100.”

Friedman was able to contain a great deal of secrecy and discretion in the lead-up to the viewing party.

“They just let me know a week and a half ago that I was going to be on today,” she said. “People have been asking me relentlessly.”

“You sit with about 10 other contestants because they film a whole week in a day,” she explained of the process. “The other people were on months ago.”

John Masciotro, a co-worker and exercise specialist in the office, is happy to see Friedman get a well-deserved extra chunk of change.

“We’ve been waiting for months for this,” he said. “It’s about time and now she gets a nice bonus paycheck.”

Friedman went up to the Franklin Mills Mall alone for her test when a couple friends canceled after they celebrated her brother-in-law’s birthday. She said it was fate because she just happened to have the day off.

“They said 600 people showed up, and they take everyone into a massive room and give everyone a quiz, a 30-question quiz and you have 10 minutes to answer everything,” she detailed.

They were “Millionaire” questions (multiple choice) and she must have done quite well.

“I thought it was really easy because it was pop culture stuff, garbage like celebrity gossip and afterwards they held me back,” she said.

The pool slimmed to 50 contestants, and she started getting nervous and excited.

“You interview with one producer, a 10-minute interview about your personality, then a second one with a producer where they taped me and asked me interview questions. At this point there were three people left,” she divulged.

“Did I just make it?” she thought. “Two weeks later I got a phone call, and they said I was going to be on the show.” In a week.

Rohini Ghatge, another physical therapist co-worker, prepped her on lunch breaks.

“I helped Michelle study a little bit and we’d quiz each other,” she said.

Ghatge’s specialty was Disney movies, so she flooded her with storylines.

“She had a trivia book that she bought and we’d go through random topics,” she added.

“Keep in mind, I had six days to study,” Friedman interjected.

In the episode, the contestant revealed that her sister helped by shining lights in her face to prepare her for the experience of answering questions in a live studio audience, a nearly 200-seat amphitheater space in Harlem, N.Y.

The Bucks County native and biological anthropology major (“It’s comparative anatomy and evolutionary studies; a lot of apes and things,” she explained) from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. came back to Philadelphia for graduate school at Drexel University and has been “in the area” for 11 years this June.

The question that did her in, smartly listening to her instincts and wanting to walk away with some kind of cash, was a tricky Spanish language one: “Nokia made headlines whey they released their Lumia phone because ‘lumia’ is a Spanish slang word for what? A.) Prostitute, B.) Clown, C.) Nipple, or D.) Whiskey.”

“Anyone know what ‘lumia’ is?” she asked the eagerly-watching crowd on Monday afternoon. “I thought this was a family show,” she joked to Cedric on air. She polled the audience and, quite literally, the answers were voted on nearly evenly, yielding a quarter of the audience voting for each option.

“Not many people want to stay in therapy,” Ruthann Seccio, a resident of Shunk and South Juniper streets who’d been seeing Friedman for back pain relief, explained. “They make you feel like you’re part of the family — they worry about you.”

There were lots of smiles, hugs and celebratory kisses before everyone departed. “Our patients love us – it’s great,” Erica Conallen, a Girard Estate resident and site office manager who supplied the viewing party with pizza from Isabella Pizza, 1824 E. Passyunk Ave., and fruit from Lang’s Fruit & Produce, 2101 S. 16th St., said. “We’re very much like a family with kisses and hugs, and it’s like that everyday.”

Their “family” just got a little richer. ■

Contact Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at bchenevert@southphillyreview.com or ext. 117. Comment at southphillyreview.com/news/features.