All it took was one phone call from Jeopardy! Senior Publicity Coordinator Susie Eun, and I was off and running recently to catch up with Glenn Kagan and some new potential Jeopardy! candidates who were already in a neat formal line, ready for their 9 a.m. session to begin. These candidates had already been screened, and had passed the online test before they even got to the Doubletree. However, they would now have to go through the more formal in-person Jeopardy! test and audition process. How they would fare today would depend on their knowledge; cool, wit, personality, and perhaps to some degree a combination of all the aforementioned.
I caught up with Glenn Kagan, the Contestant Coordinator for Jeopardy!, and asked him how long he has been with Jeopardy!, a show whose origins date back to Merv Griffin and the year 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson was president.
Q -- How long have you been with the show?
A -- I have been with Jeopardy! for the last 25 years and I have been the Contestant Coordinator with the show for that period of time. The nicest thing about this job is that it has given me the opportunity to travel. A lot of shows don't have it in the budget to travel outside of the city that they are produced in, but with our show we have been very fortunate to travel all over the country to audition people, especially during the summer hiatus when we are not taping. This is when we are doing extensive traveling. We go to various parts of the U.S. and parts of Canada. This has enabled many people to attend our auditions in their local towns, making things easier on them from a traveling standpoint.
Q -- Just for the record, what season number is this for Jeopardy?
A -- We just finished season number 28, and are heading into our 29th season soon. We start taping the brand new season in the third week of July. Alex (the Jeopardy! Host) and Johnny Gilbert have both been together for that period of time as well.
Q -- Do you know if Alex (Alex Trebek the legendary host of Jeopardy!) will ever run out of gas?
A -- Well I have to tell you that he is a wonderful person to work with. For 25 years I have had the pleasure of traveling with him. By the time he sees the contestants, they are ready to go live on the air. He really gets a kick out of doing this show every day, as everything in terms of greeting and meeting the people is a new fresh experience for him.
Q -- The contestants here at the Doubletree were informed that there is an 18 month window of time in which they can possibly be called to compete on the show. Can some anticipate hearing back from staff sooner than that?
A -- You know it all depends on the layout of the show. There are times when we lay shows out and get people from all over, and not just from the Los Angeles area. We try to get a smattering of people from all over the country with different occupations and so forth, enabling us to put forth a well balanced show.
Q -- Glenn you have managed to stay employed and work for Jeopardy! and Mr. Trebek for over a quarter of a century now... now that's impressive in and of itself. What are your plans for the future?
A -- I have been very fortunate to be with this wonderful show for over 25 years... to me every day is brand new because of the contestants, which makes the working environment very fresh for us. I enjoy doing what I do, it's such a great show to work on. We are a family here where everyone knows one another. A lot of people have been around for as long as myself and in some cases even a bit longer. I can't see myself going anywhere else because I am so fortunate (knocks on wood motion) to be here and I really enjoy what I do, and how many people can say that? As long as this show is around, and as long as they have me, I'm here to stay.
After the interview with Glenn, I was able to corral a few contestants who were about to take the in person test and audition... The first was a gentleman named Peter Schwarz, 34, from San Diego, California.
Q -- How much time has elapsed for you to get to the point that you are now, here at the Double Tree in Culver City... this time taking the in-person test and audition?
A -- That's a good question. I would say a good four to five months. I took the test back in January or February online. What was remarkable for me was that I hadn't heard back from them in a while, so I had assumed I had done poorly on the online test. Then two weeks ago I received an email saying you need to be in Culver City. I was able to drive up for a few hours on the 405 but I had heard that one gentleman came as far as Canada. That really speaks to the popularity and draw of this show from my perspective.
Q -- How long have you been a fan of Jeopardy!?
A -- I can say definitely since elementary school, certainly since the fourth or fifth grade. So that's going back some 25 plus years.
Q -- What aspects in particular of the show seem to appeal to you the most?
A -- My parents were fans when it came on in the 80s, and so I picked it up by watching it with them and grew to love the show. I was always a trivia geek if you will through junior high and high school.
The second contestant I interviewed was Frances Kriegh, from San Francico, Ca.
