A Census field representative from Queens, New York...

Judy Mermelstein

Hey New York, I'm Judy Mermelstein from Queens. Well, the Mets and Yankees didn't quite do it this year, so it's up to me! Watch me on Jeopardy!

Season 25 1-time champion: $38,401 + $1,000.

Judy also appeared on the original version of Jeopardy! hosted by Art Fleming in 1972 as Judith Goldberg, coming in second place and winning $200 + the Grolier encyclopaedia + the Jeopardy! home game. When her boss found out she'd taken an extra-long lunch to appear on the show, he fired her!

Jeopardy! Message Board user name: Jude from Flushing

Judy Mermelstein - a Census Field Representative
Queens, New York
December 5, 2008

I actually don't remember much about my "in person" interview. But I did remember Robert when I saw him again! I was asked at the practice game in NYC what I'd do with any winnings and mumbled something about a home theatre in my basement because my kids are filmmakers. But man plans and the financial gods laugh; I think it's going to have to make up for our retirement account losses now! I remember worrying I'd be late to the audition and arriving very out of breath & perspired, only to wait in a hotel hallway with a bunch of other hopefuls, all checking each other out & thinking, "Wow, you think you're really smart too, huh?" There was no bonding or hugging at the end; I guess we all were regarding each other as competitors for spots on the show. It was very different at the show itself--I think we were more supportive of each other because we knew we each would get our chance.

I got "the call" while driving home from work. I had to pull over into a bus stop. A few buses tried to stop there during my conversation with Glenn and I just smiled sweetly while the drivers fulminated; I kept hoping any cops around had better things to do. My husband had to be the first person I told because we were planning a vacation to Chicago for the week following the scheduled taping; I had to tell him we needed to go on vacation a week early & to L.A., not Chicago. We've been intending to go to Chicago for 30 years, but something always interferes!

Because the call came just before the Jewish holidays, I had to do a lot of cooking, baking & cleaning & I had very little time to prepare for the show. My Census workload is assigned by the month so I had to work very hard to get as much work done as I could before I left. I mostly work at night so I could watch only a couple of shows to re-acquaint myself with the game. The day before I left for California, I found a website with show archives of all the clues of all the shows for the past 25 years. I found it very helpful for studying previous contestants' betting strategy, an area I was quite worried about. And I sent one of my son's friends to the bookstore for a World Almanac, which I read on the plane. It didn't help me answer any questions, but I now know a lot more about presidents and state flowers!

We came out a few days early and stayed with my brother, who told everyone we met that I was in L.A. to be a contestant on Jeopardy! EVERYONE... police officers, waiters, people walking their dogs. I found it very embarrassing. I spent the next few days until the taping visiting relatives and enjoying the city or sitting in the garden in the sun, studying my Almanac. I was too preoccupied to drive myself to the studio, even though it was literally a straight shot down Overland from the house, so my husband dropped me off. When we drove through the Sony Studios gates, and I knew I was on the old MGM lot, I felt just like a movie star. All the contestants sat in the waiting area eyeing each other awkwardly until the bus arrived to take us to the Jeopardy! soundstage. When we disembarked from the bus at the soundstage, a tall, pony-tailed fellow and I just stopped and looked around with the same dreamy smile on our faces. We were thinking the same thing: if the day ended right there & then, it would have been enough.

I'd eaten breakfast but was happy to see my favorite food, blueberries, among the snacks provided in the "green room." I ate the berries and some other fruit, but was chagrined to see that another big favorite of mine, lemon-poppy mini-muffins, all had been consumed by other contestants before I even realized they were there. I also was grateful for the ubiquitous little bottles of Arrowhead water, a brand we don't have back East but which I'd gotten to like when my son was going to college in Arizona.

