What it's like to be on "Jeopardy"
October 19, 2012 3:17 PM   Subscribe

It's fricking stressful to be on jeopardy. I thought I was going to have a heart attack and I still have a hard time watching the show without feeling flashback stress!
posted by drewbage1847 at 3:24 PM on October 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

As good a time as any to update the list of MeFite Jeopardy Contestants.
posted by griphus at 3:27 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

It was a lot of fun. He gives a very accurate report. (Though I date from the earlier era when the masses of people who didn't score well enough in person on the paper test were sent home. I still remember how surprised I felt when I heard my name as one of the 3 among hundreds who survived that extremely difficult test. I'd already put on my coat and grabbed my bag in preparation for my imminent departure.) And I am still hooked on the show, which we DVR and play at home.
posted by bearwife at 3:37 PM on October 19, 2012

In my younger years, due to living an area where the primary broadcast area was centered on a city that was just across the state line, my cable company actually carried two each of the NBC/ABC/CBS/PBS affiliates, the ones from the local city, and a second set from our own state. They'd black out the second set for any national network programming, but anything syndicated was fair game, even if the same show was shown in different time slots.

One time we had guests from out of town, who weren't aware of this strange setup, so I watched Jeopardy at 4:30 in the afternoon by myself, and then with my family and guests again at 7. It took until the after the first commercial break before they pegged that I was giving the correct responses for each clue. Had them convinced I was a Jeopardy prodigy, and while my parents knew what was up, they didn't spoil the prank.

The closest I'd come to ever actually being on the show itself would be my high school Quizbowl matches against the crosstown rival school, as their team had a player who took first runner up in the Teen Tournament one year.

Unrelated to any of the above, is the fact that when my mom watches Jeopardy, she tries to guess the Final Jeopardy question with just the category reveal, before getting the clue. And while her guess is always "Who is Ben Franklin?" she's actually been right about three or four times.
posted by radwolf76 at 3:38 PM on October 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

What it's like to be on "Jeopardy"
Sorry, no. It's: What is it like to be on "Jeopardy"?
Or: What is what it's like to be on "Jeopardy"?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:46 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

radwolf76: "when my mom watches Jeopardy, she tries to guess the Final Jeopardy question with just the category reveal, before getting the clue. And while her guess is always "Who is Ben Franklin?" she's actually been right about three or four times."

Seconding this fun game. I only got it once, I believe. My friend's little sister (now in her 30's) once walked in and guessed it without even knowing the category. "THOMAS JEFFERSON!"
posted by not_on_display at 3:59 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

My default college bowl answers were Pete Rose and Margaret Thatcher.
posted by zippy at 4:03 PM on October 19, 2012

when my mom watches Jeopardy, she tries to guess the Final Jeopardy question with just the category reveal, before getting the clue. And while her guess is always "Who is Ben Franklin?" she's actually been right about three or four times.

Once I got an answer right on Wheel of Fortune with none of the letters showing. That's why the contestant who did it with one letter didn't impress me.

Seriously, though, when I play along at home I try to guess the answers from just the categories as well. If you watch the show often you know that there are certain answers (excuse me, questions) that are quite frequent, even if you don't know you know that.

I think if I ever get on the show I will use it as an excuse to do lots of data analysis on j-archive. (That reminds me, I should get back to work.)
posted by madcaptenor at 4:03 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

My parents do the guess-final-jeopardy-from-the-category bit, and the one time I remember trying, I guessed "What is Dracula?" from "Novels", and got it right.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:10 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey my internet friend Glenn! I'm a little surprised he's not MeFi's own but I guess not. That was a neat article, I liked reading MeFi's own dayan's report from when he was on.
posted by jessamyn at 4:21 PM on October 19, 2012

Whenever someone wins the night without correctly answering Final Jeopardy, Mrs. Shen and I denigrate them as not being a worthy champion.
posted by Egg Shen at 4:28 PM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

My dad tried out for Jeopardy back in the paper test era. Like bearwife, he was one of only six people out of the hundred-plus who tried out to make it to the "mock game" round. He never did make it on the show - he's convinced it's because he was too stoic during the mock game and because he didn't have an interesting enough "here's a cute anecdote about me" story (he told them something about participating in Rotisserie baseball).