Q -- It's a pleasure to meet you Ms. Kriegh. How did you arrive here?
A -- I flew down yesterday from the Bay area for this Jeopardy! audition; stayed with some friends, and I'm going back up in a couple of hours.
Q -- How long have you been a fan of the show?
A -- Probably at least ten to fifteen years. My husband and I watch every night and he actually tried out last year and came down here. And so our dream is to compete against one another one day.
Q -- How is your energy level at this point in the process?
A -- Well everything moves rapidly, and so you really have to be very quick and on top of things because they move on to the next question very fast, whether or not you get the answer correct or not.
Q -- What specific elements of Jeopardy! attracted you the most?
A -- I think it's the clever way the clues are written; the word play, the puns, so it's the fun of getting the answers right but also it requires you to think more than any other game show.
Q -- Is it safe to say that you were very good at English coming up as a young student?
A -- I was an English major!
Next up was one John Coulter, from Illinois originally, but currently residing in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Q -- How did you arrive?
A -- I flew in and stayed with some friends who stay nearby.
Q -- How long have you followed the show?
A -- I started watching in the 80's as a kid, and actually tried out for Teen Jeopardy! around '89. I then started watching again with my kids recently.
Q -- Have you ever competed in any other types of game shows?
A -- Well in high school I was in Quiz Bowl. It was basically a type of Jeopardy! format, so instead of playing football I was answering various trivia questions. So I was into it then, which was late 80s, early 90s. My daughter who is ten now started watching a couple of years back and as a result my interest in the show was renewed. Soon after I took the online test back in February of this year, when I hadn't heard anything for a few months. Then; recently, on the CBS Morning Show there was a piece that was being done on Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, which my daughter happened to be watching. She then asked me "Whatever happened to the Jeopardy! Online test results? I told her I guess I didn't do well, but that next Monday I got the email saying come to L.A. to audition and take the in person test!
Q -- What would you do with the money if you won big on the show?
A -- Well I would definitely travel, having never been to Europe. I do speak some Spanish, having been in the Peace Corp. in the Dominican Republic for two and half years (it's also where I met my wife), so I speak Dominican Spanish. And so I would love to travel to Spain, and then possibly to France as I have a friend who lives there.
The last contestant I interviewed was a gentleman named Sanjoy Bhattacharya who was originally from Chicago but was now residing in Utah. Bhattacharya flew in the morning of the auditions, and had a flight scheduled to take him out of L.A. later that day. Mr. Bhattacharya contributed his unique attempt at levity with great results when he mentioned that while on a trip to Thailand he learned that he was in fact a King himself. The story went that Mr. Bhattacharya and his wife were waiting on a train platform along with some other travelers when short man of about 5 feet 4 inches or so approached them and some other travelers, hoping to practice some of his English. After conversing with the man for a while, Bhattacharya eventually informed the man that he was from Calcutta, India. Bhattacharya, who was 30lbs heavier at the time, informed the contestant coordinators and audition staff (as well as the room full of contestants) that the man told him that "you are so big; you must be the King of Calcutta! And so it was that contestant Bhattacharya learned that he was in fact a King!
Q -- It's not often that an entertainment journalist gets to rub shoulders with royalty, much less be in the presence of a King. Needless to say, I am honored! (Bhattacharya has a good, hearty laugh). Can you share your thoughts about this Jeopardy! audition and test process so far?
A -- I think it went extremely well. They have kept things very lively in there. I think people were very enthusiastic coming here anyways. I can imagine it can be a little nerve-racking for some people, but Glenn did a great job of creating a great atmosphere and all went well.
Q -- How long have you been a fan of Jeopardy!?
A -- Well, my family moved to the U.S. from India in 1967. As far back as I can remember which I was watching in the late 60s going back to the Art Fleming (the original host of Jeopardy!) days.
Q -- What has been your number one motivation to get on the Jeopardy! show thus far?
A -- Part of it is because I have loved knowledge and trivia based games all of my life. I have been a game and sports player for a long time as well and I enjoy the competition and receive a great deal of fun and enjoyment from the process. I play Jeopardy! every day with friends just for the fun of it... money is not the motivation.