Originally written 2/24/15.
All photos from Flickr used in accordance with the Creative Commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode
Photo credit: Jon Jordan, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jontintinjordan/3736098889
Note #1—The Jeopardy casting directors said that I could write about this experience as long as I didn’t use any of the real questions that I got during the tryout, so I haven’t. I’ve made all the questions up. Some of them are real questions with real answers, and some of them are complete nonsense with no right answer (so don’t kill yourself trying to figure out the name of the knee-length pants from Uzbekistan, for instance).
Note #2—The name of the game show technically has an exclamation point after it: Jeopardy! I’ve left the exclamation point out on purpose. It’s weird having an exclamation point in the middle of a sentence.
Thank you. Here we go!
I’ve been a game show fan ever since I was a little kid. When I was sick and had to stay home from school, I’d curl up on the couch in a blanket and watch Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, followed by a whole glorious day of game shows: $100,000 Pyramid, Press Your Luck, and (my personal favorite) The Price is Right. Somehow, watching Bob Barker give away cars and washing machines always seemed to make me feel a little bit better.
As I got older, though, my tastes in game shows changed, and Jeopardy became my favorite. My whole family loved Jeopardy, and pretty much every weeknight you could find us eating dinner in front of the television from six to six-thirty, shouting out answers to questions with our mouths full. I thought Alex Trebek was amazing, with his twinkling eyes and perfectly-groomed mustache (gone now, alas), and my old dreams of winning a speedboat from Bob Barker were replaced by dreams of winning a million dollars on Jeopardy.
Photo credit: Mr. Littlehand, https://www.flickr.com/photos/73577218@N00/5944410210
But, since you had to go to Los Angeles to try out, and the likelihood of me getting on the show seemed close to nil even if I did pay to fly to California, that particular dream remained in the storehouse with all my other impossible daydreams, like the one where I was going to win the Olympics and the one where I was going to be a movie star. (There are a couple of other ones, like becoming a world-famous author, that I haven’t given up on yet).
Fast-forward to a couple years ago, when they started putting the Jeopardy contestant quizzes online. No longer did you have to fly to LA to try out; you could try out in the comfort of your own home. I was overjoyed. The first time I heard about the online test, I skipped out of a dinner date with a friend (since you could only take the test at a particular date and time) and holed myself up in my computer room with the door shut.
That’s when I found out that taking a timed test is a lot different than shouting answers at the TV.
For one thing, you only had 15 seconds to answer each question. 15 seconds goes by incredibly quickly, especially when you spend it like this:
Seconds 1-5–Reading the question (“This seedless fruit was the highest-grossing export from Suriname during the nineteenth century.”)
Seconds 5-10–Sitting there staring at the screen with your mind an absolute blank, empty of anything even resembling an answer.
Seconds 11-14–Panicking and screaming at yourself, “Just type SOMETHING, you idiot!”
Second 15–Typing a completely random word, like “rutabaga,” before the question disappears from the screen and is replaced by a new one.
Photo credit: Queena Sook Kim, https://www.flickr.com/photos/queenasookkim/7033206781
I don’t even know if they grow rutabagas in Suriname. Plus, rutabagas are vegetables.
For me, this process didn’t just apply to the difficult questions (“These traditional knee-length pants are the national costume of Uzbekistan”). Easy questions (“This man was the first president of the United States”) also left me staring and frozen, unable to think of anything at all.
I managed to type something for most of the questions, but if even half of my answers were right I’d be surprised. I’m sure that even the correct answers were misspelled. Twelve and a half minutes and 50 questions after I started, my screen went blank, and then a message popped up thanking me for participating. That was it. The test had left me a sweating, disheveled, nervous wreck, and they didn’t even tell me whether I’d passed or not.
They never do, I found out. You either get contacted later to go on to the next stage of the auditions or you don’t. That’s because the test isn’t pass/fail; it’s more graded on the curve. And the number of people they need for the next stage varies, so they might contact you months after you took the test, or they might never contact you at all.
I did not get contacted after my first test. Undaunted, I took it again the next time they offered it, with about the same results. (“This subspecies of penguin was Richard Nixon’s favorite childhood animal.” “I have no idea! Who the heck would even know that! Arg–I’m running out of time–I have to type something–uh…uh…argyle! Wait–what? Oh, no–new question!”)
