It’s not everyday someone can show up to Sony Entertainment and expect to tape Jeopardy! So needless to say, this was a big deal. Forget that this has been on my bucket list. Forget that I’ve been watching Jeopardy! for a very long time (remembering specifically that the 1991Tournament of Champions was my first real memory of watching it, on an old school TV in my bedroom). The only thing I needed to focus on was showing up….and hopefully winning.
I wait in the lobby of my hotel and catch the shuttle to Sony. A few of the contestants were very chatty near the front of the shuttle bus. Us in the back were a little less chatty. I make conversation with a couple of people behind me (one who I later find out is the returning champion, Dan McShane – who is building a big schoolgirl fanbase on Tumblr). Even though it wasn’t, the ride to the studio seemed like the LONGEST RIDE OF MY LIFE.
We get there, it’s super sunny and warm outside (for November), and we meet two more contestants there. We get our clothes and bodies scanned, meet up with Glenn and Corina (two of the contestant coordinators), and head to the “green room.” I can’t remember if the room was actually green, but it was nice. Comfy. We passed through part of the Jeopardy! Hall of Fame to get to the green room, which was right across from an obscene display case of what seemed like 5,067 Emmy Awards. Snacks and drinks are waiting on us. I choose healthier fare (fruit) instead of the donuts which looked SO DELICIOUS. I made sure to semi-chug a Coke, because if I didn’t, the caffeine-withdrawal headache I would inevitably get near the end of the day would probably be my kryptonite.
We (the contestants….referred to here on out as “we” or “us”) go over our paperwork, sign more paperwork, and practice our “Hometown Howdies,” which are greetings to be sent to our various local TV stations that broadcast Jeopardy!. Then, the “Maggie Show” begins. Maggie Speak is a contestant coordinator who loves her job. Seriously, her spirit and passion is infectious. If I was in a position to hire someone for something, I would try to snatch her away from Jeopardy! in a second. She is so good at getting us excited, inspiring us, and making us smile. I would find out throughout the day just how awesome she is. Before the “Maggie Show,” she sat down next to me and said, “I’m going to hang with you today. You seem fun.” Aw shucks, Mags.
For about an hour, we listen to Maggie as she tells us about former contestants, strategy, goes over the rules, advises us on what to do in tricky situations, and encourages us to do our best. While she’s presenting, contestants are going in one by one to get their makeup done. I appeared on Wheel of Fortune in 2005, and got my makeup done by Clint Eastwood’s daughter. But it wasn’t until I was in the makeup chair that it really sank in that, “Hey Preston, you’re about to go on a national game show for the second time in your life.” How many people can say that? I would find out later that “about two dozen” people have been on both Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! It was so surreal. Not to mention that the makeup person was giving me what she referred to as a “fake tan.” I needed it; I’m a red head, therefore, quite pale.
Maggie finishes the orientation, and we leave the green room to start the practice games. The coordinators take us to the stage, and it wasn’t until I heard fellow contestant Michael say “wow” did I realize that I was standing on the freakin’ Jeopardy! stage. It was so bright, so purple and blue. It was a dream come true. I get called to stand behind a podium as the stage manager gave us instructions on how to use the telewriter and the signaling device. It’s not a buzzer, it’s a “signaling device.”
For two games, contestants rotate in and out of a mock game, using the actual signaling device, the actual podium, the actual game board. I don’t get called to go to the stage until deep into Double Jeopardy of the first mock game. I start playing, get in on a few buzzes, and then I hit a “Daily Double.” Knowing this is all play money, I bet it all, and double up on a clue about The Prince and the Pauper. Double Jeopardy! was over, we went to Final Jeopardy!, and I bet it all again on the category of “State Capitals.” “This is the only three word state capital.” Boom, I’m already writing down Salt Lake City before the “think music” starts playing. I double up, win the “game,” and proceed to start hamming it up. I knew Maggie would like that. She did. I even did the paused jumping, fist in the air pose. Lots of laughter from fellow contestants and the contestant coordinators ensued.
We play another mock game. Again, I don’t get called until late in Double Jeopardy!, but we don’t play Final Jeopardy! because.....HERE COMES THE AUDIENCE. OH MY GOD PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO WATCH ME PLAY JEOPARDY! TODAY. This might not be 100% accurate, because at this point, I get a little nervous.
Jeopardy! tapes five episodes in a day. There are three episodes taped back to back, a lunch break for the contestants, and then two more episodes. I’m not drawn for the first episode – the “Monday” episode. So, I get to watch from the audience. This is the same for the “Tuesday” and “Wednesday” episode. There were some questions in those first three episodes I didn’t know, and also some “triple stumpers” that I wanted to jump up with my hand in the air and shout, “Me! Me! I know!” So, because I wasn’t called to the stage during the morning taping, I get a free lunch on Jeopardy! w00t!
As a quick aside, Alex is awesome, and crazy, and curmudgeonly, and slightly inappropriate. He makes drinking jokes, talks about the recent sex scandals, and answers audience member’s questions in a way that shows he’s not going to take anybody’s crap. He being hilariously bizarre was one of my favorite parts of the day.
We return to the studio after lunch, and those of us who are left play another mock board. Then the “Thursday” episode starts, without me. As that episode wraps up, I was facing a dilemma. If I was drawn for the “Friday” episode, then fine, I would tape that episode. If I wasn’t drawn, I would have to report back to the studio the next day to do the process all over again. We were there on a Tuesday, and they were taping five more episodes the next day (Wednesday). Now trust me, I wouldn’t have minded that one bit. Another hour of watching “The Maggie Show?” Sign me up! Well, names are drawn, and it’s me! It’s me! I go take one more bathroom break (sorry for the overshare), and then I step on stage to hopefully not embarrass myself in front of America (and apparently, according to Alex, parts of the Middle East).
“THIS…IS….JEOPARDY! HERE ARE TODAY’S CONTESTANTS….A PRE-LAW PROGRAM DIRECTOR AND ATTORNEY, ORIGINALLY FROM HOMINY, OKLAHOMA…..PRESTON NICHOLSON….” Let the game begin.
Part 1 - The Online Test
Part 2 - Preparing for the Audition
Part 3 - The Audition
Part 4 - Getting the Call