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Everybody already knows that I was going to appear on the biggest, best, longest-running game show in the history of whenever – “Jeopardy!,” of course! – but now I have a conundrum on my hands: How do I handle all of the questions and fan mail?
Never fear, gentle reader: I am here to answer your burning questions about all things J!
Obviously, the need to travel to California meant that I was going to be missing some work, and when you make a pronouncement like this to your boss… well, let’s just say that news travels fast. As it turned out, I also had to send another engineer on a site visit to Iceland in my stead so, even in this felicitous situation, tradeoffs were involved. Then, over the course of the next week, I was pelted with a long and repetitive series of questions from everybody in the organization and people on Facebook.
These questions all seemed to fall into a couple of consistent tracks, so I did what all intelligent people in a similar position might do: Write a Frequently Asked Questions document. Let’s get started!
How do you get on “Jeopardy!?”
You all know this based upon my previous article, but this is by far the most common question I received.
How long have you been trying to get on the show?
I sent a bunch of post cards to Merv Griffin television (it was 1994) to be on the Teen Tournament back when I was about 15, and got invited to LA to take the test. I didn’t get invited to the show. Let me just say here that it actually pays to think carefully about which point in your life when you want to go on Jeopardy! You want to be old enough to have accumulated enough knowledge but young enough to have excellent reflexes.
Did they give you the material beforehand?
This question is fairly common and always baffles me. Why would they do that? The writers prepare six games for each taping day which are selected at random prior to the show. The game boards are selected at random, as are players from the pool of people who arrive at the studio that day. This is a test of knowledge and reaction. Giving you the material beforehand would defeat much of that purpose – and give a massive advantage to the reigning champion.
How did you study for “Jeopardy!?”
I don’t really think you can. But if I had to recommend how a person accomplish this, I would say: begin by traveling back in time to when you first learned to read, (I recommend getting started early, preferably about five) and begin reading books on Paleontology, Archaeology, Geology, History, Biology, et al and then pay careful attention to pop culture – even stuff you sometimes find annoying – and then play a lot of video games in order to work on your reaction time.
As you get older, participate in a lot of high pressure, high impact testing (on purpose) with an eye towards controlling your heart rate and not letting your emotions overwhelm you. Read. Lots.
Get a copy of the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy by ED Hirsch (I learned this from Troy Senik.) Make sure you know what every reference in that book means. Study Geography… extensively. This was the lowest-hanging fruit for me and definitely worked out well. There is almost never a Jeopardy board that doesn’t involve at least some questions that are Geography or Geography-adjacent. Know. Your. Shakespeare. Learn about college athletics (which is a twofer as it helps you to learn about colleges!) and make sure you know your basic science. Watch Jeopardy so you know what sort of questions they’re likely to ask! (No Opera, pls…)
You’re ready for “Jeopardy!”
How is Alex?
For a guy who has had stage-4 cancer for over a year and has been pumped full of otherwise deadly toxins, he’s doing pretty well. The staff were extremely strict with us about not shaking Alex’s hand or touching other people in any way. Everything is sanitized and cleaned about every 5 minutes. The camera does a great job of portraying him in an excellent light. Bear in mind that this was the first week where the real COVID-19 lockdown was beginning.
One contestant was even asked to leave and return at a later date because they had been in Thailand a couple of days previous. They were very serious about this, and even took the extraordinary step of preventing normal studio audiences from watching the tapings the day before I was to appear – only guests of contestants and potential contestants were allowed.
When will you be on TV?!
May 21 is the air date.
Were you paid already?
I’m sure that their vendor terms are net 30 and then they are net 30 to you… which implies a 60-day lag after the air date for you to see a dime. Seriously though: We’re told we don’t get paid for 120 days after taping.
What was it really like?
Everything I could have hoped for and more. A once in a lifetime experience, a dream come true, a sense of accomplishment unparalleled since I passed the PE exam? I spent a day with a dozen incredibly intelligent, kind people and it was the most fun I’ve had… probably ever.
The staff of the show are incredibly nice. I cannot emphasize this enough. Whatever you need they will provide (within reason) and their function is to make sure that you are both capable of competing but also have fun. It’s a TV Show… There’s lots of money! It’s exciting – really!
The contestant coordinators are so kind and helpful and each deserves a call-out:
Corina, (who is a sort of human cartoon come to life) guides contestants through the pre-show rituals of legal requirements and preparation for what to expect on stage.
Glenn (he of the extremely dry and droll sense of humor, has been on the production staff for 36 years) talks you through your disclosure documents, prize eligibility and the much-feared interview portion of the show. You provide a bunch of personal vignettes and knickknacks beforehand from which Alex will choose to discuss on the air. If you have a tough-to-pronounce name like mine, you clarify that, phonetically (B-You-ell, fyi.)
Lauri (the very sweet and quietest member of the team) makes sure that you have everything you need from Advil to bottled water, to bathroom breaks to visits from the makeup ladies.
How did you do!?!?
This last and most critical question cannot be answered. I can’t say. I signed an NDA and can’t reveal the outcome of the show.
Obviously, some people may have additional questions that I may be able to answer, so ask away!Published in