Season 25 2-time champion: $62,802 + $2,000.
Jeopardy! Message Board user name: 2 Day Champ
Appearing on Jeopardy! was on my "bucket list" even before I had ever heard of such a thing. I remember watching the show with Art Fleming and then later, of course, with Alex. I submitted my name whenever there was a contestant search close by, and this was back in the pre-Internet days. I honestly canít remember how you did it then--I think you must have sent your name and other materials in to a mailing address.
In April 2005 auditions were held in Madison, I applied and I was selected to come in for the face-to-face part of the process. I was teaching at the college in Freeport, Illinois, and my students were at least as excited as I was--probably because the tryouts were on a Thursday and they got the day off from class! Of about 120 invitees, seven of us passed the written test. What a great feeling THAT was--to have made it that far. We stayed to talk, play a sample game and get used to the infamous signaling device. The staffers from the show could not have been nicer or more encouraging and we were told that we would all be in the pool of possible contestants for the next year. That fall, I saw one of the people I tried out with appear on the show and that was the season that Michael, also one of the seven, won the Tournament of Champions. Until recently, that was my biggest claim to Jeopardy fame! When that semester ended, my very supportive class had a Jeopardy!-style final exam, with single and double point questions along with Final Jeopardy! I even let them pick categories for questions.
I took the online test the next two times I was eligible and in June 2008 I was invited to Chicago for auditions. Iíve heard that Ken Jennings tried 4 times to be on the show, so based on his and my experiences, I recommend never giving up trying out. [J! Archive note: Ken Jennings actually made it onto the show the first time he auditioned.] There were only about 35 of us but the format was the same as Madison--written test, sample game and interview. All of us were in the pool of contestants. At that audition, I met someone from Tennessee who had grown up in Freeport; she knew more about the town than I did!
Then, when I least expected itÖÖ.
I was shopping in a big-box electronics store on my birthday when my phone rang. It was loud in the store and I had to scramble to find something to write with and on, but suddenly Glenn was inviting me to Los Angeles on August 20. Yes, Iím hard pressed to think of anything better Iíve ever gotten for a birthday gift.
The next few weeks are a blur. I spent much time studying, reading in areas I was weak in and watching the show faithfully (which I always did anyway). Being at a college, I was blessed with people surrounding me who love knowledge and are experts in many of the writersí favorite categories. Our library staff was so helpful in getting me any reference materials I wanted. Finally, we arrived in Los Angeles and early on August 20 we were met at Sony and taken to the green room. Maggie, Robert, Tony and the entire staff were wonderful at alternately calming us down, making us laugh and lifting us back up, explaining everything and answering all our questions. Then we entered the studio itself--the goal we had all been trying to reach.
If I thought things were a blur getting ready for my appearance, that was nothing compared to my feelings at this point. It seemed unreal to actually be there, on the set. We looked around, tried to take in everything at once and had the entire taping explained to us--camera placement, the order in which things would happen, what we would be doing every step of the way. We all had a turn at practicing with the signaling button, playing a few sample questions with Glenn. It took me a little while to get any rhythm going and the staff kindly left me there until I seemed comfortable enough with it. We even practiced the interview with Alex--I was absolutely thrilled when my answer to Glennís question made Maggie laugh! Finally the first two people were called to play against Erik, the returning champion, and the rest of us relaxed in the audience (as well as we could) to watch the show.
My First Win!
It is still barely real to me that after all my efforts, I was finally a Jeopardy! contestant; that not only had I been on the show, but I had won; and not only had I won, but I was able to defeat an excellent four-day champion! Some people have said that hearing Johnny introduce you makes it seem real, but even that seemed like something happening to someone else (sorry, Johnny--you were great, though!). Still, it was amazing to be there and to play. The local newspaper interviewed me and the reporter asked what my goal was for being on the show. I told him it was to enjoy every minute and to win one game. And now, thatís what has happened.
