Five Things I Learned as a Jeopardy! Contestant
I've been a Jeopardy! fan since the bushy-Trebek-mustache era, so I was pumped when my third attempt to get on the show finally paid off. I was a pretty successful contestant; going into Final Jeopardy, I even got to hear Alex Trebek utter the magic words: "But Andy Hermann could not be caught."
Photo by Gerald Metz Your humble correspondent, Jeopardy! champ.
So yeah, for one game, I crushed it. My second game, not so much. The fatal blow came when I guessed Ajax instead of Achilles on a Greek literature "Daily Double" -- a $3,000 mistake. If only I had watched that crappy Brad Pitt Troy movie. I'll take Sour Grapes for $200, Alex!
Besides the difference between Ajax and Achilles, here are a few other things I learned en route to becoming a one-time Jeopardy! champion.
5. There are no stupid contestants.
Yes, even that one dude who got sent packing with negative-$4,000 probably is smarter than you. To get on Jeopardy!, you have to answer approximately a zillion trivia questions, many of them at an in-person audition with contestant coordinators barking things at you like, "Speak up! Don't slouch! Enunciate! Look like you're happy to be here!" The people who get on the show are basically the SEAL Team 6 of trivia dorks. So why do some of them crash and burn in such spectacular fashion?
4. TV cameras make people lose their shit.
The first thing they make you do on the Jeopardy! set is tape what they call a "hometown howdy," a five-second promo of you saying something ridiculous like, "Hi, I'm Jack from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. See how 'rapidly' I can rack up the bucks on Jeopardy!"
Everyone fucks this up. During mine, I fell apart in spectacular fashion: "Hi, Los Angeles! I'm Andy Highland from Hermann Park. Win me watch big on Jeopardy!"
It turns out that when there's a giant TV camera pointing at you with its beady red "On" light gleaming like the Eye of Sauron, you struggle to remember your own name, much less the capital of Slovakia. They let all the contestants play some mock warm-up games to loosen up, but some people just never get over their camera-induced paralysis.
3. They tape five shows a day, two days a week.
Although this is a pretty sweet deal for Alex Trebek, it's hell on the contestants, because there's 11 of you (two challengers per game, plus an alternate) and you have no idea which show you'll be on. Ten minutes before each taping, they pull names out of a hat, point at you and say, "You're up!" So you're on edge all day.
Once you've won, it becomes an ever tougher endurance test. If you win a Monday show (i.e., the first show of the taping day), you're looking at potentially four more shows over the next five hours. If you win a Friday show, you might have five days off to psych yourself out before you come back. In my case, I won a Wednesday show and then, amped on adrenaline, committed the classic blunder of overeating at lunch. Not that I'm blaming my loss on my digestive tract, but you try winning a nationally televised game show with half a pound of fried chicken in your gut. It's a wonder I could even keep my eyes open.
Turn the page for more things Andy Hermann learned on Jeopardy!, including the real secret to winning.