Shameful self-promotion (or, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Trebek.")

I haven't posted on the boards in a while, but thought my fellow Legionnaires and trivia nerds would want to know about this, so......


Watch Jeopardy! on Thursday, April 7  :)


I'm contractually obligated not to talk about the results in advance, but I'll tell you alllll about it later.




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I did try out for Jeopardy once, but didn't pass the test. I've been meaning to give it another shot for years.


I worked at a puzzle magazine years ago with a woman who was a 5-day champion. She initially whiffed on the written tryout, but went home and looked up the answers she missed just for her own edification. Later that week, she went back to Atlantic City and tried again, and by coincidence got the exact same quiz. So of course she aced it, and then, from what she said, most of the hurdles beyond that level were far easier than those initial ten questions.

I thought that was a real good showing, Mickey. I could tell the other guy simply beat you to the buzzer quite frequently. I was on a local quiz show for elementary school kids ("Lucky Liberty Jackpot") in 1976. A friend once asked me to be his lifeline on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" but after flying to NYC on his own dime, he didn't pass the audition.

I did win a "Comic Book Jeopardy" at a convention a couple of years back. My opponents were dealers who apparently did not read their wares much! Of course it did help that the Final Jeopardy category was Legion of Super Heroes!

I won an autographed copy of Wonder Woman #200.

Gather 'round, children, it's ANSWER TIME!


Yes, young Lumbering Jack?

When "the answers" come up, do they show up on your desk monitor?

No, Jack, they don't.  The screen on the desktop is only for writing your name and the Final Jeopardy response and wager.

How far away are you from the screen that shows the answers? (I ask because I have ~terrible~ vision, but often read the answer before Alex finishes reading them. So that makes me wonder how I'd do on stage.)

The big board is where the text shows up.  It's across the stage as it appears on the opening shot of each show, about 20 feet away, I'd guess.  I had no real problem reading them.  There's also a larger monitor just to the left of the board, so directly in front of the contestants, where each clue also appears after it is selected.  (Except when there's a video clue.  In those cases, the video or image appears on the large monitor, while the text of the clue appears in it's dollar-value space on the big board.)

When you make your final jeopardy bet, does anyone help you with your strategy? That is, do you do the math so you top someone by $1, etc.? Or does a producer come over with a list of suggestions. (I'm always mildly impressed when people figure out these things, cuz I know I wouldn't be able to!)

I didn't have a wagering strategy going in for the situation I found myself in, which was my downfall.  There are sites on the web that discuss wagering strategies in great detail.  Believe it or not, Jeopardy! fans have a community as detail-oriented and obsessive as comics fans!

The producers and contestant wranglers cannot and do not offer wagering advice, especially during game play.  But you do get a good sized piece of scratch paper and a marker to do calculations on.  As we went into the break before Final, I had a lot of confidence in my likely ability to get a correct response on a clue in "Literary Quotations."  But I could not pass Christopher with a correct response.  I wanted to leave some money if I was incorrect, and tried to suss out a good wager base on Christopher betting enough to beat me if we were both right, but my algebra skills failed and i only got halfway through my logic before time was up.  So I had to put down something...

I know now, and I recommend to anyone who tries out to look up wagering strategies before going on...

You seemed to be getting frustrated with your button. Was there a problem?

No problem with the device, just frustration that Christopher and Helen were getting in ahead of me on clues I actually knew the correct response to.

Now that you played on stage, what do you say to all those people who say "I do pretty good at home?"

"Put your money where your mouth is," in the nicest way possible.  I encourage everyone to try out, especially Legionnaires!

How many episodes do they film in one day?

Five.  Previously, it was a Monday through Friday, but I was there at an odd time.  The segments I was there for were taped November 30 & December 1, 2010.  At that time, the Sony people knew they were going to do the three day IBM/Watson event, but it had not been announced yet and they did not tell us about it.  Since the Watson event was aired on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and picked up with regular games on the following Thursday and Friday, we were taping shows on for Thursday, March 31 to Wednesday, April 6 on the first day, and Thursday, April 7 (my game) through Wednesday, April 13 on the second day.

We did know what dates each show would air on, because sometimes the writers have date or event specific categories for when the games air. 

So, five shows in a day...

Did they tell you to bring multiple changes of clothes?

Yes, they say bring two additional changes of clothes, and guys should bring several ties if they intend to wear them.  So with mix and match (and my girlfriend's invaluable assistance) I had two extra shirts, a sweater vest, a different blazer and two other ties, which would have been good for five different outfits.  Too bad I didn't need 'em :)

When they break for a commercial, what's the real-time delay?

