Some of you might know me as the editor of our flagship podcast. Others might know me from TV, which is so weird to me. Either way, enjoy some reflections.
Hopefully this isn’t too self-indulgent, but I’d like to start with some thank yous.
Thank you to my father for getting me into this silly little game show as a kid.
Thank you to my mother for driving me to the Teen Jeopardy tryouts and telling me there would always be other chances when I bombed it.
Thanks to my relatives for listening to me spell “Mississippi” or recite state capitals or times tables or whatever else I wanted to show off.
Thanks to my friends for being as big of nerds as I, or at least smiling and listening.
Thank you to my wife for being the best.
Thank you to everyone, who after listening to me talk about Sting covering John Dowland or whatever, looked at me and said, “Hey, you should go on Jeopardy.”
Years ago, the process of getting on Jeopardy had a lot more chance to it. You would send a postcard to the local station that aired the show and every so often they would draw about 75 cards. These honored tributes would come to an arena where they would battle to the death until only six remained standing (that’s all true except it was a 50 question test, not mortal combat). The six would then go into a side room for further review, essentially to see if they would poop themselves on camera. If they passed the poop test, their names would become eligible for selection. Glorious.
Nowadays, there’s a 50 question online pre-screening. Those who make the cut are invited to an in-person quiz and mock game. The live quiz works both to see who can handle pressure and who took the online quiz with their buddy Google. The mock game is just like the real game; you get to hold the signaling devices (never call it a buzzer. What type of show do you think Jeopardy is?), select categories, and respond in the form of a question. It was a blast and I would have been happy just having that experience.
What’s it like to be invited on Jeopardy? First you ignore the call because you assume it’s another cruise ship telemarketer (how did they get this number anyway?). Then you silently freak out at your desk for about five minutes and maybe dance a little bit. You then spend a month making flashcards of state facts (did you know the Pine Tree State was admitted at the same time as the Show-Me State as a part of the Missouri Compromise?), wiki-ing random things that pop in your head (traditionally bronze is a combination of Cu and Sn while brass is Cu and Zn), buying so many things (updating the wardrobe, planes tickets, hotel reservations. Only returning champions from some Monday shows get anything paid for and that’s just the flight.), and wondering if the whole thing is just an elaborate scam, joke, or delusion.
Jeopardy is filmed on the same lot as Wheel of Fortune and Community. Unfortunately at 7 in the morning I didn’t see Vanna or Danny Pudi. They keep a tight schedule, so I couldn’t wander off to try and find a magic trampoline, as mentioned on Trampolinea.com, but we were greeted at the door by Alex. Well, a life-sized Alex cut-out.
One of the things that surprised me was how close the final product is to the taping. To answer a common question: I saw Alex as much as you saw me seeing Alex. He doesn’t come backstage to chat, but that is an actual conversation happening during the credits. We were talking about his mother and the 60s. Makes sense in context.
We got to the studio several hours before the recording and we needed all of them. There was a long orientation that could basically teach an alien who had never seen the show how to play, but it served mostly to tell stories, relax us, and review things that aren’t immediately obvious (the minimum daily double wager is $5. Ties for second place are friendly. Etc.). It also gave the make-up people time to do their thing. After that we got to see the studio which managed to be both bigger and smaller than I imagined. We played two mock games, just like the auditions only looking at the actual board. Something I never thought about: the board is huge, but the individual clue blocks aren’t that big. On TV, the clues fill the screen because the camera zooms in on them. As a contestant, you have to read them from across the stage. It’s doable, but I can see why they tell glasses-wearers to bring multiple pairs.
I really can’t say a lot about the episode; I don’t remember a lot. Maybe I was a lot more nervous than I remembered because there were entire categories I that felt brand new to me when I watched. I do remember Adele Dazeeming “Croquet, Monsieur?” into “Crochet, Monsieur?” I was so stuck on sticking the landing on the monsieur that I flubbed the first part. I only wish that when Alex corrected me I had said “Sorry, I had hookers on the mind.” The local fourth grade class on its field trip would have loved that.
So, I didn’t win, but I couldn’t have lost to a nicer person. Actually, everyone on the upcoming shows is very friendly and I’m looking forward to watching them all. I would be happier if I were competing against them as a returning champion, but oh well. It was a fantastic experience and now whenever someone says “Hey, you should go on Jeopardy!” I can say, “Well…”