Getting on Jeopardy is a fantasy of mine as well, buoyed by my usually doing pretty well when I play along at home. I've taken the on-line test a few years in a row now. Few things in life have given me more conclusive evidence that I grossly underestimate my lack of intelligence.
posted by The Gooch at 4:32 PM on October 19, 2012

It's fricking stressful to be on jeopardy.

Ha, I totally kill it when I'm at home on the couch, but I know for sure if I ever managed to make the show, I would seize up and go deer-in-the-headlights. *bzzz!* "Chris!" "Uh, I know this... Uh... What is... Pancakes?" "I'm sorry, that's not it." I do not have the temperament in spite of the head full of useless and pointless knowledge.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:32 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seems pretty accurate, though I got a Jeopardy totebag instead of a baseball cap. I have never been so nervous as when I was on the show. I was shaking so much that I propped my buzzer hand on the podium at the first break and kept it there till the end of double jeopardy.
posted by mogget at 4:36 PM on October 19, 2012

Mogget, I got a tote bag and a baseball cap, but the bag was seemingly just to hold the baseball cap. I would have liked the toasters and other stuff they used to give contestants!
posted by GlennFleishman at 4:38 PM on October 19, 2012

Hello, Jessamyn!

Egg: You'll hate me tonight, but watch my mad math skills.
posted by GlennFleishman at 4:41 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

The good news: I finished with five figures. The bad news: I still lost.

The article explains the buzzer issue nicely. If I had timed just one click-in better, I would have won.
posted by doubtfulpalace at 4:56 PM on October 19, 2012

Here are a few things people don't tell you:

It is (at the time) the greatest thing in the world when you get that voicemail: "Hi; this is Robert from Jeopardy. We want you on the show. Call us."

If you are about to audition for Jeopardy, or be on the show, your first instinct may be to find some friend-of-a-friend who was once on the show and pick his or her brain for every single thing they could remember about the experience. You'll want any trick that might raise you above the other people who are doing exactly the same things.

DO NOT DO THIS. The contestant coordinators, who are consistently described as amazing people because that is what they are, will ask you for any contacts you've had with people who have been on the show before. I had contacted this LJ friend of an LJ friend, but luckily she didn't get back to me, because even this made Robert laugh nervously and say, "Okay, you're making me a little worried."

I don't know how this guy had lunch with Ken Jennings and it was okay. Maybe because Ken is... well, Ken, and he knows what not to say. Or maybe Glenn just didn't disclose it at the time. Oops.

You will go into a shuttle bus and a very small room with 15 people. Two thirds will have gone to "better" universities than you did. There will be at least three doctors. Most of them will be pretty cool, because hello, they are Jeopardy people. Like you.

At least one person will be incredibly, incredibly oblivious AND also stupid enough to make you wonder how he or she drives a car, let alone qualified for Jeopardy. If you're lucky, it will be the person who hasn't shut up since the shuttle bus about how s/he went to $IvyLeague AND $BetterMedSchoolThanTheOtherTwo, and yet somehow can neither understand the rules nor come up with a Hometown Howdy on his/her own. That person will get what's coming to them.

Background means nothing. Reflexes and mental flexibility are everything.

Find a nice fellow contestant or two. Go out to dinner with them after you get back to the hotel. If you just kicked their ass, offer to pay.

The absolute best moment of your life... Well, I love my husband dearly, but I couldn't pick just a single moment out of our time together. But to my dying day, I will remember the moment when Alex turned to the guy next to me and said, "You'll have to bid very carefully on this Daily Double. This is the last clue before Final Jeopardy, and as you can see, [Madamina] has almost $20,000 more... than... you."