I remember very little about the game itself. I know I was ready for another answer as soon as a question had been given. The answers couldnít be revealed fast enough and others I talked to felt the same way, because playing the game for real was so much fun. I remember some specific answers and questions--one Iím sure I got by being the oldest contestant that day and another that I had read about the night before in the hotel room! I paid very little attention to the scores as the game was going by--a quick look now and then just to see if I was staying close. The score seemed more like points than dollar amounts. Itís a tribute to Jeopardy! players and the staff that knowing things is considered at least as rewarding as winning some money. I would be willing to wager that many players could not tell you how much they won a minute after the game was over. I know I couldnít.
Erik and I were close through most of the game and I had a slight dollar lead at Final Jeopardy! Happily, the category was one I felt I could wager a lot on and, if I was right, I could win with that bet. Erik and I both had the correct answer, so it came down to which of us was able to bet enough and I was fortunate to have the most money at that point.
And now, as they told us, Iíll always be able to say I was a Jeopardy! Champ.
Going for Number Two!
What a great experience to be introduced as the returning champion! By the time my second game was played, those of us who were still playing or waiting to play had been together for quite some time and were, in some respects, all rooting for each other. Naturally, I was hoping to win and hoping that maybe it could be a runaway so I could relax--no such luck, as I had two terrific opponents.
Several things surprised me about the tapings of the show--all positive things. Any mistakes--and they are very few--are corrected right there, not later in an empty studio, so that everyone sees exactly what has happened and how itís fixed. The breaks on the show--at the interview with Alex, between boards and at Final Jeopardy!--are long enough to have some sips of water, get makeup touched up and to just take a few deep breaths. Contestants get scratch paper to calculate their final wagers; I jokingly told Robert we need to be given a huge piece of poster board because my hand was shaking too much to write on that 5 x 7 card--from adrenaline and excitement, I think, more than nerves.
Once again, I canít tell you much about the game itself, except that again it was over far too quickly and that I just wanted to keep playing. When the game was over and we were chatting with Alex at the fade-out, one player asked how fast we could all get back on the show--I know exactly how she felt.
I cannot remember any of the questions for sure from this game, but for the second day in a row, I had a Final Jeopardy! category I felt good about--1960s POP MUSIC. [J! Archive note: the category was actually 1960s HIT SONGS.] When we came back to reveal the wagers and the correct question, Alex commented that only one of the players was old enough to remember the '60s. Now let me see, who was that?
Now that you know I was a two-day champion (with another Final category I felt good about, I just didnít have enough money) I have no more secrets to reveal. Instead, I have just a few last thoughts.
One--I think Alex is psychic! My interview topic for my final show was on the fact that I had serenaded two presidents of the United States. I told my story--I had been in an Army band that played for Presidents Nixon and Carter. I had another part of the story to add but I didnít know quite how to say it and I was afraid it would be too long. Suddenly Alex said, "Do the guys in the band get nervous about playing for the President?Ē Bingo! I had the perfect opportunity to say that they never told us specifically it would be the President; they just said the band librarians were passing out "Hail to the Chief!" It makes a better story with that added, and Alex, without having heard it, gave me the perfect setup. I also had no idea that Alex comes out to talk with the audience, take questions, and be a very personable and entertaining host off-camera, too.
Two--Glenn, John, Maggie, Robert, Tony, and all of the staff could NOT have been more fun to be with. I wanted to stick around just to hang out with them. There was never even a single hint that they had shepherded groups of contestants just like us day after day, week after week for several (many?) years. The whole process seemed as fresh to them as it did to us.
Three--Even in the short time I was there, I met two people I feel confident I will see again. My next trip to New York or to Washington, D.C. will give me a chance to renew my ties with two other contestants. Dinnerís on me, unless you won a lot more than I did, Luciano!!
Four--Thank you to all those who supported me, asked about the show, and traveled with me (my wife, Carol); thanks to those whose books and websites gave me valuable preparation tips (this means you, Bob Harris); thanks to everyone connected with the show for a truly wonderful experience.