A foreign service officer originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania...

Liz Murphy

Hi Northeastern Pennsylvania, I'm Liz Murphy from Scranton. Tune into Jeopardy! to watch me electrify the competition.

2010 Tournament of Champions semifinalist: $10,000.
Season 25 5-time champion: $121,302 + $2,000.

Liz appeared on ABC's 500 Questions on 2016-05-27. She eliminated fellow 2010 ToC'er Ryan Chaffee on his question 51. She was eliminated on question 22 by Season 22 2-time champion William Lee and did not win any money.

Jeopardy! Message Board user name: emurphy

Liz Murphy - A Foreign Service Officer
Originally From Scranton, Pennsylvania
April 27, 2009

Chapter One: I Am Born

No, wait. Really, I’m joking. But in case you are the kind of person (like me) who really wants to know everything about the roads people take to get to Jeopardy!, I offer the following brief preamble before getting to the meat of two of the most interesting days I’ve ever spent.

So. I was born a bookworm in Scranton, Pennsylvania, thirty years and five days before setting foot on the Jeopardy! soundstage for the first time. Fortunately, my parents willingly aided and abetted my little reading habit. They supported me not only through high school and college, but also through the collection of a truly alarming assortment of used books of all types that now fills the better part of their attic and my apartment. I kept reading all those books and filling my head with all kinds of oddball facts long after I left school and started working, first in Mexico and then in Azerbaijan. Jeopardy! was always an off-and-on part of the fabric of those years, as I think it is for any reader who finds the show, but it always seemed like something far removed from real people I might know, especially when I was overseas and only catching the show occasionally.

Once I moved back to the States, though, my mom really encouraged me to put all that reading to use and try out for the show. “Why not?” I figured, and took the online test. Seemed like it went okay, and I even started a Jeopardy! treadmill habit using the safety clip as a fake buzzer so I’d be ready if I ever got a call. After a few months of nothing, though, I figured better luck next time (and the consistent workouts sort of started to slide...).

Then, one day, I checked my e-mail after returning from a lovely vacation with my sister...only to discover that I’d been offered an audition! And that I’d missed the reply deadline because I hadn’t checked my e-mail! Of course, I immediately wrote a groveling reply - I believe there may have been an offer to travel anywhere on the East Coast at any time whatsoever involved - and fortunately got a place at my original audition time, right in downtown Washington.

A Chorus Line

On audition day, I showed up more than an hour early. After oh-so-subtly checking out the hotel lobby and asking the concierge if I was in the right place, I went across the street and had a coffee so as not to appear too desperate. I don’t think I fooled the doorman. When I went back (still very early), I started filling out the forms left outside the testing room. More and more fellow hopefuls poured in the hallway, all friendly and fun, and several vocal veterans of prior audition cycles. Suddenly, the doors burst open, and Maggie, Robert, and Corina, our fabulous contestant coordinators for the day, descended. Amid a flurry of Polaroids to be placed with our applications, we took our seats, answered a few warm-up Jeopardy! history questions (I think there were T-shirts or mugs or something for the winners), watched a video intro from Alex Trebek (cool!), and took another 50-question test. Then Maggie, a one-woman dynamo, got us used to the idea of playing a mock round of Jeopardy!, completely distracting us from the fact that the rest of the team had run away to score our tests. Maggie seemed like she was just getting warmed up with funny anecdotes when the gang returned with our papers and started calling us up in groups of 3 for a little personality interview and mock game.
The game was scarier than I expected. Lots of folks had done really well in the group Q&A throughout the audition, and it was intimidating realizing they were all going to be watching you. Also, the buzzer felt awkward. As I was playing, I had a hard time buzzing in, and then when I actually got in I gave a few wrong answers, which threw me, or, if I actually got an answer right, I was generally so pleased I stood there in a happy daze (“What do you mean I have to pick another category? I won!”). Once everyone had played, the contestant coordinators said we were all in the contestant pool for the next 18 months, and we might get a call, or not. I was tickled about the Jeopardy! pen we all got to take home and figured hey, now I can actually prove to people I got called for an in-person audition. Sweet!

Time Out: Notes on Team Jeopardy!