Photo credit: Joel Kramer, https://www.flickr.com/photos/75001512@N00/552620427
I couldn’t find a picture of Nixon with a penguin, so you get plush Nixon instead.
I did not get contacted after my second test, either.
Then, in December, they offered a special online test for people living in Denver. Oh, yay! Another chance to try to get on the show!
But I felt guilty about it. The tests are always weekday evenings, usually a Tuesday or Wednesday, and (as a dance teacher) I work in the evenings. To take the online tests I have to take at least part of the night off work, which seems irresponsible to do when (let’s face it) I’m just chasing a pipe dream. So I waffled. I kept putting off registering for the online exam, wrestling with my overactive conscience. Eventually I decided that I wouldn’t take the test.
Well, fate stepped in. A bad, bad cold was going around my dancers, and I caught it. I went home early from class on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday (the day of the test) I was too sick to go in at all. I spent most of the day in bed.
However, I woke up in the afternoon with time to still register for the test, and I thought that it would be a shame to waste this unexpected night off. I had no expectations of doing well (I could barely think at all, my head was so congested), but what the hey. So that evening I closed myself in my computer room again and gave it a try.
To my surprise, I not only knew the answers to most of the questions, I could actually remember them. The largest member of the string family in an orchestra, the first vice-president of the United States, the capital of Missouri. I got them all. The 15 seconds didn’t even seem that fast; I usually hit the return button to go on to the next question before my time was up. Sick as I was, I felt pretty good about how I’d done.
Photo credit: Esteban Chiner, https://www.flickr.com/photos/decadence/3531576421
If you like trivia and have been frustrated by the fact that all the questions so far have been fake, the three questions in the above paragraph are real and have answers. Have fun!
But, of course, the screen just said thank you.
What with being sick, some performances we were doing, and our Christmas break, I forgot about the test. I never expected to hear back from them anyway.
So when, in mid-January, I got an email saying that I was invited to an in-person audition in Denver the first week of February, I completely dropped my spoon into my oatmeal at breakfast. I couldn’t believe it. I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
I had a little scare the following week, when it turned out that they’d lost my email accepting the audition and had given my spot to someone else (I nearly had a heart attack, after which I ran around my house shouting, “No, no, no!” with my hands clutched to my head like some hysterical Victorian heroine), but they apologized and gave me a different slot, so that was OK. They sent me an email telling me to meet them at a downtown hotel at 11:30 am on a particular day. It was kind of like something out of a spy novel: don’t bring anyone else, don’t be late, and don’t forget to bring your paperwork with you.
Photo credit: Helena de Barros, “Victorian,” https://www.flickr.com/photos/helenbar/85463517
Can I just say that one of my favorite parts of posting my blogs is finding random pictures on Flickr to illustrate them with?
Being paranoid, I left extra time to get downtown (I did NOT want this adventure to end with me being locked out for arriving late). I got there early, found the hotel, and found a nearby parking garage that only charged an arm instead of an arm and a leg. The semi-reasonable rate meant that there was only one parking spot left in the garage, on what the attendant called “the patio” in the back.
“It’s not covered,” he told me twice, anxiously. It was snowing, and I guess some people must be picky about that.
I didn’t care. As long as I got to my audition on time. So he gave me directions to “the patio,” which involved a steep, twisty entrance ramp not unlike Disneyland’s Matterhorn roller coaster, and a sharp turn onto what looked like the roof of another building. I drove there and parked. It was on the third floor, and I decided to take the stairs down (have to get my exercise), but I guess most people must take the elevator, because the creepy concrete stairwell wound all over the place and eventually disgorged me in a back alley littered with trash and graffiti. Yuck.
After regaining my bearings, I walked to the hotel entrance. I was about to go through the front door when I saw a sign on a stand to my right.
“Jeopardy! Contestants,” it said. “Auditions are located across the street in the ballroom.”
Oh. Why didn’t they just say that in their original email? And why was the hotel ballroom in a separate building across the street?
