So, the day finally came — my whirlwind trip to New York to tryout for Jeopardy!
I flew into the big city early Tuesday afternoon, checked into a tiny and spartan room at the Y, and dropped by a few Brooklyn bookstores to drop off copies of my book and schmooze a little, hoping that having a life human face to go along with the book might make them more likely to order it. Then I met my friend Sharon for dinner at an Indian restaurant, we went out to catch the rather forgettable movie The Proposal, and I got safely home at a reasonable hour so I’d be well-rested for the Jeopardy! tryout Wednesday morning at 11:30.
My worst fear, based on a description of the audition process that I read online, was that I wouldn’t do well on the initial 50-question written test, and would be asked to leave without going through the mock Jeopardy! round or interview process. However, that information about the process was out of date, because when I got there, I learned that just by making it to the audition, you are automatically entered into the contestant pool and you get to stay for the whole audition process. Whew!
How you do in that process, of course, has a lot to do about how likely you are to get pulled out of the contestant pool and put on the show. They audition a couple of thousand people a year for about 400 contestant spots, so they are looking not just for people who are smart and know their trivia (which you’ve already demonstrated on the online test) but for people who are personable and confident enough to appear on TV.
There were about 20 people in the group I was with (they hold three sets of auditions a day for several days in each city) and they were an interesting mix of women and men, young and old, different professions, etc. Despite the stereotypes one sometimes hears about Jeopardy! contestants there was nothing particularly geeky about most of them; just friendly, smart people with a wide range of interests who all want to get 15 minutes of fame out of their affinity for useless trivia. Obviously I was with my kind of people.
The 50 question written test was not too terrifying. There were about six or seven questions I drew a blank on; for all but three I put down wild guesses and for three I couldn’t even think what to guess! I felt pretty confident about most of the others, so I think I may have gotten 40-42 out of 50 right. I have no idea how that compares to others, although we all discussed our answers after and most people seemed to feel they had most right. You’re never told your score or what the standard is, though.
I can’t tell you any more than that about the written test because if I do, I’ll have to kill you. Honest.
After the written test, would-be contestants are called up in groups of three to play a little mock-Jeopardy! round, complete with buzzer. I’m sure it’s not as stressful as the real thing would be, but it certainly illustrates the difference between sitting back watching other people get the answers right (or wrong) and being up there yourself trying to be first to ring in — or not ringing in because you’ve drawn a complete blank. It helps simulate the pressure of the show, though there’s no money involved. And what they’re really testing here is not how well you know the answers, but how telegenic and personable you are — like do you jump in and say, “I’ll have ‘Dancing with the Tsars’ for six hundred!” in a nice, loud clear voice after you answer the question.
Your confidence and charm continues to be assessed in a short interview, which is conducted in front of all the other contestants. The Jeopardy! people (none of whom is Alex Trebek, you’ll be sorry to hear … you don’t get to meet him unless you get on the show for reals) ask a few questions based on the list of five interesting facts about yourself that you submitted when you came in. I thought it was a big stretch to have to think of FIVE interesting facts but I did my best. They asked me about my job and I got to chirp about how wonderful it was to work in adult education; they asked about Newfoundland and I assured them it was breathtakingly beautiful, though cooler than New York; they asked about having coffee regularly with a group of friends called the Strident Women and I discoursed briefly on how the term “strident” is often used in a derogatory way of women who are strong-willed and speak their minds freely, and my friends and I wanted to reclaim that. I smiled a lot, spoke loudly and clearly, and hopefully didn’t embarrass myself too horrible.
And that was that. After we all sat and watched each other go through the process and clapped and cheered for one another, the Jeopardy! crew told us we were a wonderful group and they would try to get as many of us on the show as possible. And that’s it. My name goes into a file with hundreds of others for the next eighteen months. I could get a call to come out to California for a taping at any time … or I could never hear from them again. No way to know.
Some of the people there were trying out for their second or third time, but given how costly and time-consuming it is for me to get to NYC, this will be my only shot, at least for a long time. It would be great to get on the show, but eighteen months is a long time to wait and see. For now I’m just going to focus on what a great experience it was to do the audition, and let destiny take care of itself …
If I do get that call, you’ll be sure to hear about it in Part Three of my “I Lost on Jeopardy, Baby!” series.