At the audition and throughout the process, Maggie, Robert, Corina, and later Glenn and the whole rest of the team did a remarkable job of turning what could be very stressful situations into an overall experience that I suspect beomes a special memory for every contestant and would-be contestant, whatever the outcome. I truly admire the heart and soul they put into their work with us motley would-be Jeopardy! players every single day. I’ve worked several jobs with repetitive public contact, and I know how draining it can be to answer the same question with a smile for the thousandth time. The contestant coordinators deliver with style, and go way above and beyond the call of duty to try to make a Jeopardy! day outstanding for everyone. To flash forward for a moment and give just one of a thousand examples of their thoughtfulness on even the smallest of details, at one point on my second day, I later learned that Robert even found time amid the mayhem of taping to bring my dad a bottle of water after I’d worried aloud at a commercial break that he might be getting tired out there in the audience.

From the contestant coordinators to the great folks in makeup and sound and stage management and whatever other parts of the production team I don’t know how to name, everyone on the team does their darnedest to make you feel like you are one of the first and most interesting people ever to have considered appearing on the show. Similarly, Johnny Gilbert and of course the one and only Alex Trebek clearly work wonders in their efforts to entertain the studio audience at every possible pause, even though we (sadly) only got glimpses of their efforts while waiting to play or during taping breaks. All in all, a first-class operation, thanks entirely to the wonderful people on the Jeopardy! team.

The World Is My Jeopardy! Question

Then life got busy, as it does. Gradually, the audition beame just another funny thing that happened to me once. But one Friday night about six months later, I was walking down the street with a friend when an unfamiliar number popped up on my cell phone. “Hi, this is Glenn from Jeopardy! How are you doing?” said Glenn. “Uh, I think a lot better now that you called,” I stammered. Sure enough, a few double checks and 10 minutes later, there I was, the newest upcoming Jeopardy! contestant in America.

The next three weeks were a blur of packing, logistics, and trying to cram every fact that ever existed into my head. The whole world suddenly looked like potential Jeopardy! fodder. I’d have flashes of panic at the strangest times, like walking through a parking lot and remembering that sometimes the show runs categories where you need to match auto makers and logos or models, and realizing that I wasn’t likely to do well should such a category appear. I’m lucky I didn’t get picked up for potential car theft, given what probably looked like pretty suspect behavior as I “studied” every vehicle between my car and the mall.

From children’s books on famous quarterbacks to audio CDs with Bible stories for the car, if it seemed likely to show up on Jeopardy!, I was interested. I basically stopped making lunch dates with colleagues in favor of sequestering myself with a quick game or two on the J! Archive. Things got a little crazy around the apartment as well; I think at one point I had 24 books out from the library (thanks, Arlington County Public Library!). My mom headed up a supplementary reference department and came up with all kinds of great refresher material, from President-shaped flashcards to twenty-year-old books in the attic I suddenly decided held the key to all pop history knowledge. Numerous friends also leapt into the prep-Liz business with great relish, from the friend who handwrote pages of questions on geography to the friend who brainstormed science questions with a blind date and reported back, from the friends who force-fed me questions on sports and Italian cinema and pop music to the friends who knowingly let me come to their Super Bowl party, hog the comfy chair, and keep the light on so I could read...an opera book from my grandmother. (Thank you, all of you, more than you know.)

Make Way For Ducklings

Sooner rather than later, it was time to head out to California for the big taping. My dad, a fearsome home Jeopardy! player, came out with me a few days early to get used to the different time zone. After a few days of visits to rather educational tourist attractions (The Getty Center! The Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage! The La Brea Tar Pits!), and sizing up everyone we passed in the hotel lobby to see if they were fellow contestants (unless I am mistaken, we didn’t see anyone from the group until the big morning), the time came. Down in the lobby, carrying two sets of spare clothes per instructions, we all got on the shuttle and started what would be a day filled with togetherness. I’m not usually a fan of desert island situations, but, fortunately, this was one of the most remarkable groups of people with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time. To a person, the other contestants were witty, charming, kind, devastatingly intelligent - and all of this, I must assume, while crushingly nervous (I know I was!). (Note: I heartily apologize if I get anyone’s name wrong anywhere in here. I also apologize for the places where I knew I was especially likely to be wrong and thus didn’t even try.)