Be prepared for the inevitable onslaught of "Is Alex as smart/pretentious/smug as he seems on TV?" (Answer: he is exactly the same as he seems, whatever you thought.) "Can you ever go on again?" (No. Which is kind of a bummer when you've reached your life's goal at age 26 AND missed the ToC by a $100 wager.) "Did you say, 'Suck it, Trebek!' or 'So's your mother, Trebek!' or any of the SNL phrases?" (God, no. Some people do actually do that. They are immediately branded as douches.)

People will never, ever stop asking.

The last thing I'll say here is that it really is an awesome club to be in. It IS a club. When the College Tournament came to town, I sat up front and waved at Robert, who came over to chat with me. "Good to see you!" he said. (It had been over two years.) "You're not the only champ who has stopped by; [ToC winner that year] was just here."

I was sorry to have missed him, because the guy in question had actually sent me a message after my first show, saying, "Great job! My wife and I were rooting for you; we're both musicians, just like you, and you were our favorite contestant in months."

And then Maggie waved at me from up on stage, even though she was in the middle of something, and we did that little half-signing conversation from 50 feet away while 5,000 people watched, and as I sat down I felt like the COOLEST KID IN THE WORLD.

The end.
posted by Madamina at 5:05 PM on October 19, 2012 [28 favorites]

I loved Maggie. I was sad when I lost my second game because it meant I couldn't hang out with the staff anymore. (There was six weeks between my tapings because I won the "Friday" show before they went on a hiatus; I had spent the whole day with them, and when I came back the second time, they felt like family.)

I find it very hard to watch the show now, even though it's almost seven years since I was on. There will be a run of easy Final Jeopardy questions and I'll get bitter that I was sent home because of Jack Nicklaus.
posted by candyland at 5:20 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh god, Fleischman and and BB. Internet self-promoters let an internet self-promoter write about himself on their self-promotion blog.

Anyway.. I auditioned for Jeopardy, back in the 80s when it just came back on the air. I wonder if Fleischman actually did go on the show, or whether he just interviewed people who did. Because this observation is totally surprising:

The set is precisely what you see in the broadcast program

No, not really. The first thing you notice is that the Jeopardy set is very tiny. It absolutely does not look anything like what you see on TV. In fact, the first thing they tell everyone when they assemble in the studio for the test, is that this really is the Jeopardy set. Everyone asks if it's a miniature or a mock-up, but it isn't. Yes, they really do the show in this tiny room, but they use wide angle lenses to make it look huge.

If you want to pass the exam, let me give you two vital tips, based on my recollection of long ago.

1. Study the bible. In particular, you better know the names of all the books of the bible and the order they are in. Learn them backward and forward.

2. Be photogenic, dress well, wear something that will look good on camera. Don't frown or scowl when taking the test. Be cheerful even before you enter the building, they are watching you. The scouts are standing around waiting with you, blending in.

No, I didn't get on the show. So take that advice for what it's worth.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:22 PM on October 19, 2012

Here's the secret to the buzzer. The staffer who's sitting in wait for Alex to finish reading the answer will then hit the switch to turn on the lights surrounding the board. As mentioned elsewhere, you can't see those lights on TV. You can't buzz until those lights signal that you can. But if you buzz a hint too soon, you'll get locked out for 1/4 second, and that might be just enough to let someone else in.

The key is to wait for Alex, not the lights. You want to have the same timing as the staffer, who is ALSO hitting a button.

I have historically done terribly at anything involving a buzzer. I have never been much for video games. Nevertheless, I had $10k by the second break.
posted by Madamina at 5:56 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

"What is a quince?"
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:19 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Madamina: "The key is to wait for Alex, not the lights. You want to have the same timing as the staffer, who is ALSO hitting a button. "

This is what'd screw me up. All my quizbowl reflex drills, there's a good chance that even waiting on Alex to end the question, I'd probably hit my button before they do and get stuck with the lockout anyway.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:24 PM on October 19, 2012

Man, someone's bitter. I actually watched it for the first time in a few weeks and was proud of getting "Karl Marx," too.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:25 PM on October 19, 2012

I loved the quick jab at Jeopardy on Beavis & Butthead years ago: "ohhhhh, so sorry. The correct answer, as we all know, is OUTER Mongolia".
posted by dr_dank at 6:32 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

My final final category was "The 20th Century." Or, as I like to call it, "Stuff."
posted by Madamina at 6:36 PM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

It is a hell of a lot of fun, the staff is great, and you are at the total mercy of the categories and just how good a sense of timing the Returning Champion has.

And you've got a nice story for the rest of your life.
posted by Guy Smiley at 7:07 PM on October 19, 2012

(Also, this reminds me that Vidiot and I must have been in the same group, since we look to have been on the same week.)
posted by Guy Smiley at 7:11 PM on October 19, 2012

In case anyone is wondering, yep, he'll be back in Monday. He dominated, but gave a surprisingly awful response for Final Jeopardy.(still managing to win)
posted by ShutterBun at 7:30 PM on October 19, 2012

Yeah, I completely fucked up the buzzer thing. It spooked me so hard that I lost a very, very easy Final Jeopardy that I could have nailed otherwise.

I auditioned during the paper-test days (auditions were at a mall, my boss let me out of work to go). I had a pretty good feeling about things once I got past that phase, because I was young and pretty and dressed stylishly, completely unlike everyone else who made it past the first test. Cynically, compared to the rest of the people who made it to the "fake jeopardy mockup round" of auditions, I had to look like a goddamn pile of catnip.

I also wasn't surprised when they called me back. The second phase of auditions was more like pub trivia than anything else, a small group of people listening to you kick their asses at knowing the answers to things.

But being on the actual show meant not only knowing things, but having to push that buzzer. And I could not do that, so I was fucked. Also, I was a tad hung over from partying with my sister and best friend the night before--Friend and I drove from my home in Phoenix to San Diego to crash with my sister, and then had an agonizing drive up to LA the next morning.

I came in second, which was The Trip. Everyone else who taped that day got a trip to a tropical locale. My trip was...Toronto. I also got an electronic handheld game and a year's supply of jam.

Because I didn't care to visit Toronto (I'd been there), I opted not to take the trip, so I didn't have to pay the taxes. I also opted out of the jam (?!?). I kept the handheld game, which I might still have.

I was deeply ashamed of not winning. My friends practically had to drag me to our local bar to watch my episode when it aired (they all knew how it ended). I could not believe how the bar patrons were so delighted that I was just ON THE SHOW and that I'd come in SECOND and how they didn't even care that I'd LOST. I had strangers buying me shots all night, I kept having to dump them into the potted plants. It was somehow really reassuring to my self esteem to know that the people in that bar didn't care that I LOST, they thought I was a fucking genius for just being on the show in the first place.

Of course nowadays, you can get on television for all kinds of dumb shit, but this was before reality television was really a thing, so you had to be either a criminal, really lucky or really smart to get on television.
posted by padraigin at 7:38 PM on October 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

Madamina: Strange, Maggie asked during the audition (in August 2011) whether anyone knew previous players or winners. Several people did. She asked about them, and then encouraged all of us to talk to people who had been on the show if we had connections. When I filled out the questionnaire when they tapped me to be on the show, it asked if I knew previous winners, and I listed two: Abie Hadjitarkhani (an acquaintance from college days) and Ken Jennings (who I'd had coffee with). Not sure why it would have been a problem (unfair edge?), but I swear I remember Maggie telling us to go ask around, so maybe they changed their policy about that.

The key is to wait for Alex, not the lights: So perfectly true. When I could get in that rhythm, I burned up the board; when not, well, it was painful.
posted by GlennFleishman at 8:39 PM on October 19, 2012

charlie don't surf: Oh god, Fleischman and and BB. Internet self-promoters let an internet self-promoter write about himself on their self-promotion blog. {Glenn puts on his Marshall McLuhan suit} "You know nothing of my work." I don't understand this, unless it's just trolling, as I write about other people. I'm not sure how I self-promote when 99.9% of my work is telling other people's stories. Ah, well.