I felt (again) like I was in some kind of spy novel as I crossed the street and found the ballroom. There was another sign on the door:
Photo credit: JD Hancock, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock/7439564750
“Jeopardy! Contestants: DO NOT ENTER until your scheduled appointment time. Please wait outside until you are called.”
There were a couple guys already there, standing under the entrance awning out of the snow, so I lined up behind them and waited.
While we were waiting, a pair of women walked by and glanced at the sign on the ballroom door.
“Jeopardy?” said one of them, stopping and looking at the first man in line. “Really? Are you trying out for the show?”
“Yeah,” said the guy, grinning like he couldn’t believe it either.
“Oh, my goodness, that’s amazing! You must be so smart!”
I sort of felt like a rock star.
By that time, a bunch more people had joined the line, and it was almost 11:30. The door opened and a man in a sports coat but no tie peeked around the door at us.
“Oh!” he said. “Come in, come in! You shouldn’t have to stand out here in the cold.”
We were ushered into a front room with chairs lined up against the walls and told to stay there until called for. I sat down and looked around. There was a decorative glass table in the middle of the room with a vase and one flower in it, and there was a little niche in the wall with a pitcher of water and some glasses. That was it. Sort of the “less is more” school of interior decorating. Looking around, I realized that I had imagined that we would be meeting in a normal hotel lobby, with couches, a check-in desk, and restrooms. Especially restrooms.
All of a sudden, I really, really needed a restroom; I always do when I’m nervous. Surely they would offer us a restroom before the test started, right? I couldn’t be the only one with a stress-activated bladder. I thought about sneaking off to find one, but the man’s instructions about staying put had been pretty clear, and I didn’t want to get disqualified. So I crossed my legs and soothed myself with the thought that there was probably a restroom in the place they were taking us to.
The room filled up gradually, until all the chairs were taken and the latecomers had to stand awkwardly in the corners. I was interested to note that there was only one other woman present, and only two African-American men; everybody else was a Caucasian male, ranging in age from twenties to (I would guess) sixties. Interesting. I wondered first why that was, and second if it gave me any kind of advantage. You know, since sometimes you’d like your game show to have people on it besides Caucasian males.
The very thought filled me with a sparkling new confidence. Up until then I had been terrified, and resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going any further, but now I felt a blossom of hope in my chest. I told myself sternly that it didn’t matter that I was a woman, that everybody had to pass the same tests, and if I didn’t pass I was going home just like everybody else. But the little blossom remained. I suddenly, and for the first time, thought, “I can DO this!”
Through an open archway to my left, we could see a bar along the wall in the next room where an employee was cleaning glasses. A guy near me with a hipster-style beard started joking that they should open up the bar for us, and someone else said, “Oh, yeah, because when I’m drunk I always remember my Shakespeare better.” Everybody laughed, and there was a camaraderie in the atmosphere that I hadn’t expected. But, after all, we weren’t really competing against each other; we were competing against the test itself.
Photo credit: Ryan Ruppe, https://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanrocketship/2724589320
A tallish, thin man with stooping shoulders wearing a long-sleeved polo-necked shirt came into the room and smiled at us. He introduced himself as Gary, the casting director, and welcomed us to the tryout. The first order of business, he said, was to take a picture of each of us that would be attached to our audition paperwork so that he could remember who we all were. We stood up in a single-file line and had our pictures taken one person at a time against a blank wall. Gary was using a Polaroid-style camera, and when he was done with each of us he handed us a blank square of thick white instant film and sent us to stand over near the bar.
“I thought that they stopped making Polaroids,” said an older, bearded gentleman next to me, looking at his film as the picture gradually developed.
“They did,” I said, looking at the trademark stamped on mine. “This seems to be made by Fuji instead.”
“I wonder why they don’t use a digital camera?” someone else asked, which I had kind of been wondering, too.
The second casting director, a woman about my own age in a gray dress, started coming around and asking our names so that she could check us off on a list. I had a little tiny bit of a heart attack when she couldn’t find my name at first, but (I guess because of the email mix-up) I had just been added at the bottom and it was all good.
“Your name, sir?” she asked the older bearded man, smiling.
“Michael Banner,” he said.
“Not Bruce Banner, though, right?” she said with a laugh, checking him off the list. “You probably get that joke all the time.”
