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Secret Stuff: Trivia on Trivia


Our Jeopardy experiences

This page includes three items. Laura's Ottawa City article on her appearance on Jeopardy in 2004; my article on my audition back in 1996; and a ridiculously long item on how both Laura and I qualified in 2003 and on my advice and impressions, which I hope will be useful for those auditioning for the show, and those chosen to go on! I also have some links to some interesting Jeopardy sites.

Jeopardy is a trademark of Sony Pictures Studios and, obviously, no attempt is made here to infringe on that trademark or to make commercial gain from the use of that trademark.

Laura's article on her appearance

This is Laura's original draft. The actual article appearing in Ottawa City was much shorter.

Why on earth would anyone want to go on a quiz show?

I mean, really. It's like taking a pop quiz in front of millions of people, all of whom are sitting at home yelling, "You idiot! Everyone knows that the capital of Chad is N'Djamena!"

Fortunately, I won't be able to hear the vast majority of those people when my 22-minute brush with fame airs on the May 17th episode of Jeopardy!

Back in February, I found myself at the Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California, and it's all my husband Paul's fault. You see, auditioning for Jeopardy! (yes, the annoying exclamation point is part of the name) was his idea. We both tried out while on vacation in L.A. last June and both qualified. Then we were added to a list of possible contestants and came home to wait for The Call.

The great irony is that Paul should have been called instead of me. He's the Trivia King, after all, and knows far more than I do about the arcane workings of the solar system and American sports leagues. I'm more of a very minor Trivia Princess. But the telephone bell tolled for me, so back to L.A. we went.

The day of the taping, I took a shuttle to the studio with all the other contestants and tried to forget that Paul, on learning of its existence, had instantly dubbed it The Nerd Bus. Off we drove along sunny, palm-fringed streets, each dreaming of the ways we would spend the riches we soon hoped to win. Well, at least I was.

The Sony property was once the MGM studio, so you enter through a big gate just like the ones in old movies. In fact, one of the biggest kicks of the day for me, since I'm a huge Jimmy Stewart fan, was the fact that the shuttle bus let us out in the Jimmy Stewart Memorial Parking Lot. (But really, the guy is one of the biggest stars Hollywood ever produced, and all he gets is a parking lot?)

We were deposited on a set of park benches inside a parking garage to wait for our handler. The Jeopardy! folks, like all game show people, are fanatical about security. Ever since the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, they've been terrified that contestants will try to fix a game. From the moment we entered the lot until our moment in the spotlight was done, we would be shepherded like strangers visiting CSIS, all in an effort to keep us from accidentally encountering and interrogating one of the show's writers.

Finally, a Sony shuttle came to collect us and dropped us off in front of a completely unremarkable looking building. Up a set of metal stairs we trooped, each of us carrying luggage with two complete changes of clothes in it. Five shows are taped every day, and in the happy event you win, you have to be able to change clothes quickly.

Unfortunately, the luggage made me feel like a contestant on a reality show, about to be voted off the island or fired by Donald Trump.

We spent most of the pre-show time filling out forms. Many, many forms, at least one of them longer than the average mortgage contract. Releases, permissions, indemnity clauses. If I ever have a first-born child, I may have to name it Alex, for all I know.

As I was stuffing my face with a free jelly doughnut, I heard Maggie, the ebullient contestant coordinator, call my name. Diverted by carbs, I didn't know what was up.

"You're on," she informed me.

"First?” Apparently, I was off to my appointment with destiny without a preview. Yikes.

The coordinators herded us out to the set, which is blue and glassy and surprisingly small. I caught sight of Paul in the audience and waved like a lunatic—almost exactly as I'd waved at my mother going up the aisle to my First Communion many years ago. I got almost the same tolerant stare, which I interpreted as, "Hey, this kid's just way too uncool." Only later did I learn that the audience members had been instructed not to make any kind of eye contact with "their" contestant, in case they'd tackled and tortured a writer out in the hall and were thinking of transmitting the questions and answers to the stage via mental telepathy.

We each got a chance to practice ringing in with the buzzers. Then, before I really realized what was happening, I was up on a box (the Jeopardy! people like all the contestants to be roughly the same height—it makes things simple for the camera operators), in between two tall, nice men. That familiar theme music started playing, the camera swooped over the audience, and it was show time.

Alex Trebek emerged from backstage and moved to the podium. All of a sudden, questions were coming at us thick and fast.

To my delight, I managed not to make too much of a fool of myself during the "chat with the terrified contestants" segment of the show. Granted, I've been dining out on my story (the fact that my birth announcement appeared in my hometown newspaper's classified section under the heading "Livestock for Sale") since I was a child, so at least I didn't trip over my tongue in telling it.

Before you ask, I can't tell you whether I won or lost. The first thing I learned about being on a game show is that game shows involve a lot of paperwork. Contracts longer than my mortgage agreement. Waivers and permission forms and all sorts of hoo-hah. And in big bold letters, it tells me—and I'm paraphrasing a bit here—that if I reveal the outcome of the show before the airdate, the Jeopardy! gods will fire their Hollywood lightning bolts at me and strike me dead.

So please don't ask. Let me just put it this way: I'm not looking for a tax shelter in the Caymans just yet.

But I can tell you that when it was all over, Paul and I simply walked across the lot and out to the sidewalk to get a cab. There wasn't even a Nerd Bus to shuttle us back to the hotel.