En masse, we all filed off the shuttle and into Sony Pictures, where Corina met us at the gate and loaded us onto another shuttle. Security was tight, she explained, so we’d better get used to sticking with the contestant coordinators at all times. In fact, we’d even have to ignore our families out in the studio audience. (“That won’t be hard!” yelled Julio, our group comedian and a ridiculously good player.) We followed Corina off the shuttle, through the metal detector, on the shuttle, off the shuttle, and into the Jeopardy! green room, for all the world like the little Mallard ducklings following their mother not through the Boston Public Garden but through a hallowed little corner of movie history. (I never got quite the same version of the soundstage’s history from any two people, but it seems safe to assume that Judy Garland and Gene Kelly were once awfully near, if not actually on, what is now the Jeopardy! set.)

Only Things Missing Were the Glass Slippers

Inside, Robert and Maggie made what could have been a long, tense time vanish in a flash, just like at the audition, as we filled out more forms and rehearsed our “funny” stories and Hometown Howdies and listened to their advanced instructions for good Jeopardy! play. One by one, we got called to get our makeup done - was that a treat! Women get all spackled up with an airbrush full of foundation (“It’s because of HD, everything shows up now,” said my fairy godmother - I mean Sandy, who along with Barbie kept us looking as good as possible before the show and with touch-ups as needed at commercial breaks), and then eyelined and blushed to within an inch of our lives. Remembering lip gloss is usually a big step for me, so I was feeling pretty glamorous at this point. I wanted to teleport my very chic sister to the dressing room, just so she could see that I really looked like this for one glorious day!
However, all good things must, well, not necessarily end, but certainly change. Instead of basking in makeup all morning, it seemed it was now time to file out, together again, to warm up on the set.

How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

I’m just going to put it out there: I have nothing nice to say about the buzzer. I doubt I ever will. I didn’t like the feel of it in my hand from the audition to the practice rounds to the games themselves. In the last few games I played, in fact, it felt like my timing was getting worse instead of better. By the last game it seemed like a miracle I was getting in at all. I could almost physically feel whatever connection I’d ever had with the buzzer slip away, and I’d felt it ebbing during the game or two prior as well. There was even a game (I think it was the third game I played, with two super fellow contestants who’d been dynamite in warmup, but the second taping day felt crazy and I could be wrong) where I actually forgot to pick the buzzer back up after a break until someone else had rung in on the first question. Hope that doesn’t look too stupid on the broadcast!

Even though the buzzer didn’t feel that great in the warmup rounds, Maggie told us getting in every third or fourth try was actually pretty good, and I chose to believe her like a good little duckling. This was probably the only thing that kept me from sheer panic, since right after warmup and one more quick group trip to the green room, it was time.

Luck Be A Lady

Any serious discussion of the game of Jeopardy! has to acknowledge the overwhelming influence of luck on any given game. Just about every book and blog I’ve seen touches on the element of chance involved, for good reason. By the end of my excellent contestant group’s first cycle through a warmup game (I believe it’s once for camera settings and then one more time for us for extra comfort with the set, with a repeat warmup after lunch), it was obvious that anyone there could have won any given game, as long as a few lucky breaks fell their way. A Jeopardy! game is really 121 little games of varying value - 57 games of Beat the Buzzer, 3 Correct Answer to Find the Daily Double, 60 trivia questions, and Final - and that’s a lot of chances for things to go your way, or someone else’s. One or two different outcomes on any of those mini-games can change the overall outcome in very significant ways. Thanks, no doubt, to those Bible CDs to which I’d been listening, some famous words from Ecclesiastes got stuck in my head like a song throughout the taping, and certainly provided a constant reminder of perspective. Indeed, time and chance happeneth to them all.

