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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: