Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Long-Overdue ‘Jeopardy!’ Tournament Report

 

The last time we met, I was contractually obligated to not divulge the results of shows I’d witnessed under pain and threat of retaliation from Quadra Productions… but now the world knows: I can officially say that I have both won and lost on “Jeopardy!”

When I think about it in retrospect, the whole experience was akin to an amusement park ride; the successful culmination of a 25-year long wait for an opportunity to demonstrate a peculiar sort of intellectual fortitude on one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious venues, made all the more incredible by the speed and ruthlessness with which this particular ride both begins and subsequently ends.

Let’s briefly review how it is that I came to be in this particular situation: Online Jeopardy test (passed) –> Invitation to Jeopardy Audition with test and mock game (passed… finally) –> fly to Los Angeles for taping on March 11, 2020 (arrived!) –> Show up with 11 other potentials for a full day of “Jeopardy!” Taping (witnessed, participated). More fleshed out details are available in my archive via the link above. So, what was all of this like? In a word: Intimidating.

For starters, everybody that you meet there is razor-sharp, and the mission you’ve assigned yourself (in my case, for years) is to take on these razor-sharp people and beat them in a nerd-fight for cash and glory. The level of preparation I saw around me from my fellow contestants left me somewhat embarrassed. Some of them claim to have devoured the entire J! Archive, which considering Jeopardy’s 36 seasons is a somewhat daunting task. Given a chance to do it over, I might have spent more time there (read: “some”) rather than my own, rather pallid attempts at self-help. My hours of studying did probably yield fruit in the field of Geography, but short of gaining more than a superficial knowledge of some of Shakespeare’s lesser plays, I still can’t tell if a different regimen would have worked better. (My episodes are archived here.)

But we should talk about the shows themselves! It’s hard to describe the sensation of building anticipation as you watch Jeopardy being played live, knowing all the while that you could be called at any moment to take your turn behind the lectern. Things moved incredibly fast. I watched the first show with two-day Champ Jesse (defeated by Ben Scripps) and then watched Ben win two in a row before he was unseated by Nathan Berger in a runaway, which led in turn to me being summoned, all within the span of a couple of hours. Your day as a Jeopardy Contestant is a blur.

Many people have a lot of misconceptions about the show. A lot of those misconceptions revolve around “what you’re told” as a contestant before the game. But as a matter of firsthand experience, I can guarantee you this: I had no idea what the content we were going to be asked about before those category cards were revealed. I wouldn’t call the showrunners “secretive,” as they will answer almost any question you ask them about the show’s functioning or history… but what they won’t ever talk about is content. You see, after the quiz show scandals of the ’50s, network standards and practices had a lawyer present in the studio to ensure that the entire enterprise is above-board and if you ever had a problem with the goings-on, they would serve as your advocate in order to rectify the situation.

Imagine my consternation when the first category revealed was essentially Potent Potables, and the reigning champ is a restaurateur. This is all luck of the draw, though. If you’re lucky, you get categories that are up your alley. If not? “Jeopardy!” is a once in a lifetime opportunity, unfortunately.

Well, if you watched the show, you know that I got out to a pretty nice lead by the end of the Jeopardy Round, including answering a $1,000 question about Fox Business correctly. I improved upon my lead in Double Jeopardy when I hit a Daily Double (Geography pays dividends!) and realistically could have put the game away if I had bet bigger (a recurring theme.) But I won nonetheless on a relatively easy category and question. Because I was unable to put the game away I did have the opportunity to bet “medium” to cover Michelle doubling her score (her bet was optimal, knowing I had to miss for her to win) while ending up with a Coryat Score of $17,400 – not too bad, if I say so myself!

In game two, I discovered several things, including that I am not James Holzhauer, and that Medical Doctors are also very bright.

