Jeopardy tryouts – part one

It was around 2:30 last Tuesday (last Tuesday! It’s been a week!) that I couldn’t stand it anymore and just went to find Conference Room K, where it all was happening.

We didn’t get juice

A very short elevator ride brought me to the Lower Level, and I saw the sign for the show and smiled. Since there were only a couple of people there I went looking for a ladies’ room to freshen up, as they say. I started a circuit around the central elevator block, and was impressed by the elegance of the place. This was not a conference area for the likes of the meetings I’ve been to – this was CEO and VIP territory, and quite nice too. In fact, when I looped back around to “our” area again to find a small crowd had formed, there was apparently a bit of a question going forward about who all this riff-raff was, because the woman whom I shortly found out was Maggie (Maggie Speak, the main contestant coordinator for the show) (what a great job) was explaining that yes, we’d all be out of the way shortly, and we were a motley crew (almost typed crue) but very smart! When the investigating officer was gone, she said to the group at large that there was one very expensive, very exclusive hotel they occasionally used for tryouts, and how much she loved having all of these expensively-suited folk about, and then her lot sitting on the floor filling out applications. Hee.

I fell into a line which led – to my horror – to Robert, the gentleman wielding the Polaroid camera. It wasn’t Robert I dreaded – he was lovely; it was the camera. I kept telling myself Don’t smile – don’t smile! I photograph very badly, and when I laugh it’s even worse. There’s only been one picture I’ve liked in the past few years, and that was (weirdly) a driver’s license picture for which I did not smile; in the next one I looked like I’d been hit on the head with a bottle. I wasn’t planning on looking grim or anything; I just wanted to project whatever good things I could manage without looking like that bad driver’s license. Oh well. Robert is tall, and funny, and made some comment as I moved into place, and I laughed; then he scrunched down to get down to my eye level to take the thing, his knees bending almost 90 degrees – and I couldn’t help it. I laughed as the &*$! flash went off. The results were dreadful, as expected. I avoided looking at that thing as much as possible. *sigh*

I realized then that there was paperwork to be done, and grabbed a page – and a Jeopardy pen! – from the table, and wandered further down the hall to a counter to fill out the application. It was kind of funny – one question on the application was whether the applicant had been in touch with any Jeopardy contestants, and I marked “no” – and then second-guessed myself: after all, I exchanged comments on the blog of a gentleman who went through the tryouts: Oh. Tryouts. OK. I don’t think being on Ken Jennings’ Tuesday Trivia mailing list would count, so I needn’t worry about perjury.

Something odd happened around then; a woman appeared out of nowhere (which just means I didn’t notice where she came from) and accosted an older woman who was standing near me, off apart from the rest of the group.

“What are you all waiting for?”
“We’re going to play Jeopardy.”
“Why are you going to do that?”
“We’re trying out for the show.”

And it kept on – why? Why? It was a weird exchange – the woman shooting off questions in a strange flat tone, more like a small child wanting to know “why” than an adult of any sort of authority wanting to know what this motley crew was doing there. Then she abruptly said something like “I see the person I need to speak to”, and walked away. By now I had moved over a little; in one of those peculiar impulses psychologists like to study most of the group had formed a rough circle in the space by the table, and I had joined the herd. This interloper walked past me, on the near side of the ring, crossed the empty space of the middle, and beelined for a girl on the other side. I didn’t catch what she said to her, but the girl – whose name I really should remember – but it ended with “Good luck getting on Jeopardy” in that same flat tone, and then the interloper left, leaving her victim standing there looking completely what-the-*&$!-was-that baffled.

A few stragglers were photographed and wrangled into place, and then we were shown into Conference Room K. I was near the back of the pack, and so snagged a seat near the back of the room, which was fine with me. At the front of the room were two tables, the one on the left being where the coordinators sat (when they sat). In between was a projection screen. There was a moment of surreality – it’s happening! Now! – and then Maggie and Robert began talking, giving pointers and guidelines for how the next couple of hours were going to go. Be enthusiastic – don’t be quiet! – use a big voice, and, most importantly, enjoy yourself!

Robert asked who watched Jeopardy every night, and I think every hand went up – to which he replied with a chuckle that there were some liars in the room. Well, really, though – I had actually stopped watching because another station started airing M*A*S*H with scenes included that have hitherto always been cut when I’ve seen the show in syndication, and that’s been too much fun to pass up. Since that first email arrived, though, I think I missed two nights. Srsly. (For one thing, I was practicing. Wait till Alex finishes reading the question – and – cue rapid-fire pretend ringing-in. Answer in the form of a question. It was all surprisingly difficult to coordinate in the beginning – I was used to just sitting there blurting out the answers as soon as I knew them, and never in the form of questions. I was a mess those first few nights I tried it, and gained a huge amount of sympathy for all those folks who can’t get their act together on the show. But you know? It helped.)

Then he said that Jeopardy is the number two game show – what’s number one? Wheel of Fortune. How many people watch Wheel? I don’t think a single hand went up, and he laughed at us again – “Look at all the Jeopardy snobs!” I guess so.

Next question: who thought the online test was a piece of cake? My hand stayed firmly down. Cake? No. Soufflé, maybe. Baklava. Something tricky to make. Cake? I can do cake. That was not cake.

And then he asked “Okay, how many of you were surprised to get the email?” Surprised? Shocked. I don’t know if I said it in the original post, but when I opened it both hands clapped over my mouth, and I literally couldn’t talk – or breathe – for a minute. I scared my mother. Yeah. I was a little surprised. I was happy to see most of the hands in the room go up.