The normal commercial air time.  During the commercial break, the wranglers bring you water, and you get your make-up touched up if needed.  The wranglers may also make suggestions to folks who aren't projecting well.  During the first break, Alex comes over and gets a picture made with each contestant.  He also takes questions from the audience during each break, which can be entertaining.  One game had a clue and response that was a quote from Young Frankenstein; as soon as the break started, Alex threw out his arms and loudly proclaimed "HE VAS MY BOYFRIEND!"

Your Trebek preference -- Mustache or no mustache?

No real preference.  People forget how long it has been since he actually shaved that thing, but it's been almost 10 years.



A Mr. Lee Houston Junior from Fort Lee, New Jersey writes:

Is it true that travel expenses, room and board, meals, etc; are on your own dime? If so, any place good but cheap around the studio?

That is correct.  Contractually, you are not guaranteed to appear on the show, but if they invite you out from anywhere outside of Greater Los Angeles, you are 99.9% sure to get on.  They always have an extra person or two there, in case someone takes ill or has a breakdown or something during taping (seriously).  But those extra folks are from the LA area, and if they don't make it on the first time, they are pretty much guaranteed an immediate return call in which they will get on.

So, I was on the hook for all my expenses while there.  But they have a deal with the Culver City Radisson for contestants at a very reasonable rate, so that helps immensely.  You also get meal tickets for yourself for breakfast at the Radisson on your taping days (but not for any guests you bring along) and they feed you lunch at Sony during the taping days. 

If you are a carryover champion, meaning you are champ at the end of the second taping day and they have to bring you back several weeks later for the next regular taping, then they will pick up the airfare for you and a guest.  This happened to my best friend Peter, who was a two-time champ back in 2008. 

How did it actually work, between applying to being a contestant to actually appearing on the show?

Okay, this is a pretty long story, but I have two examples to cite from.

My aforementioned best friend P and I first tried out in 2005.  This was one of the last times the initial tryouts were still in person, before they went to the famous On-Line Test.  We learned that Jeopardy! was doing tryouts in Memphis, so we both e-mailed in and got "reservations."  They were doing multiple sessions in each city they were going to, and there were people who had come to Memphis from all over--I met people from North Carolina and Kansas who had traveled to Tennessee to try out. 

As an aside, all expenses for tryouts are also on you.  So even though I will receive $2000 for my second-place finish, I know that between my tryouts and the actual show, I will end up having lost money on the deal.  Not complaining, though.

Anyway, that 2005 audition, we went to the Peabody hotel in Memphis, and were in a room with about 100 others.  We were given a 50 question general knowledge, rapid response test, basically what the On-line Test is like now.  Then some of the contestant coordinators took everyone's answers and graded them while we were entertained by one of the Clue Crew with a Q&A session.

They never reveal scores of the audition tests.  Lots of speculation occurs as to what the "passing" grade is.  In this case, I recall that I got 44 or 45 correct.

Once the grading was over, the contestant coordinators came back in and said "we're going to call out a list of names of people to go on to the next audition round.  The rest of you, thanks very much for coming, and please try out again."  Then they read off 7 names out of the group of 100 people.  And Peter and I were both on the list.  They even made a joke about how we were sitting together and did we help each other out. 

The next audition round was a mock game, where they put up a game board and people rotated out three at a time answering game questions and in between answering interview type questions from the coordinators.  Things like "why did you try out?" and "what would you do if you won a lot of money on the show?"  They were trying to gauge how each person would come across on television.  In other words, no stiffs please.

Then they thanked us for coming, and told us that our names would be on their contestant rolls for the next 18 months.  Don't call us, we'll call you.  And neither of us heard anything.

By 2007, they had instituted the On-line Test to cover the first screening round.  The On-line Test is a timed, 50 question general knowledge test.  You do not have to respond in the form of a question.  If you rate highly enough on the On-line Test, you will get an invitation to come do an in-person audition.  At the time you take the On-line Test, they even give you a list of cities where the next round of in-person auditions will be held, and you have to pick where you would prefer to go.  At your own expense...

So Peter and I took the On-line Test in January 2007.  Peter got an e-mail several months later asking him to come to an in-person audition (he had selected Houston, since that was the closest city listed when he had taken the test).  So he went to Houston in May and did the in-person audition.  They told him after that that he would be on their rolls for 18 months, after which time he could try out again if he never heard from them inviting him to do the actual show.

