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Bill Mann

Bill Mann

Posted: May 14, 2009 09:06 AM

Think You'll Get on Jeopardy!? Sorry, Incorrect Answer!


Think it's easy to get on Jeopardy! based on ability alone?

Wrong answer.

You might do well on the show, as this long-time Jeopardy! viewer still suspects. But actually getting there is, well, brutal -- actually, almost impossible. I found out the hard way.

I've been watching Jeopardy! for ages, and can rattle off correct answers as I watch at home with the best of them. How many people can actually name the guy who shot McKinley? (Czolgosz.) Or know Morocco's capital? (Rabat.) This, sadly, is the result of reading almanacs and atlases while growing up -- instead of literature.

I managed, through my newspaper-critic connections, to cadge an invitation to the Jeopardy! contestant tryouts in San Francisco.

Some 200 of us were ushered into a hotel ballroom equipped with projector and big screen. We were to answer 50 questions (NOT in the form of a question!), and had only 15 seconds each.

This, I was sure, would be a snap. I was almost salivating. (Who is Pavlov?)

The questions were projected on the screen, briskly. After four or five, I knew I was in big trouble and that my Jeopardy! dreams of well-deserved wealth were crumbling. (What is "incredulous," Alex?).

Most of the questions were far harder than the most difficult ones on the TV show. I looked around and saw other would-be contestants' brows dotted with perspiration.

We were asked later not to give the quiz away. But enough of a decent interval has passed that I can comfortably speak out today. The questions were so tough -- harder than Final Jeopardy! questions -- I only remember a couple of the "easier" ones.

One: Where does linseed oil come from? A. What is flax? (Missed that one)

Two: Where were the ruins of the city of Troy unearthed? ( I incorrectly guessed Greece, even suspecting it was wrong). A. What is Turkey?

Out of 200 hard-core Jeopardy!-philes, how many of us passed the brutal qualifying test?

Seven.

Feeling truly dumb, I sulked out of the room. I asked a retired schoolteacher next to me how she did.

"I've never felt so stupid in my life," she replied. Exactly.

Later, I found the Jeopardy! contestant coordinator who was running this event. I was going to write my TV column about this humiliating experience.

Why was the test so bloody difficult? I asked.

"We don't need that many people for the show," she shrugged. "We already have plenty of names in our contestant files."

Of the seven who passed here today, I asked, how many would actually get on the show?

"Maybe one or two."

So, will YOU be the next Ken Jennings? (He's the game show's all-time leading money winner.)

Q. What is "fat chance?"