“Yes, I do,” he replied, “but not as much as my brother Bruce.”
I laughed, and he turned to me. “My brother is older than the comic book character, actually.” (That made me wonder how old he was, but I found out that the Incredible Hulk wasn’t created until 1962, unlike Superman, who was created in 1933. So he was probably in his sixties and not the World’s Oldest Jeopardy Contestant, which is what I thought originally).
Photo credit: GabboT, https://www.flickr.com/photos/tonyshek/8143118909
Once we were all checked in, the second casting director said, “Now we’re all going to go into the room next door, where you’ll sit down, get some instructions, and then take a 50-question written test. Does anyone have any questions before we get started?”
Oh, yes, I had one. A VERY IMPORTANT question. I shot my hand up. “Will we have a chance to use the restroom first?”
There was some laughter, and also some nodding, and the casting director (whose name was Carina) pointed us to a far corner of the room we were headed into. I made a beeline for it.
The room we were headed into was (I assumed) the ballroom, and it was big, rectangular, and high-ceilinged, with tables and chairs set out in rows facing a big screen on the front wall. There was another table to one side of the screen that had laptops and a bunch of equipment on it, and sitting at the table was a youngish red-haired guy with big black plugs in his ears (the jewelry kind, not the kind you wear when you go swimming). He was pointing toward a door in the corner with a slow, repetitive gesture like a flight attendant.
“You look like a man who’s had to point out that door a lot,” I said as I passed him.
“Oh, yes,” he said, with the jaded look of someone who has been there for a day and a half already and wishes he was somewhere else.
The door led into a back hallway that was mostly concrete (but at least it was polished concrete, unlike the stairway in the parking garage), with exposed iron pipes running overhead. The hallway twisted and turned, with occasional unmarked doorways leading off to the right, and I thought again of my spy novel. Eventually I found the restroom, at the very back of the building.
Inside, the women’s restroom was just as twisty and turny as the hallway outside, and the stalls were set at strange angles to each other in order to cram as many toilets as possible into the space.
The building, I found out later, had originally been a bank, and when it had been renovated into a hotel ballroom, they had decided to put the restrooms where the vaults used to be. Someone with a sense of whimsy had decided to leave the original vault door as the door into the gents’ restroom, and so when I came out of the ladies’, I had to stop and take a picture. A couple ballroom employees came by while I was doing this and grinned at me, and I explained that I’d never seen a vault door on a bathroom before.
Here it is! Best bathroom door ever. Just don’t let it swing shut behind you.
The other woman at the tryout and a few men had made the trek to the restrooms with me, but because I stopped to indulge my love of silly pictures, I was the last one back to the ballroom. Everyone else was already sitting at the tables, writing something on pieces of paper in front of them, and I must have looked panicked because Carina said, “It’s OK—they’re just writing their names down.”
I found a seat at the front table, between Michael Banner and the guy who had made the comment about drunk Shakespeare recitation (whose name was Zach). There was a piece of paper in front of my chair with 50 numbered lines and a place at the top to put my name. There was also a fat pen with the Jeopardy logo on the side. The button on the end (the one you click to get the tip of the pen to retract) was big, red, and shaped like the signaling buttons on the show. Ha ha! Nice.
As I wrote my name down, Carina and Gary welcomed us to the audition again, and asked who was excited to be there. They were both very friendly, positive people who encouraged us throughout the tryout to cheer, clap for other contestants, and enjoy ourselves. The whole experience could have been very stressful (and there were definitely still moments of stress), but they made it fun and kept the atmosphere upbeat.
Before we took the test, we played a little warm-up game. A mock Jeopardy board, complete with categories and dollar amounts would appear on the screen at the front of the room, and someone would pick a category and amount. The question (or “answer,” in the parlance of Jeopardy) would appear on the screen, read on a recording by one of the members of the Jeopardy Clue Crew. Anyone who knew the answer was supposed to raise their hand, and Carina or Gary would call on someone to say the answer. You were supposed to speak in a loud, clear voice, and if you were correct you got to pick the next category and amount.
