I’m supposed to be writing about e-Voting – which I think is the most important issue – the port issues, the horrible bombing of the al-Askari shrine in Iraq, or something else momentous and weighty.
Instead I want to blog about Jeopardy.
Kevin Drum just went and took (and I presume, passed) the test to get onto the show.
And sitting here watching the Winter Olympics I had a major flash of deja-vu, and thought I’d take a moment and write about it. You see, it’s time to start panning for our annual Arbor Day party.
Eight years ago, almost exactly, we got cable TV installed so we could watch the Winter Olympics. I’m not sure why I have such a jones for the Winter Olympics; I took a couple of years off to see if I could get good enough at something (cycling track sprints) to go (the answer was no – actually, HELL no). We got it taken out the week after it ended – and we’ll probably do that again now.
This was the Nagano Olympics.
You may recall the TV coverage of that Olympiad. It – kindly – sucked.
So our family sat around the TV and did what normal Americans do. We watched Jeopardy. And I got engaged in the all-American enterprise of abusing the contestants.
“How the %$@@! can you not know the answer to that question!“
“What are you doing on national television! You’re an idiot!“
My sons, who worship and respect me in all things, gently suggested that if I was so smart, perhaps I ought to try out and go on the show.
I explained to them that no real people go on game shows; I believed that everyone involved was an unemployed actor.
Six weeks later, I was driving to the Sony lot in Culver City to take my test. I’ll skip over the details of how I wound up there, except to note that my sons have always been good at forging my signature, and that the father of multiple sons is always walking a fine line, risking losing his status as the alpha primate in the household.
I’d crammed an encyclopedia of television, and one of sports, and walked in confident I’d pass the test and take home bragging rights to my sons.
I did pass, and I not only bragged but abused the boys. My chores? Theirs now. After all, I’d passed the Jeopardy test.
My confidence lasted two months.
My office phone rang. “Hi, Marc! This is Greg from Jeopardy! We’d like you to come down on Thursday and tape with us. Does that work for you?“
Abada-abada-abada – I told him I’d have to see if I could clear my calendar and get back to him.
When I can’t make up my mind, I tend to do impromptu focus groups. So I called several friends.
After the third one suggested that he’d come to the office and drag my sorry butt to the studio, I called Greg and got my instructions.
I drove onto the lot with my four changes of clothes, parked, and walked to the studio, where I checked in.
They had a covey of unemployed comedians (actually, if they were working, they weren’t unemployed, I guess) who acted as our handlers. They were funny, engaging, helpful, and full of lore.
“Don’t eat the pink donut! If someone eats the pink donut, the show will have technical problems.“
I ate the pink donut.
So we went out on the set, and played some practice games.
What you can’t see on TV is the bank of lights recessed around the question screens; a producer hits a button when Alex is done asking the question, and then and only then can the button you have in your hand buzz you in. There’s a certain amount of anticipation – kind of like a drag racer – and the lights are activated by someone listening to Alex like you are. So you can’t key off the lights…
If you buzz too soon, your buzzer locks out for about half a second. Every time you hit the buzzer, it locks for a moment (less than half a second, I think); so the key here is to hit it once, and then with the right rhythm.
We got our pictures taken with Alex; here’s mine – note the somewhat sour look on his face; I’d just given him rabbit ears in our first picture. I’d expected a dry – oh, no one’s ever done that before – and got a bolt of pure rage. He was furious with me.
I’ll note that I got the call the day after I got the first – and only – buzz cut of my adult life.
So I assumed – between the pink donut and pissing the host off – that I was going to be in the pool of people who didn’t get on – they film five shows a day; there is one returning winner, and so they need ten new contestants a day, and they bring fourteen.
I didn’t mind not getting on – it meant I got props for going, and didn’t actually have to go on – and just rolled with it.
There was a young guy – one of the straightest people I’ve ever met (he made Kevin Drum look like Mike Ness) – who went into the first game, and blew everyone out. He was great!
I kind of became his handler. He was so stressed when he came off that he’d sweated through his shirt and his jacket; I’d help him get new clothes out, get a drink, and remind him to breathe.
Game two, he blew everyone out again.
Game three, the audio system failed, so we had lunch early. The handlers glared at me. They got it fixed, and he blew everyone out.
Game four, they called him, and then, surprisingly, they turned to me…
…and I was on Jeopardy!
The game itself was a kind of a blur; it’s funny that today I still clearly remember hanging out in the green room and eating the pink donut, and that I only have four memories of the game itself.
I was ahead early, and there was a moment when I went “whew! this isn’t so hard!” On the tape, you can see me visibly exhale and relax.
When we did our stories – the little self-revelatory anecdotes – mine ran wayyy too long. I frantically tried to wrap it up while Trebek glared at me some more.
The third contestant with us was a nice woman from Oregon who answered maybe three questions the whole show. When she buzzed in the first time, I rember looking at her in amazement. the tape shows me looking at her with a “where did you come from?” look.
And at the very end, when I realized that I didn’t know the answer to Final Jeopardy, I started to write a smartass answer until I realized that they’d been very clear – if we did anything political, or obscene, or obviously stupid, our taping would be ended and we’d be gone. I frantically rewrote my answer to something lame but plausible.
“What holiday is celebrated on March 7 in California, April 23 in Nebraska, and March 26 in Spain?”
I’ve hated Arbor Day ever since then…
The winner wasn’t me – and he went on to win all five games that day.
It was huge fun. I won a cool trip to the Caribbean and got to take the boys for a week, and I’ve got this picture of me and Alex Trebeck.
My advice for Kevin? Practice buzzing with a ball-point pen. And eat the pink donut.