Today is my Jeopar-day! I'm excited. I think there are going to be about 30 people at my viewing party tonight. It will be like my wedding, all my different groups of friends coming together.
Now that the first three games of my tape day have aired, I can write a little about how my day went up to the taping of my game.
Still on EST, I woke up at 4 a.m., and was too excited to get back to sleep. Trying not to wake duckierose
up, who stayed the night with me and was going to be my guest in the studio audience, I snuck out downstairs and grabbed a bite to eat. I called my brother Trevor in NY. He had just gotten out of the Army and I figured he'd still be on military time. Sure enough, he was awake and we had a nice talk. Trevor is such a funny guy and he always puts people at ease.
Then at 6:30 I went back upstairs and woke up Rose. "I'm going to be on Jeopardy today!" I said.
"I know!" she said, and we squealed for a while. Then I started getting ready, packing all the stuff I needed for the day and getting dressed. They tell you to bring two changes of clothes to the studio, in case you win. They tape five shows a day, but viewers at home think its a whole new day by Alex Trebek going backstage and changing his tie. I said goodbye to Rose, who didn't have to come to the studio until a few hours later.
With all my running around, I didn't make it down to the lobby until five minutes before the shuttle was due. A man carrying a suitbag came out of the elevator next to me. This was Barry, one of my competitors for today. We found the Jeopar-crowd in the lobby and sat next to a quiet man from Florida, Tom Kunzen. After exchanging pleasantries, I said, "So who here is the returning champion?" Tom slightly nodded and mumbled something I didn't quite catch. I had to ask him twice more before I understood that he was saying he was the champion.
"So how many games did you win?" I said.
"I don't think I'm supposed to say," he said.
"Oh well, I'll find out at the studio, I guess." I said.
The shuttle to the studio came and we all piled on with our extra clothes. I sat next to Christine, who I found out was a Ph.D in English. I was telling her how my brother is finishing up his Ph.D this year and looking for a job. This led to a general discussion on college, and I said I went to "a small liberal arts college in the Midwest" which is what I usually say since not many people have heard of Kenyon. But a woman in the back perked up and asked me which one. It turns out her daughter went to Kenyon, too! Small world. She was class of '08, so I wouldn't have known her, but maybe I will see her at my next reunion.
We got to the studio lot, and saw a big poster for Wheel of Fortune that covered an entire wall. That's when it really hit me that I was going to be on Jeopardy! that day. We lined up and went through a metal detector, and one of the contestant coordinators pulled me aside and told me when I would have time to pump breastmilk that day. They were very accommodating to me, which I appreciate, because it was hard for me to call ahead and ask for special consideration. But also I didn't want to explode on on national television, so I had to ask.
We went into the Green Room and Robert went over our interesting stories. These are for the chat segment of the show where Alex tries to humanize the three terrified contestants and ask them something about their lives. They put three stories on the card, with a star next to the one the contestant would prefer to talk about, but Alex can choose whatever he likes. They told Zack, for example, that Alex would probably want to talk about him meeting Gordie Howe because he's a big hockey fan.
They had a nice breakfast spread set out for us. My friend Colette, who was on the show a few years ago, emphasized to me that it was important to eat well at the start of the day, because it might be a long time before lunch. So I made sure to grab a bagel and an Odwalla "C Monster" drink, for some carbs and Vitamin C to get me through the day.
We had a bunch of forms to go through, and people kept getting called back for makeup. I don't usually wear much makeup, but I loved sitting in the chair and getting fussed over. We found out that Tom was a two-day champion. Well, that's not too scary
, I thought. Lots of people win two games who maybe just got lucky with categories or a Final Jeopardy.
Maggie, the head contestant coordinator took over. She was just as loud as she was at the audition, but in a much smaller room. I love her. She's just a big ball of energy and she does such a good job of relaxing us and getting us ready to play. She went over the rules, like you must bet at least $5 on a Daily Double, and you have to answer in the form of a question. Mostly she told us to be proud of making it this far, not to psych ourselves out, and have a good time.
"Even if you end up in the red," she said, "It means you took some chances to try to beat the champion."
That's when we found out Tom had been in a standalone FJ his previous game. Okay, he was starting to sound scary. He remained very quiet and focused through the morning.
Then we were led out to the Jeopardy! set. There it was...Shangri-La. I was going to be one of the little people in my television set that I watched every weeknight! We got to practice on the buzzer and writing our names with the light pen. Tom got less time to practice, but the rest of us were given plenty of time. There's a certain rhythm you must get into. Alex has to finish reading the clue, then someone backstage releases the buzzers. If you ring in too soon, you get locked out for a fraction of a second, giving the other two smart people you're playing a chance to take it from you.
Two names were picked randomly to be the first lambs to the slaughter. Please not me, please not me,
I thought. Zack and Mary. Whew! Zack was the best on the buzzer, so I thought he might unseat Tom. He made it competitive, but Tom still won in the end.
In the second game, Tom had a lock, meaning he had twice as much money going into FJ than the 2nd place person. We were starting to whimper in the audience. Barry tried to keep our spirits up. "Everyone is beatable," he said.
For this game, I decided not to play along and just watch the lights. The lights are not shown on television, but they're small white lights that line the sides of the game boards. When they light up is when you can ring in. Tom was so fast that the lights were barely flickering on. Later he told me that he played Xbox for a week before the show to get his thumbs ready. I decided I would have no chance if I waited for the lights, and decided to use Colette's "duh" method. She told me to say a short syllable after Alex finished reading the last word of the clue. I chose "duh" because it amused me. When I practiced at home, it seemed to synch up with when the contestants were ringing in, but we would see if it worked when it counted.
The third game was the closest yet, but then we had a break for lunch, so Tom had a chance to rest up. Robert went with us, as a pleasant guard to make sure there was no meeting with any Jeopardy writers who might slip us the answers. They take the security of the game very seriously. We are only allowed to talk to Alex on camera, because he knows the clues, and we weren't allowed to talk to our guests or make any gestures towards them, in case they found out something about the game. Rose was sitting right across the aisle from me, and it was so hard not to at least look at her!
So what did the erudite Jeopardy crowd talk about at lunch? Zombies, of course. All the contestants I met that day were not just smart and accomplished, but very nice and fun to hang out with for a day.
When we got back, Barry and I were chosen. I was glad I got a chance to see a few games, and still get to play that day (two would have to wait until tomorrow). Robert showed us two pieces of paper so we would randomly choose our positions. We grabbed them with gusto. "Woah, these two are ready to play!" he said.
We went back to get our makeup retouched, and took our places.