I had been worried about using the signaling button because, at 58, I didn't think my reaction time was fast enough and my thumbs have become a bit arthritic. I had been practicing with a click pen & it was not encouraging. Even my hairdresser had told me that her aunt had been on the show & said the signaling button was her downfall. I had done the daytime version of the show about 35 years ago when it was based in New York, and I don't even remember what signaling method we used to "buzz in." I was quite delighted to find the button so comfortable and responsive. It didn't improve my reaction time but it wasn't the impediment I worried it would be. A bigger age-related problem was my recall speed. I lost points in the second game a few times because I knew the answer but it eluded me at the last minute. I probably should have tried out for the show ten or fifteen years ago, but I had young children then & would have found it difficult to drop everything & fly out to California.

I also was delighted that the show uses "apple boxes" to even out the contestants' varying heights during the game. I'm only 5'3" so I had to stand on 2 boxes. And yes, I nearly fell off them a couple of times, but I don't think any of those times were on camera.

I think even if I'd just had my makeup done & not gotten to do the show, it would have been enough. They made me so gorgeous! Between the makeup and the wonderful comforts of the green room, and the happy vibes & energy of the production staff, I could see how Hollywood stars get spoiled!

I was called for the first game, which was thrilling except that I was up against a two-day champion. I had been having an enormous amount of fun the whole time I'd been in L.A., and no matter what happened, I kept finding ways to enjoy it. My "hometown howdy" got a good audience reaction, and I could see my husband in his customary Goofy T-shirt sitting with the contestants & relatives, and my makeup was beautiful, and Robert complimented my jacket & my hair had come out perfect for once, so playing the game was gravy. I was doing only average when I got lucky & got a Daily Double. I'd been doing well in the category & decided to bet everything... and panicked for a moment when the question turned out to be something about an historic California proposition. Help! I'm from New York... what do I know about... wait!... I looked at the name of the category again and figured out the answer from that. That put me so far ahead that I won the game (it didn't hurt that I also knew the Final Jeopardy! answer, which was a French word--even though it had taken me five and a half years in school to get through three years of French!--and the champ got it wrong).

And Alex... what can I say? Never was there a more perfect match of game and host. He seems smooth on TV but you don't know just how incredibly professional he is until you're right there. What you don't see on TV is how much fun he has doing this. He's so totally into it, and his focus helps the contestants so much. He's better-looking in person, when you can see him in three dimensions. And although he's very polished and impeccably dressed, there's nothing "showbiz" about him at all. During the breaks, when he's not fixing flubs (he makes very few) or attending to other necessary business, he's answering audience questions, some of them quite personal about himself. And when you see him talking with the contestants under the credits at the end of the show, he's really talking to them as if the audience and cameras weren't there, but just as if he met them at a cocktail party or something.

The following game, which came right on the heels of the first, was a thrill because now I was the champ! But I was up against an incredible kid from Amherst College named Ben Bishop who was lightning-fast and knew... EVERYTHING!

My husband and I left when the show took its lunch break. We had borrowed my brother's convertible pick-up truck (he's in construction) and put the top down. As we exited the garage, we drove past a bunch of people waiting to be in the Jeopardy! audience and an audience wrangler pointed me out & said "Look, there goes one of our champions now!" I smiled and gave the "Queen Elizabeth" wave. It was a perfect moment!

I had signed so many things warning me not to reveal the outcome of the game on blogs or other sites that I was confused about what I could tell to whom. My husband knew, of course, and I had to tell my kids, my brother and sister-in-law & my nephew. But I warned them not to tell anyone else. My 93-year-old mother doesn't even know I was on the show & I'm not telling her until just a day or two before it airs. I hope my hairdresser can watch to see how lovely my haircut looked.

The whole experience was a nerd/geek/dork dream, having one's esoteric knowledge win money and acclaim instead of blank stares or eye-rolls! Now my kids & husband want to have a party on the night the show airs and invite everyone (too bad we won't have that home theatre). I never got to see the show I was on back in the early '70s, so I hope the experience doesn't make me too self-conscious!

Judy appeared in the following 2 archived games:
#5577, aired 2008-12-02 Judy Mermelstein vs. Marcie Berson vs. Ben Bishop Ben Bishop game 1. Champion Update #1: Frank Spangenberg.
#5576, aired 2008-12-01 Peter Pinnow vs. Judy Mermelstein vs. Michael Gerardi

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