Pursuant to point one, a bolder man with a huge lead in the Jeopardy round would have pushed all the chips in on that Daily Double. The game is never won in the first round, but going into Double Jeopardy with $14,000 would have been very close to an insurmountable lead. Also: I screwed up by not actively hunting for the Daily Double in the Physics category when I gained control of the board. I definitely would have gone pretty deep in that category in an effort to put the game away. Unfortunately, Double Jeopardy featured a bunch of categories not favorable to me, generally, and by the time I looked up and noticed that I had a massive lead in the first round I was starting to feel like I had vertigo. My brain felt like it had a bunch of bees buzzing around on the inside.

It’s very tiring to win on “Jeopardy!” That fatigue started to show, I think, as I only missed one question in the first game; a gimme where my brain and mouth failed to communicate on the 23rd Psalm. Here, I had a couple of inexplicable misses that I can only attribute to feeling slightly overwhelmed. But Morgan was also very bright, as was Charles.

I’m not greedy, but getting that second win would really have cemented my position. I can only solace myself with this quote:

“Any dream is a robust harvest. Still, I prefer the timeworn dreams, heavy with import, that haunt the obsessive mind.”

That is the flavor text on one of my all-time favorite Magic Cards: Thoughtseize. In this case, it’s true. The timeworn dreams, built over the course of two-and-a-half decades, culminated one rainy California afternoon in a mixture of sweet vindication and “woulda, shoulda, couldas”… the type that only a person who has been chasing this dream for this long could experience, one supposes. But I did it. And now, nobody can ever take the title “Jeopardy! Champion” off my curriculum vitae.

The dreams and the replays in the more obsessive parts of my mind have mostly burned themselves out by now, but I nonetheless get to relive the experience every day. How’s that, you ask? About that interview with Alex. How did that work out? Like this:

Published in Entertainment
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  1. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Completely interesting. Thanks!

    • #1
    • June 29, 2020, at 6:29 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thank you and congratulations. 

    • #2
    • June 29, 2020, at 6:34 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  3. spaceman_spiff Member
    spaceman_spiff Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    You rock! I’m not a dummy but I now I don’t have the chops for that game. Maybe I once did. I dunno but I know I don’t now. Anyway, great job!

    • #3
    • June 29, 2020, at 6:53 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    You and Troy Senik.

    • #4
    • June 29, 2020, at 7:12 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. danok1 Member

    Your description of a day on the Jeopardy! set rings true; it matches mine even after 20+ years. Did they take you to the commissary for lunch? We had to stay as a group when the contestant coordinators took us.

    • #5
    • June 29, 2020, at 7:24 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ!: Your day as a Jeopardy Contestant is a blur.

    Fact check: true. Even right after the fact, I could remember very little about the whole thing.

    Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ!: Many people have a lot of misconceptions about the show. A lot of those misconceptions revolve around “what you’re told” as a contestant before the game.

    Really? You’ve actually met people who think the contestants are tipped off ahead of time? I’ve never heard anyone even imply such a thing.

    • #6
    • June 29, 2020, at 7:31 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. The Cloaked Gaijin Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    You and Troy Senik.

    We need a Ricochet-type Jeopardy-style episode where Troy takes on his podcast partners Richard Epstein, John Yoo, and Victor Davis Hanson. Throw in Shawn Buell are other Ricochet-types who have appeared on game shows.

    • #7
    • June 29, 2020, at 7:35 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  8. tigerlily Member

    Congrats Shaun!

    • #8
    • June 29, 2020, at 8:18 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. ShaunaHunt Coolidge

    Congratulations!

    • #9
    • June 30, 2020, at 12:11 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. colleenb Member
    colleenb Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks for the report and congrats Jeopardy 🏆!

    • #10
    • June 30, 2020, at 3:15 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ!: Your day as a Jeopardy Contestant is a blur.

    Fact check: true. Even right after the fact, I could remember very little about the whole thing.

    Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ!: Many people have a lot of misconceptions about the show. A lot of those misconceptions revolve around “what you’re told” as a contestant before the game.

