Thursday, October 06, 2016
I am a life-long fan of Jeopardy!, the trivia game show where responses are given in the form of a question. Because Jeopardy! was on during the day when I was a kid, I could hardly wait till summer break so I could watch it. I became a regular viewer in the 1980s, when it began airing in the evening. Today, I no longer have time to watch the show “live,” but do record it every night so I can binge an entire week’s worth of Jeopardy! in one sitting. Tim often joins me. His trivia strengths are sports, all things mechanical, and 1940s/50s music. I’m best at humanities subjects and fashion. Together we’re the perfect contestant, though we both stink at geography.
These days, my response reflexes are fairly pathetic, especially if I’m tired or stressed out. (Thank goodness for the DVR’s pause button!) But as a young librarian, I really burned up the TV screen. I was so good, in fact, that I decided to apply to get on the show in the late 1980s. We were living in San Diego at the time, so I took the day off and drove up to L.A. There I joined hundreds of other fans standing on a long line outside the Sony Studio. Once inside, we were briefed on the logistics of the show and then directed to a room where we were handed pencils and the famous Jeopardy! test that everyone must pass to become a contestant. The test was impossibly hard. After just five questions, I laughed and gave up. A true lesson in humility.
Well, the new season of Jeopardy! started a couple of weeks ago and, as he does every year, show host Alex Trebek announced that the next round of testing would begin this week. Although we're now pretty much addicted to the DVR pause button when formulating our answers, we decided to register to take the now-computerized test—“just for fun,” we told ourselves. We were invited to take the exam either Tuesday at 5PM, Wednesday at 6PM, or Thursday at 8PM. Tim opted for Tuesday; but since I teach till 5PM that day, I went with Wednesday. We then took the Jeopardy! practice test, side-by-side, to bone-up. I scored 80%, but Tim cheated, whispering, “Who wrote Les Miserables?,” as if Alex was actually in the room with us.
By the time I got home Tuesday night, Tim had already finished the test. Hanging his head, he said he was sure he failed, citing several questions he missed because of what he called “brain cramp”—where you know you know the answer, but just can’t remember it. He then asked me who wrote The Road, a book we both read. Me: “Cormac McCarthy.” Tim: “UGHHHHH!!”
The test site
My turn came last night. We ate an early dinner. At 5:45PM I logged onto the Jeopardy! website, where I was welcomed and told there would be 50 questions in 50 categories. I would have 15 seconds to answer each question. Answers did not have to be in the form of a question. The website then assured me that partial answers and misspelled words “will receive consideration.” But I was also reminded that Jeopardy! was “not responsible for individual technical or internet connection related issues.” (Tough luck if your computer craps out at a critical moment!) A digital clock appeared in the corner, counting down the minutes and seconds. Who knew a minute could be so long?
At 30 seconds, the Jeopardy! jingle started to play. And then, at 6:02PM, the questions appeared along with their categories. I typed my answers in a small response box at the bottom of the screen, before hitting “submit.” Question #1 was fine. But then my brain cramped on question #2: “She played Mystique in X-Men: First Class” (category: MOVIE ROLES).
“I know this one!” I yelled at the computer screen. “Jennifer . . .” Fifteen seconds passed quickly. The answer, of course, was Jennifer Lawrence, one of our favorite actresses. UGHHHHH!!
I answered most of the other questions, except geography, and got crampy brain at least twice more: George H. W. Bush’s VP (Dan Quayle, for pete’s sake!) and could not remember William Faulkner’s name (mortifying). I’m debating whether I should return my B.A. in literature. (Not really). The entire test took 11 minutes.
Within the hour, I received a nice email from Jeopardy!, congratulating me on completing the test. They don’t release scores, but I figure I probably answered 75-80% of the questions correctly—which, of course, is a passing grade in most undergraduate college classes. But not so much at Jeopardy!, especially when thousands of fans across the country took, and probably passed, the exact same test I did. And even if, by some miracle, I did score high enough to be considered, audition candidates are selected randomly.
So, really, the odds of my being asked onto the show are infinitesimal. Instead, I’ll just have to settle for being champion in my own living room, where I can always hit the DVR pause button until my brain cramp passes . . .
Me and a cardboard cut-out of Alex Trebek
at Sony Studio in 2013