For me, this was the easiest part. I don’t know if I felt less pressure, or if I just happened to be more familiar with the subjects we got, but I felt like I was raising my hand three-quarters of the time. I got called on to answer once (“This city hosted the 2012 summer Olympics”), and I answered correctly. I even remembered to phrase my answer in the form of a question, which was part of what we were learning to do. It was super fun.
That part lasted maybe ten minutes, and then we took the written test. For the written test, we had 8 seconds (EIGHT SECONDS! Eek!) to answer each question, and we didn’t have to put “Who is” or “What is” before it—there wasn’t time. Carina and Gary stressed that we should put something down, even if we didn’t think it was right, and that we could get partial credit for a partially-right or misspelled answer.
Then we were off. Once again, the questions popped up on the screen at the front of the room, read by the Clue Crew. And once again, I found myself in my online test nightmare:
“Now-independent countries Togo, Cameroon, and Nauru were once colonies of this nation.”
“Uh…uh…I don’t know…pick somewhere…NETHERLANDS.”
“This single-named artist won song of the year at the 2002 Grammy Awards.”
(“No! No, you idiot! It’s Kanye WEST. That’s not a single name!” But it was too late, and I couldn’t think of anything to replace it with).
“This African river flows through parts of fifteen different countries, even though it is shorter than the Nile.”
(“FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! THE AMAZON ISN’T EVEN IN AFRICA, YOU MORON!!!!”)
Photo credit: Global Water Forum, https://www.flickr.com/photos/globalwaterforum/7746270058
This is the Amazon River. It touches zero countries in Africa.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see both Michael and Zach scribbling industriously after each question. Were they getting all these questions right? How?!?
Halfway through the test, on question 24 (“This is the middle name of the author of ‘Two Years Before the Mast.’ “ARG!!! Who would know that????”), my pen started to run out of ink. I pressed harder with it, carving my hilariously wrong and random answer (STANLEY) into the very fibers of the paper.
What was I going to do? I couldn’t keep on writing with an empty pen and hoping they could read my primitive carving. I had a pen in my purse, but I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t look good for me to haul out my purse, complete with iPhone, onto the table during the test.
Wait…there was an empty space at other front table, the one on the far side of the middle aisle. If I carved my next answer into the paper and then jumped up really quick, maybe I could grab the pen from the empty space before the eight seconds were up.
I was tensing my legs to carry out this desperate plan when I looked up and caught Carina’s eye. With a panicked look on my face, I held up my dying pen, and Carina ran over with another one. THANK GOODNESS. It was bad enough that I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions—at least I wouldn’t have to explain why I was running across the room to get a different pen.
Less than seven minutes after it started, the test finished, and I threw my (new and working) pen down on the table in despair. I was sure I had gotten about ten questions right, and I was positive that I had gotten about ten so wrong that I would get disqualified just on principal (“We here at Jeopardy could not possibly allow you on the show after you wrote that the capital of South Sudan was St. Petersburg.”) I had no idea how I’d done on the other thirty. I’d written something down for every question, but I was not at all confident that my answers were right, or even on the same continent as the right answer.
(Since the test, I’ve found out that several of these answers were, in fact, completely wrong. I thought that the author of Doctor Zhivago might have been Tolstoy, but I was passing a bookstore in an airport the other day and saw that it was actually Boris Pasternak. Oops. On the other hand, I randomly guessed that the hibiscus was the state flower of Hawaii, and that turned out to be right. Hooray!).
Gary and Carina came by and picked up our tests so they could start grading them. Michael on my left asked Zach and me what we had written down for the last question (“Ecce Quam Bonum, the opening of Psalm 133, translates to this in English”), and I had miraculously gotten it right (“Behold How Good”), because that had been the motto of the university I attended. That made me feel a little tiny bit better.
“Ah,” said Michael. “I missed that one. Otherwise, I felt all right about this test, though not as good as I felt about the online exam. With the online exam, I think I only missed two.”
Ugh. I had definitely missed more than two on the online exam, and if I’d gotten even 30% on the test I had just taken, I was going to be surprised.
The three of us chatted while Gary and Carina finished grading, and then it was time for all of us to do a mock Jeopardy episode. Three people at a time got to go up to the table at the front of the room and play a five-minute game, complete with signaling devices. In fact, the first thing we got to do at the table was practice pushing the buttons on the signaling devices. If you’ve ever watched Jeopardy, you know that some people have a really hard time getting their buzzers to work, so this is not as random as it sounds.