“How many of you yell out the answers when you’re watching the show?” Everyone, I think – and, of course, we were gently reminded that wasn’t going to fly then and there.

We went around the room, introducing ourselves – I have no idea what I said. I only remember that I said I was from Connecticut, and Maggie said “Connekt-i-cut – that’s how I have to remember it!” I was a little surprised that while the vast majority of the twenty of us in the group were from New York, there were only two of us from CT – the other one a young man on the other side of the room – and one from Pennsylvania (if her name wasn’t Melissa I will be deeply ashamed of myself, because she was sitting right next to me – my memory is not Jeopardy calibre!) – and two ladies from Florida and one from Washington state! One gentleman (whose name I really, really should remember) was the father of the winner of 2007’s teen tournament (*search* Meryl Federman). At least a couple, including the man who sat behind me (Craig? Curse my spotty memory!) had tried out before – I believe my seat-neighbor had done it a couple of times. And something that was lovely about that was that Maggie remembered everyone who had been by before. She knew Meryl’s dad, and chatted with him very warmly; she remembered Craig (better than I do, since I’m not sure his name was Craig) and chatted with him; when one woman was called up for the mock game she said “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?” When the woman said yes – a few years before, iirc – Maggie apologized for not having picked her out before, and reminisced with her as well. Now, I grant, by that point she had the applications in front of her, but for the rest of the returnees it was purely her. Did I mention she’s kind of awesome?

The first part of the process was the dreaded written test. There was a video first, stressing the important points – don’t answer in the form of a question, spelling doesn’t count as long as it’s comprehensible, last names are fine unless it’s a President Roosevelt sort of situation, and so on. And there was a little clip of Alex reiterating what Maggie said, and what everyone I’d talked to in the month prior had said – don’t stress, just have fun! Our coordinators added to this that there was a lot of leeway given. When in doubt, they said, guess; you might not want to do this on the show, but in the test there’s no penalty for a wrong answer, so take a shot – if nothing else we’d give them something to laugh about while scoring the tests. Did I say a good bit of leeway? Don’t worry, they said: if you skip a line at some point, because they would adapt to the answer to #21 being put in the slot for #22. I didn’t have to worry about that one, because I at least took a wild flailing guess on each question (and got one right I never expected to. I’m still amazed.) Questions were going to appear on the screen at the front of the room, and be read by Sarah from the Clue Crew (which, I think it was generally agreed, has the best job in the world).

I had read that where with the online test you had 15 seconds, with the written test each question only allowed eight – alarming! But in truth it wasn’t too bad. It seemed to be a consensus that it actually felt like you had more time. Either the atmosphere was more relaxed – as the coordinators certainly tried to make it, plus any time you don’t have a little timer ticking off the seconds it’s going to be less stressful – or it was simply that it’s faster and more intuitive to write than to type, but it just seemed easier to put the answers in the correct spaces when it was pen (Jeopardy pen!) on paper. Too, it was wonderful to be able to take a (literal) couple of seconds here and there and go back and reconsider answers I wasn’t sure about. There were a couple of questions that made me smile and write very quickly – and I’d love to say which ones but we all promised not to reveal the questions on the written test since it’s the one used universally – and with four or five seconds left it was possible to go back and say “Oh! Wait!” Not, unfortunately, that that happened with too many; I can only remember about twenty of the fifty questions, and several of those were the ones I was pretty sure I was getting wrong (remembered because I kept going back over them). The happy thing about that is there were two I was pretty sure I had wrong, and in fact I was right; there was one I knew I had right, realized I had wrong, and then re-realized I was actually right. (To try to explain that mess of a sentence, it was a little bit as if I wrote down ” X-Men – Origin of Wolverine” and then two days later realized in horror it should have been “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” – and then realized that the actual answer was only the character name, and, happily seeing that at the time, I had crossed out the “X-Men – Origin of” part anyway leaving just “Wolverine” which was, in the end, correct.)(Which is not what the answer was.)

It was fun. I like tests. Sue me. And I think I did all right on this one; I feel like I did better on it than on the online test, and if the online test got me that far, well then – ! Also, I kept in mind what they had said about laughing while they graded, and went for humor when intelligence failed; let’s say one of the questions was about a desert (which it wasn’t), and I couldn’t for the life of me think of what they wanted – so I just said “the hot one”. Hey, partial credit, maybe. I could feel the cogs turning on a couple, and was pleased with what I did get right, and couldn’t entirely blame myself for getting wrong most of what I missed … I should have spent more time on geography, I can tell you that, especially since as it turns out not a single other thing I studied in the five weeks leading up to June 5 turned out to be relevant. Not one. Almost, but not quite.

They collected the tests, the 5-things-about-me sections of the email, the dread photos, and the applications, and I wonder if it counts in their consideration whether people listened and put them in the order they asked for, and then took the packets off back outside to grade the tests. We were, they said, allowed to talk about the test, but not to disclose the questions to anyone outside the room – though, they said, the questions from the online test were free for discussion anytime. I had taken screencaps of the online test to check my answers after the fact, but didn’t want to put them up anywhere just in case. So the three of us in the back of our group went over some of the questions, and yes I am indeed a geographical moron. Just sayin’. Still and all, there was the story someone had told me about an aunt who tried out who aced the test as well as the mock game, and never got on the actual show because, it was thought, she would just dominate too thoroughly. Which would be boring. Me? I’ll be making crap up in the geography categories – I won’t be boring. Promise.

To be continued …

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