Becoming a Jeopardy Contestant

Way back in...January, I think, I found out that Jeopardy was doing online tests again.  I had passed my College Jeopardy test and even made it to an audition, but nothing ever came of that.  I registered to take the test on a Tuesday, brushed up on a few things, and completely forgot about it.  Tuesday night, it finally hit that I had missed the test, so I went online to see if there would be others.  Luckily, I could test on Wednesday.  Wednesday night rolled around, and I sat down, ready to go.  Basically, you get 50 questions in a row, all from different categories, mostly from the bottom levels of those categories (second hardest/hardest).  You have (I think) five seconds to type in your answer, with no "who is" or "what is," and then the test moves to the next question.  No indication of your being right or wrong, no encouragements, nothing...just you and a question.  I felt pretty great about my test, and a list of answers and questions posted on the Jeopardy forums told me that I had scored a little better than 80%.

So, I waited.  One day in late March, I got an e-mail.  I had officially been invited to come up to Raleigh in June to audition!  I immediately made arrangements to have a day off of work, and read some accounts online as to what exactly the audition would entail.  It didn't appear to be any different than the College Jeopardy audition, so I wasn't all that nervous.  I booked a hotel, packed my sport coat and an orange and purple-striped tie, and headed up to Raleigh.

First off, I signed in.  It was very easy to find the conference room where the Jeopardy auditions were, because milling around outside is a large group of people who look exactly like the type of people you'd expect to try out for Jeopardy.  I signed my soul away to Sony Pictures (with a complimentary Jeopardy pen) and took a seat next to a middle-aged woman and man.  We made small talk for about an hour, and then everybody had to line up down the sides of a hallway.  The Jeopardy contestant team came out, introduced themselves, and simultaneously tried to put us at ease and pump us up for the audition.  Polaroids of each contestant were taken, and then we were ushered into the audition room.

Another 50 question test awaited.  Basically, they want to make sure that you didn't have help on the online test.  From what I read online, only people who passed this test were invited to audition further in years past.  Now, everybody continues past the written test, but it is graded later and cuts are made after the audition.  You get a sheet of 50 blanks, and a recorded Johnny Gilbert (the announcer) reads you questions.  5 seconds pass, and then the next question starts.  You can go back to answer something you passed, but it's tricky.  I felt fantastic about the written test.  Pop culture was everywhere, I was positive on the first 25 questions, and a quick count at the end revealed that I only guessed at about 8 questions.  After the tests are collected, we had approximately 15 minutes to get some water, stretch our legs, talk to the other potential contestants, etc.  The coordinators came back in and called three people at a time to the front for a mock game and interview.

Of course, I was the last person called.  Once I got up to the front, they explained how to use the buzzers (signaling devices, if you want to be proper about it), and how they work on the show.  Basically, contestants have to wait for Alex to finish reading the question before they can buzz in.  There's a guy sitting at the producers' table who activates the buzzers.  If the button is pressed too early, that contestant is locked out for a quarter of a second - which is why, if you watch the show, you'll see people frantically pressing the button.  Once that lockout period is done, the buzzer is reactivated.  They encouraged me to press the button as many times as I could for the best chance of success.  One of the categories I could choose from was "Musical Numbers" - and despite not being a fan of Broadway by any stretch of the imagination, I had to try it.  The clues were all band names who had performed a song with number in the title, and we had to provide the number.  I ran the category - Tony Orlando & Dawn's "Knock Three Times" and U2's "One" are the only pairs I can remember.  I was pretty confident on the buzzer, I made sure not to bounce around like some of the other potentials were doing, and I spoke loudly and clearly - and most importantly, I smiled and reacted when something happened.

After the mock game, we were interviewed in front of everybody.  Once again, I took care to enunciate and to keep myself still.  It was hard to believe how many people were up there bouncing around, shifting back and forth, or constantly fidgeting.  Since I was going last, I had plenty of time to rehearse my answers in my head.  "What do you do at your job?"  "What are your hobbies?"  "What would you do if you won a ton of money?"  I had to distinguish myself from everybody else to be memorable.  Everybody says the thing for what they'd do if they were rich - travel.  "Ha ha, if I told you what I did every day, I'd have to kill you."  "Oh, I play a lot of bar trivia, I just bought a house that I'm slowly remodeling, I try to play golf even though I'm terrible at it, and I'm building my own arcade machine."  "Well, first off, I'd have to give some money to my church.  After that, I'd probably buy my girlfriend a ring, and then I'd buy a boat and we'd see how far around the world we could get."  I got a reaction on almost everything I said, and I made sure to provide enough detail that they didn't have to prod me to keep talking.  Game shows want people with personality, so I made sure to provide some.

Afterwards, they answered a few questions, thanked everybody for coming, and said goodbye.  I got back in my car, headed to a store that sold beer I can't buy in South Carolina, and headed back home.  I felt good about the audition, but only 10% of people who make it to an audition get chosen to be on the show, so I wrote it off as a fun day spent away from work and didn't think any more about it until I got a call from a 213 area code on the way to Greenville one weekend.  I had no idea who'd be calling me from a 213 number, much less what city it was.  Turns out, 213 is the area code for Los Angeles - which includes Hollywood.

(To read about the rest of the story, check out The Jeopardy Experience)

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  1. great story. Best part was stopping to buy the beer not found in SC.

  2. I’ll take “pissing in my pants” for 200, Alex.

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