There are, it turns out, two tricks to ringing in:
- You have to wait until Alex Trebek finishes reading the question all the way through. If you ring in too early, you get locked out for a second, giving your opponents a chance to ring in first.
- You can’t just press the button once. You have to mash it down over and over again like a frenzied kid in an elevator. This is because the buttons cancel each other out if two of the players push them at exactly the same time. You have to keep trying until one of you gets through.
So we got to play with the buzzers to make sure we knew how to use them. Then the screen at the front of the room changed to a Jeopardy board, categories, dollar amounts, and all, and we got to try out a very short game. Carina reminded everybody that they needed to talk loudly and clearly, and during the game she would (very nicely) let people know if they were too quiet. Then, after the game, Gary and Carina asked each person about themselves, like Alex does on the show, only longer; we had all had to put some interesting facts about ourselves on our audition applications.
Photo credit: Rex Roof, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rexroof/3135028878
I was in the third group to go up, so I went pretty early and didn’t have much time to get nervous. That was probably just as well, because even so it was like I had sawed open my skull, turned it upside down to let my brain fall out, and then scoured out the inside to make sure no little bits of brain were left behind. Anything I ever knew, I had forgotten. The things I did remember got blocked on their way from my head to my mouth, like salmon swimming upstream to spawn and smacking into Hoover Dam.
Let me give you some examples.
I have a Masters degree in English; English literature, specifically. So I was excited when an English literature category popped up on the screen. I asked for English literature for $200, and this question came up:
“This English writer is most well-known for Paradise Lost.”
Easy! It was Andrew Marvell! Wait, no—not Marvell. Oh, no! Somebody else! Somebody beginning with M. Who else started with M? Christopher Marlowe? A.A. Milne?? Edna St. Vincent Milay???
By that time, of course, the man next to me had rung in and correctly answered, “Who is John Milton?”
MILTON. How could I have forgotten that?
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/circasassy/7215771480
This is John Milton. I was going to post a picture of Black Beauty (see below), but when you look for “black beauty” on Flickr, you don’t get pictures of the children’s book. Just to warn you.
Mentally kicking myself, I tried to refocus, and a little while later I rang in on “This escaped slave, known for his oratory and writing, became a leader in the abolitionist movement” and got the answer right (“Who is Frederick Douglass?”).
OK. I wasn’t a total moron. “English lit for $400, please,” I said.
“This 19th-century author wrote beloved children’s classic Black Beauty.”
I knew that! I had been crazy about horses and horse books as a kid, and I’d read Black Beauty several times. It was Anna Seward!
On the verge of ringing in, though, I froze, suddenly convinced that something was wrong. Was it really Anna Seward? That didn’t sound quite right…
The man on the end rang in. “Who is Anna Sewell?”
Anna SEWELL. Anna Seward was somebody different. I looked her up later and found out she was an 18th-century British poet, a fact I never could have told you if you’d asked, but whose name my brain had thoughtfully dredged up for me instead of the right one.
Gritting my teeth, I tried to concentrate, and after a few minutes I got called on to answer “This season is called Fruhling in German, primavera in Spanish, and printemps in French.”
“What is spring?” I said, and, since that was correct, I got to pick the next category.
“English lit for $600.” I was going to get this one right.
“This Bronte sister wrote Wuthering Heights.”
I mashed the button so hard that it’s a wonder I didn’t break my thumb. They called on me to answer. “Who is Charlotte?”
“No,” said Carina, kindly.
ARG! It was Emily Bronte who wrote Wuthering Heights, not Charlotte! ARG!!!!!
So I was 0 for 3 in English lit. I wasn’t sure whether it was a good thing or not that I’d at least hit the button on the third one.
On the other hand, Carina said that I had the perfect loud, clear voice, and that everyone else should try to speak exactly like that. Thank you, twenty years of teaching dance.
