One of the questions I get most about my Jeopardy experience is, "What's Alex Trebek like, and why doesn't he have a mustache anymore?" I confess that I struggle to answer both questions with any degree of certainty. There is not very much host-contestant contact on Jeopardy. During the morning practice sessions one of the producers reads the questions, with nary a glimpse of Mr. Trebek until the very beginning of the first game. There is the brief interview session after the first commercial break, and then about 90 seconds of chat after the game. That is the extent of the direct contact.
Mr. Trebek seems stately and unflappable, which is understandable after nearly 30 years at the helm of a wildly successful game show. I did get the sense that Mr. Trebek has an acerbic and rather caustic wit. During the commercial breaks he will often field questions from audience members. One of the questioners asked why Mr. Trebek had never played as a contestant. He replied that he was a bit concerned about another host doing a fantastic job and thus giving the producers some ideas about replacing Mr. Trebek. "And they haven't had a good idea in years," Mr. Trebek dryly added.
One of the things that surprises many people is that on tape days Jeopardy films five shows: three before lunch and two after lunch. There is minimal time between games, perhaps five to ten minutes, which allows the returning champion to switch clothes and thus give the appearance to the viewing audience that an entire day has passed. My first game was the second show of the day. My second show was filmed immediately afterward, yet aired an entire month later on broadcast television, due to the airing of two tournaments. Roughly five minutes of actual downtime became "It's been a long wait for our returning champion, Patrick." Such is the magic of television.
The contestant coordinators -- Robert, Maggie, and Glenn -- are all terrific and do as much as possible to make each contestant feel relaxed and comfortable playing on the big stage and under the bright lights. (Maggie in particular is a geyser of positive energy and encouragement.) The morning practice sessions help ease some of the tension, while also a good opportunity to gauge the capabilities of the other contestants (some of whom give off the "just happy to be there" vibe). Mastering the buzzer is certainly something that requires considerable effort, and some contestants never really seem to get the hang of it. One must wait until Mr. Trebek has finished reading the question before a set of lights go on, allowing you to ring in. Ringing in too early locks you out for ¼ of a second. The key is to anticipate the moment the question will be finished, because waiting for the visual cue often leads to being beaten out.
While the morning practice sessions are undeniably helpful, nothing can really prepare you for the pressure of the live game. The lights, the cameras, Mr. Trebek's regal presence, other quality contestants ringing in before you, all of this can make life very difficult. I know I was quite nervous initially in the first game, not even ringing in until the seventh question. (My sister Elizabeth told me afterwards, "Oh my god, I thought you were NEVER going to ring in!" It's important to be surrounded by a lot of positive support.) Eventually, however, I was able to ring in, and ended up winning the first game by a slim margin over Danny Parra.
I felt much more comfortable going into the second game, as winning one game takes some of the pressure off. I won the second game by a heftier margin than the first, as the categories/questions were more to my liking. Lunch at the Sony Studios cafeteria was sadly uneventful, as there was no celebrity sightings that day. (At least none that I recognized. It is entirely possible I sat near a Franklin & Bash cast member.) My third game of the day, the one directly after lunch, was another tight contest in which I won because I answered the Final Jeopardy correctly. Both Susannah and Andrew were great players, and neither one missed a question before the final, which is incredibly impressive. It's a fairly obvious point, but playing at home is MUCH easier than playing in studio. The bright television lights can do some strange things (like lead me to answer that Carnegie Mellon is in Philadelphia or that Qatar is located on the Mediterranean Sea. There goes my invitation to the 2022 World Cup). When playing the actual game, I contend that there really is no "easy" question. If this all sounds very self-serving and defensive, well, yes, of course. Someone has to defend my bad answers.
After three victories and some $80,000 in winnings I was feeling pretty good, though somewhat dazed and mentally drained. If there had been a decision to pack up and postpone the fifth game for another day, I would have happily agreed. Alas, it was not to be. The fifth and last game of the day saw me get knocked around by David Gard, who is quite an impressive player and deserving champion. I managed to briefly wrest the lead from David during Double Jeopardy until landing on a Daily Double in "The Post Man's Here" category. Of course, readers of this blog post will likely know that Stuart Whatley is the managing blog editor of The Huffington Post (actually he is the senior blog editor, as it turns out); I, however, did not. For some reason my mind was strictly on print media, and The Huffington Post never even entered my mind, though I was certainly aware of it. I lost $2,200 by answering incorrectly, and was never able to regain the lead, as my knowledge of movie dog breeds proved to be sorely lacking. (Brussels griffon? Not in this life.) Even though I answered Final Jeopardy correctly, I was not able to catch David, and finished in second place.
Though losing the final game of the day certainly put a damper on things, overall my experience was fantastic. Everyone involved in the production of the show was tremendous and a true professional (especially the makeup artists, who managed to turn my pale Irish skin into something relatively acceptable for television viewing). There have been so many incredibly impressive players who have not had the good fortune to win three games that I cannot consider myself anything but fortunate to have been a Jeopardy champion.
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