I wonder if Fleischman actually did go on the show, or whether he just interviewed people who did. Because this observation is totally surprising: Yes, I faked that photo with Alex Trebek that's on the BoingBoing site, and I distributed into syndication last night and this evening myself winning two programs. I'm pretty good at self-promotion.

The first thing you notice is that the Jeopardy set is very tiny: That's really weird, because in person, the set seems rather large, in fact. So now I have to wonder if you've seen the actual set. The game board seems very very far away. We have a stalemate, don't surf.

they are watching you. The scouts are standing around waiting with you, blending in: I've read that before, and it's completely ridiculous. There were three folks from the show in the audition area, and, yes, they were watching, but there wasn't anybody secret. The way the rooms were set up, there was nowhere for secret watchers, and Maggie could elicit enough from her interviews of us during the audition without needing spies.
posted by GlennFleishman at 8:43 PM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Shutterbun: but gave a surprisingly awful response for Final Jeopardy — Well, I don't know if it was that awful. I did kick myself while walking off the set, because, of course, Atlanta, Ted Turner. I seemed to recall that It's a Wonderful Life had a weird rights deal (I believe no one was clear on ownership for a while, as it belonged to Republic), and that it was shown a lot. But that was in the 1980s!

You should like my mad math skills. I spent several minutes with a piece of paper and pen that they give you to calculate wagers. My logic was to bet precisely enough to win if both Abby and I were correct or if both Abby and I were wrong regardless of whether Matt was right or wrong.

By betting what I did, I would win if I were right or wrong and Abby had bet $0 or were wrong. In the end, she bet everything (which was the right strategy in the middle position, as she had nothing to gain by going short there), and she and I were both wrong. Had I bet too much, Matt would have taken it.

I was lucky!
posted by GlennFleishman at 8:47 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have I missed what this night's final Jeopardy question/answer was, and what the bet amounts were? I've only heard that the numbers were calculated and the answer was wrong, but not the specifics and I am now curious.
posted by jeather at 8:54 PM on October 19, 2012

It's been a long time since I've been able to come to terms with losing, but add me to the Mefite Jeopardy Contestants list. One year ago pretty much today, I bit it hard in Culver City. And yes, the contestant coordinators are amazing!
posted by endermunkee at 9:03 PM on October 19, 2012

The wager amounts for Final Jeopardy are what always seem to cause me to lose the Wii version of the game. I don't bet enough, then the computer figures out how much to bet, and beats me by $1. I'm sure something similar would happen to me on the show.

But yeah, "It's a Wonderful Life" is still a crummy answer, though I can see your reasoning. (in fact, it only became popular specifically due to an expired copyright, hence lots of TV stations picked it up as free Christmas programming.

But TCM was all about Turner's acquisition of the MGM library.

Can't say I would have done any better though. Chances are I would have guessed "Wizard of Oz" first, hopefully changing my mind in time. (the question was about the first film ever shown on TCM)

Still, an impressive performance!
posted by ShutterBun at 9:06 PM on October 19, 2012

Two additional things: Maggie is the awesome


I don't think I've ever wanted to strangle anyone as hard as I wanted to strangle Alex when he did his little "Oh no.. i'm sorry.. that's incorrect" to me. gah! :)

Ok, third thing. I remember more than anything else from my winning game the all encompassing fear that I had: "All right Beechum, don't screw this up. Your family name is on the line and your reputation as a knower of all things trivial." didn't even occur to me to be afraid of the gobs of people watching the show eventually.. just that fear that my brain wasn't as good at trivia as I've always believed. Yeah I have issues. :)

I also look back at the J-Archive record for my game and wonder how I answered some of those questions. Second game? What second game? I don't remember a second game!
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:14 PM on October 19, 2012

I wanted to strangle Alex when he did his little "Oh no.. i'm sorry.. that's incorrect" to me. gah! :)