    Really? You’ve actually met people who think the contestants are tipped off ahead of time? I’ve never heard anyone even imply such a thing.

    Many. In fact, I would say that aside from “how did you get on Jeopardy?” This was the most frequently asked question I’ve received.

    I think people have a conspiratorial mindset when it comes to TV.

    • #11
    • June 30, 2020, at 5:19 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    danok1 (View Comment):

    Your description of a day on the Jeopardy! set rings true; it matches mine even after 20+ years. Did they take you to the commissary for lunch? We had to stay as a group when the contestant coordinators took us.

    That’s exactly what they did. We had our own section in the commissary sort of cordoned off and lunch was good!

    • #12
    • June 30, 2020, at 5:50 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Sweet ride!

    • #13
    • June 30, 2020, at 5:58 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Nice. I haven’t watched the episodes yet. Just one question: did you mention Ricochet? 

    • #14
    • June 30, 2020, at 6:51 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Nice. I haven’t watched the episodes yet. Just one question: did you mention Ricochet?

    Alas, you are banned from plugging.

    • #15
    • June 30, 2020, at 7:04 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Hoyacon Member

    Do you think that failing to wear a tie during the second contest was a deciding factor?

    • #16
    • June 30, 2020, at 8:11 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Mendel Member
    Mendel Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    You and Troy Senik.

    And John Podhoretz.

    danok1 (View Comment):
    Your description of a day on the Jeopardy! set rings true;

    Wait, you too?

    Charlotte (View Comment):
    Fact check: true.

    Wait, you too?

    How many former Jeopardy contestants do we have on this site? In any case, I’m jealous of all of you.

    And congratulations Maj!

    • #17
    • June 30, 2020, at 8:15 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  18. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Do you think that failing to wear a tie during the second contest was a deciding factor?

    I believe it probably choked the life out of my championship!

    • #18
    • June 30, 2020, at 8:25 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The inability to rapidly match the brain to the mouth to the hand for the buzzer is a significant reason I’ve never even considered attempting for the show, despite growing up watching it after dinner for years on end. It’s a rare combo of traits for people to make it on the show at all. Well done!

    • #19
    • June 30, 2020, at 1:03 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  20. danok1 Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    The inability to rapidly match the brain to the mouth to the hand for the buzzer is a significant reason I’ve never even considered attempting for the show, despite growing up watching it after dinner for years on end. It’s a rare combo of traits for people to make it on the show at all. Well done!

    In most cases I was able to read the clue and either know the answer, narrow it down, or know not to ring in well before Alex finished reading. The trick was getting Trebeck’s rhythm right so I could hit the buzzer just as he finished and before the other contestants.

    • #20
    • June 30, 2020, at 1:23 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  21. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    danok1 (View Comment):
    The trick was getting Trebeck’s rhythm right so I could hit the buzzer just as he finished and before the other contestants.

    Once you get the cadence down you’re pretty well set. It actually changes a bit when they do video or Clue Crew stuff, which busted me once, I think.

    • #21
    • June 30, 2020, at 2:25 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! (View Comment):

    danok1 (View Comment):
    The trick was getting Trebeck’s rhythm right so I could hit the buzzer just as he finished and before the other contestants.

    Once you get the cadence down you’re pretty well set. It actually changes a bit when they do video or Clue Crew stuff, which busted me once, I think.

    Nice avatar. 

    • #22
    • June 30, 2020, at 2:32 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. danok1 Member

    Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! (View Comment):

    danok1 (View Comment):
    The trick was getting Trebeck’s rhythm right so I could hit the buzzer just as he finished and before the other contestants.

    Once you get the cadence down you’re pretty well set. It actually changes a bit when they do video or Clue Crew stuff, which busted me once, I think.

    Yup. Once I got the rhythm down I was good, until there was a break (Daily Doubles, audio clues, etc.). Then it took a few clues to get back in sync.

    • #23
    • June 30, 2020, at 2:56 PM PDT
    • Like