Meanwhile, I never got an invitation for the in-person audition.  So I must have not passed that time.  No problem, try again...

In January 2008.  Same deal, another On-line Test.  But this time, I passed!  Got an e-mail to come to Dallas, so I did.  the in-person was a smaller group than our first experience.  Maybe 20 people in the room, all of whom had already done well enough on the On-line Test to get asked for an in-person. 

We were given another 50 question test, and then all of us did the same mock game procedure I described earlier.  And then we were told that ours names would be on the rolls for 18 months yada yada....

Then in August 2009, Peter gets THE CALL.  Come to LA at the end of September for taping of shows to air the last week in November.  It had been 15 months since he had done his in-person audition in Houston.  He could not try the On-line test again in January 2009 because his 18 month window had not yet elapsed.

So my buddy went to LA and WON!  Two games.  Over $40k.  We were impressed and ecstatic, to say the least.

So now February 2010 comes around.  I never heard anything after my May '08 audition in Dallas, and 18 months has passed, so I take the On-line Test again.  This is my third attempt.  The contestant coordinators told us that three tries is about average before a person gets invited to the show.  Peter did his in two tries, not too shabby.

I did well enough that I got an e-mail invite to the in-person.  This time I went to New Orleans with another buddy and made a long weekend of it.  The in-person was exactly the same as it had been in Dallas, no changes in the process, another 50 question test, a mock game, if we don't call you within 18 months you can try again, etc.

By the way, when you audition, they give you these ballpoint pens with fat barrels and the Jeopardy! logo.  These things are apparently coveted.  I now own four, one for each audition, plus my trip to LA.  And I got a Jeopardy! tote bag.  Actually, Sony is pretty cheap with the swag.  The contestants don't even get a copy of the home game anymore :)

So, being my third try, I have realistic expectations.  That is, no expectations.  I was certainly not sitting by the phone.  If it happened, it happened.

Then, in October, it happened.  Got a call to be on the show.  They mailed me some paperwork, we booked a flight, took a week off from work, and went and did the thing.

Cue Weird Al spoofing the Greg Kihn Band.

Lee, I look back at how much I've written here and hope I didn't overkill your question :)

What did you and the other contestants talk with Trebek about during the closing credits?

Short answer on this one:  I have absolutely no recollection of what we talked about.  I'm sure it was inane small talk, but I honestly do not remember a single topic that was discussed.  I think it may have been something about how, in Christopher's run up to that point, the Final Jeopardy! clues had been ridiculously difficult.  Of course, Alex has absolutely nothing to do with the game content, so I think there were some platitudes about how this was an unusual run, but it happens, etc.

Thanks for taking the time to answer those questions, Double M. I read them out loud to Jenn (she whose husband I am) and she enjoyed the Q & A as well.


The alliterative Mr. Philip Portelli asked  

Even though the Hulk did make an appearance, if you mentioned your love of comics, would they NOT put up a comics category? I mean, who hasn't seen a couple of Disney films or vacationed at the Galapagos? 

The answer there is "no."  My hobbies or occupation or other special knowledge would not have made a difference in the categories or clues that happened to be offered during my game, or anyone else's.

In order to assure randomness, to protect the contestants and to protect the integrity of the game, an outside "assurance" company monitors the game.  That company has a representative on-site during taping to make rulings on disputes that may arise about response interpretation and also has a role in selecting the game that is to be played.

For every day of taping five games, the writers and producers submit to the assurance rep a total of six complete games.  The game is written/prepared as a complete game, not a mix and match of Jeopardy!, Double Jeopardy! and Final Jeopardy! rounds.  From the six provided, the assurance rep selects five, taking into consideration things like air dates that may have categories specially designed for holidays, etc.  So all six games are prepped each morning, ready to go, but the producers don't know which five will actually be played that day.

The writers have no knowledge of the contestants' backgrounds and interests, and the contestant producers have no knowledge of the games.  The contestant producers see the game material for the first time at the same time the contestants do:  when the game is actually being played.

The contestant coordinators even tell you that if a surgeon happens to be a contestant, and one of the categories is "Surgical Terms," then them's just the breaks.

On the show two before mine, one of the challengers had been a clerk for the Supreme Court of Rwanda.  It was the topic he and Alex discussed during the contestant interview segment.  And a few minutes later, a clue came up about Rwanda.  And the guy obviously knew the answer, but the champ beat him on the buzzer.  Alex made a joke about it and the game went on...


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