The game was over (they weren’t keeping score or anything, so there wasn’t a winner, thank goodness), and we got to put our buzzers down. Then it was time for the interview. That part was fun and laid back. It was basically just chatting with Gary and Carina, who were really nice and seemed interested in finding out more about us. They told me that I might be the first Irish dance teacher to ever try out for Jeopardy, and they asked me about my 40 adventures. Everybody in the room laughed when I told them about wrestling alligators. So that part was good.
I went back to my seat. Instead of dismissing us when we were done with the game, they asked us to stay and clap for the other competitors, which was great; it kept the atmosphere in the room positive and upbeat (it would have been awful for the last three competitors if everyone else had left). It was also interesting to me to hear the different questions and see if I knew the answers, to see how the other competitors reacted to the pressure, and to listen to the interviews.
Watching the other contestants play the game made me feel better, because a number of them looked like they were having the same recall problems I had experienced. My neighbor Michael, for instance (who I suspected had done much better than I had on the written exam), only answered one or two questions. More than half the people had trouble with speaking too quietly and had to be asked to speak up, and more than half of them looked really nervous the whole time. So, while I still wished I’d done better, I felt like I was at least in the same boat with everybody else.
The most interesting part was listening to the interviews. I liked hearing about what people did for a living, for instance. There were a number of teachers of various kinds and a lot of IT professionals, but there was also a guy who was the head maintenance man at a Catholic church, a bookstore manager (Michael), and a structural engineer (the other woman).
As I sat there listening, I also began to suspect that part of the purpose of the interviews was to weed out people who were too, um, loony for the show. It hadn’t even occurred to me that such weeding would be necessary, although it should have; having been exposed to lots of different artists and intelligent people from a young age, I’ve always known that genius and weirdness go hand-in-hand.
On Jeopardy, you see contestants from a wide variety of backgrounds, with a wide variety of personalities, and while you might end up liking some people more than others, they all seem decently normal and, you know, functional. Nobody seems like a conspiracy nut, for instance, or likely to start screaming cuss words at Alex Trebek. I’m guessing now that this sense of civilized normalcy is carefully cultivated by the casting directors, and I am in awe of their skill in, uh, picking out the nuts.
I mean, it’s got to be a fine line, when you’re interviewing a room full of smart people, to separate the merely eccentric from the awkwardly abnormal. In our group, to give you a couple examples, we had a man who collected movies (with nearly 4000 of them, largely in the Japanese horror genre–he was taking Japanese classes so he could watch them without subtitles), and a man who had won prizes in interactive fiction competitions (which are basically text-based video games). These two guys seemed interestingly quirky, not crazy.
There was another contestant, however, who set off my Nutjob-o-Meter in a big way, and I couldn’t have told you why he crossed the line and the others didn’t. But if I’d been the casting directors, I would have drawn a giant red X across his application and then shredded it, just to be safe.
In fact, he was so odd that I’m not even going to describe him, in case he somehow found my description of him and hunted me down or something.
(Although, since I’m an alligator-wrestling Irish dance teacher, maybe I shouldn’t be talking about other people being weird.)
The last question Gary and Carina asked each person was “What would you do if you won some money on Jeopardy?” I liked hearing everybody’s plans. One man said he’d take his kids to Disney World; another said that he and his father would see a baseball game at every major league park in North America. There were a ton of travel plans, and a couple people who would buy cars for themselves or others.
I said that I’d have more adventures, of course.
After the last group played their game, everybody sat back down for the wrap-up. Gary thanked us again for coming, and he told us that if we had passed the audition, our names would be put on a list of possible contestants for eighteen months. We weren’t allowed to take online Jeopardy tests during that time, but if we hadn’t been contacted after a year and a half, we could try again, and he hoped we would (there were actually two or three people there who were trying out for the second time). He answered some questions, and then our two-hour audition was over and everybody applauded.
The best part? We got a gift for participating: a pair of ear buds in a case with the Jeopardy logo (plus we got to keep our pens). What could be more perfect than to finish off my game show audition with a consolation prize?
I don’t expect to get invited to do the show. I’m pretty sure I didn’t pass the written exam, and I don’t think I wowed anybody with my stellar game play. On the other hand, I didn’t make a complete fool of myself, and I had a blast. And now I know what to expect if–WHEN–I make it back to another audition a few years down the road.
Because you know I haven’t given up on that dream just yet.