It's that Canadian pronunciation of "sorry" that hurts most, isn't it?
posted by ShutterBun at 11:02 PM on October 19, 2012

Here is one of the reasons Maggie is the awesome:

She wears a cardigan almost every day, so in case some woman makes it to her third or fourth show and has run out of outfits, Maggie can lend her a cardigan and give her a whole other option.
posted by Madamina at 11:06 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Losing on Jeopardy is one of those things I'll always have regrets about. Just one less brain freeze or one less hesitant buzz, and it could have been very different... but oh well.

posted by kmz at 2:29 AM on October 20, 2012

A million times YES to the Maggie love!

And, while they DO ask if you know other Jeopardy! contestants, it doesn't screw you over--my old man had been on Rock and Roll Jeopardy! back in the day, and not only did everyone think that was hilarious, Maggie not only immediately recognized him--but also his mother.

I'm glad other folks admit it's sorta weird watching it after being there...the adrenaline while taping was...nuts.

(I still have "The Monster Mash" as a ringback tone on my phone, too--that was the answer to my FJ! question)
posted by polexxia at 3:23 AM on October 20, 2012

his little "Oh no..."

Well, he probably can't feel that sorry for you. He's been fighting this war since it began - a war with no end in sight - and he's seen better soldiers than you meet a grisly end.

But seriously, I would take faked sympathy over those rare occasions when he can't entirely suppress a note of derision at a particularly stupid answer.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:44 AM on October 20, 2012

My family keeps telling me I should be on Jeopardy but there's no way in hell I could possibly get up in front of anyone and do as well as I do sitting on my couch. I'm in awe of anyone who can do it at all, let alone win.
posted by tommasz at 8:36 AM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

No homage to Jeopardy was as epic as when "A Mailman" was on the show.
posted by HyperBlue at 9:34 AM on October 20, 2012

Polexxia, love the little call back. I have a tribble at my desk since they were my final jeopardy answer!
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:32 AM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've always secretly wanted to be on Jeopardy, but I really am afraid of making an ass out of myself on national TV (seriously, I shout out ridiculously wrong answers at home because I mishear things constantly). The closest I've been to anything Jeopardy is Ken Jennings replying to a tweet I sent him (which was awesome).

I am honored to be a part of a community with so many Jeopardy contestants.
posted by littlesq at 10:32 AM on October 20, 2012

Oh, I've always wanted to ask: If you are in second or third place do you get to keep the money you've won, or is it a set amount (like 2nd place 5k, 3rd place 1k)?
posted by littlesq at 10:33 AM on October 20, 2012

$2K for second place (maybe $3k, I forget), and $1K for third place.
posted by polexxia at 10:39 AM on October 20, 2012

I lost on Jeopardy, baby, ooooo-oo-ooo-oooo ...
posted by Melismata at 11:02 AM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Littlesq and polexxia: It's currently $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third. If you win at least three games and are in the top 15 $ winners in a given year (I think calendar year, not season), they invite you to Tournament of Champions which, I believe has a minimum $5,000 prize if you don't make it past the semifinal rounds. Top prizes for the two-day finalists are $250,000, $150,000, and $75,000 which are fairly awesome.
posted by GlennFleishman at 12:04 PM on October 20, 2012

Back in my day, if you didn't win, you got $0. But it sounds like I got *much* better parting gifts than Glenn did.
posted by briank at 7:02 PM on October 20, 2012

According to Christine Lavin, these are the real lyrics to the Jeopardy Theme Song:
Back in high school, you were square.
Carried books and slide rules everywhere.
You scored straight A's year after year.
They called you geek, they called you queer.

For everyone who laughed in your face,
here's your chance to put them in their place.
'Cause now you're on a TV show
Where your big brain wins -- big -- dough. (BOM BOM)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:09 PM on October 20, 2012

@GlennFleishmann I thought it was $2k for second place. Sadly, on my second day, I placed third, so I knew that one for sure LOL
posted by polexxia at 8:13 PM on October 20, 2012

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