February 11, 2009

This .... Is .... Jeopardy!

Well, not yet.

Today I auditioned for the game show Jeopardy! (That exclamation mark is included, by the way. I'm excited, but not that excited. In fact, by the time I got there I was mostly nervous and ill at ease.)

From the beginning.

Paul was on Jeopardy! in 1988. We watch it pretty much every night. I took the test with friends when I was in my 20s and didn't do very well. As I recall, we had 10 minutes to answer 50 questions at the TV studio and I didn't come close.

I took the online test about a year ago, before we moved to Long Beach. I got an e-mail in July notifying me I had passed the test and was invited to audition in August. As it turned out, I ended up going to Beijing, so I sent back an e-mail asking if I could postpone. They said they'd put my name back on the list. Then, in early January I got another e-mail inviting me to an audition in February.

So I took the morning off and drove to a hotel near LAX for my Jeopardy audition. The e-mail said I would have to take another 50-question test, play a mock version of the game and be interviewed. There were 20 people there, not all of them local as I had assumed. Four were women; the other three were older than I. A few men were under 30, and none appeared over about 55. About half had tried out once before. The youngest appeared to be a law student at the University of Washington.

I thought it would be a lot of fun, but as it got closer I started to wonder, "What was I thinking?" I mean, I don't like to speak in front of people, I'm shy with people I don't know, I'm not a rah-rah game show person and I could, conceivably, make a monumental fool out of myself. All of those things trump being on TV, as a concept. Even on Jeopardy!

The people in charge were really excited. Trying to get our energy up. "This is a game show tryout! Have some fun!" It wasn't a fun crowd. They talked about the show, and we all played a quick mock game, raising our hands instead of pressing buzzers. They wanted us to be sure to wait until they finished reading the question.

Then came the 50-question test. I don't know for sure how I did. There were six questions I didn't know the answer to. Couldn't even guess. I probably guessed at another six, and I know I got at least two of those right. I'm guessing I didn't do any worse than 40 right, but probably not better than 42. I don't imagine I'll ever know.

I didn't study for the test. One guy said he'd talked to an ex-Jeopardy champion (and the prospective candidates seemed to know a lot of ex-Jeopardy champions) and the guy suggested he study up on rocks. So he went to the Museum of Natural History.

They asked that we not discuss the specifics of the test with anyone. I guess they use the same test each time, although that doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? If, as they say, they get a thousand-plus candidates each season and only 450 or so get on, that's a lot of people who might talk.

Then we played the mock game, in threes. To practice calling the categories and answering in the form of a question and ringing in properly. That's a big one. You have to wait till the lights at the side of the screen light up (and Alex -- or in this case whoever is talking -- finishes the question) before you ring in. Then, you're supposed to press the button continuously. I didn't do too badly at the mock game. Answered wrong once when I rang in. The category was Broadway shows and I said Pajama Party instead of Pajama Game. I don't remember what the clue was -- there was something tricky about it; it wasn't straightforward. But that was another lesson: Don't correct yourself out loud or your neighbor will surely get the answer when it's his turn.

After that, the interviews. This, to me, was the most disheartening part. Not watching the other players answer or wondering how they did on their 50 questions. Nope, it was listening to their interviews and discovering just how many interesting people there were in that room. A physician who specializes in infectious diseases. A dozen lawyers. A handful more with advanced degrees. People who have traveled to much more exotic places than I. A man who hopes to spend his winnings on an expedition up Mount Everest. A sportswriter who used to be in the Peace Corps. And I was the 17th person interviewed. I'd already heard about the dozen or more people who had big cats (a lot of cat people ... interpret that as you like), people who had visited exotic places, people who had funny or embarrassing stories. And while I was sitting there hearing those stories it dawned on me how I should have written on my information sheet (how hard would it have been to work in the fact i'd been in Hong Kong the last several months?) ... but it was too late.

So I don't think I embarrassed myself. I don't think anyone was saying ... how did she get here? I do think they were thinking -- hmmm, she could have a more interesting life.

Isn't that funny?

Next, I wait. They said it could take up to 18 months to get called ... or not called. That's how long a prospective contestant is on the list. If I get the call, I'm on the show, this much I know. And I'll cram on presidents and Shakespeare, avoid science and poetry, and hope for the best.