I went out to play well-armed with lucky charms, and maybe that helped as much as anything. From a ring from my parents to a necklace from my grandmother (which didn’t match any of my outfits, so I wore it wrapped around my left forearm), I was bedecked with tangible reminders of good wishes from family and friends at all times, certainly a confidence booster when nerves hit. I was lucky not to be called for the first game of the day - I had very much wanted to watch at least one from the audience to get a feel for how the process worked - luckier still not to be called for the second, in which a few tough categories and a Final I didn’t know rattled me badly, and lucky again not to be called for the third, in which I knew many of the answers and got my confidence back up again. Then, in a flash, we all paraded over together for lunch, where I ordered a tuna melt, my mom’s favorite, in hopes it would be a lucky meal.
I did get called for the game right after lunch, which was perfect. I was even a little tired of just watching after the morning; I was ready to play. My enthusiasm did not translate to good fortune with the buzzer, however, and fellow contestants Daniel and awesome returning champ Melanie (so smart and and fun to talk to, and so kind she even came down the second morning to wish the rest of our group well again) are both outstanding players with quick reflexes and frightening stores of knowledge. I wound up third going into Double. “Luck of the Irish!” I thought when a James Joycean board popped up, and I felt even better when the first question was actually one I had joked about getting with a friend who is a huge U2 fan (of course, I did not buzz in in time to get it; I think Daniel got yet another right answer there). Though I seem to remember a few Triple Stumpers and a number of untried questions I would have known cold as an undergrad when I was reading more, things started going better for me as we approached Final.

Though I could imagine Final Jeopardy! categories about which I would be less enthusiastic than “20th Century Science,” they would have titles like “Before and After: Multivariable Calculus Edition” or “Historical Basketball Coaches’ Nicknames.” My dad later told me that, up in the audience, he sank down in his seat after Alex read the category and thought, “Oh,well, at least she got to play.” I remember thinking, “Sure hope it’s Einstein, ‘cause I got nothing else!” Somehow, though, I knew the right question right off the top of my head, probably because of the fitness magazines I read from time to time to try to impress that chic, sleek sister of mine.

Winning such a tough game was surprising, and I don’t think it had fully sunk in by the time I changed clothes, turned around, and played and unbelievably won a second game with two great contestants who’d shone in warmups throughout the day. In the blink of an eye, it was over, and I found my dad and headed back to the hotel. I got to spend a whole night as a reigning Jeopardy! champion! Awesome! My dad and I just kept looking at each other over dinner and laughing.

Realizing you had to go in in the morning and start all over again was scary, though, and I can’t say I slept well that night. I remember bouncing between silence and near-hysterical attempts at gregarity on the shuttle the next morning, and I remained pretty freaked out for the rest of the day. This was a shame, because it meant I didn’t talk much to the new contestants, who seemed just as lovely as those from the first day. (One fantastically smart contestant, Pat, even turned out to be a wonderful baker, too - she actually brought the most delicious treats for the whole group to share. Talk about kind and generous!) I kept figuring each game I played would be my last - how long can luck like that hold? - so I kept trying to focus on the moment and all the little Jeopardy! details I figured I was seeing for the last time.

Unsurprisingly, this led to some fragmented memories of games 3-6. The games themselves were a blur, and I wonder how many of the questions will even sound familiar on the air. It sounds cheesy, but it felt like just me and the board (and maybe the buzzer) up there; anything not connected with my podium or the board simply didn’t register most of the time. I do remember feeling really excited when my first-day buddies Megan and Julio finally got to play on the second day, and did phenomenally well on answers and even a daily double or two that were just crazy hard. One other thing that stands out in retrospect is that, even when the buzzer felt the worst and I was feeling most tentative, my voice seemed to be completely detached and independent of anything I did. No matter what was going on in my head, the Disembodied Voice kept on giving these confident answers more slowly and in lower tones than those I’m used to hearing. Even in my last game, when I got behind and nervous and fell into a downward spiral of bad Jeopardy! habits like frequent score-checking during gameplay and badly judged catch-up guessing, the Voice was mostly there. (At one point, I even thought I might be able to exploit the Voice to convince myself that I was actually confident, and not trying to fake it, but I didn’t get in on the buzzer enough to see if that could have worked.) My real voice is back to its old tricks; I’m still not quite sure where its relative came from.

I know I got increasingly worried about my clothes, particularly in the later games, since I was getting down into frayed jacket and repeat shirt territory. I didn’t think I’d actually need all those outfits! It felt presumptuous to bring so many! I definitely exasperated Robert between shows a couple of times because I’m a slow changer - sorry! :) There was literally one time when I was fastening a necklace at the podium when someone was taping a Hometown Howdy, even. And, final adventure in vanity, after one game, when we were all talking to Alex (who probably thinks I am a ventriloquist’s dummy, as I don’t remember saying anything ever in those chats besides “That’s right!” and smiling and nodding), I was startled to see my giant head up on the video wall. Trying to fix your hair surreptitiously while looking at yourself on thirty-six different TV screens in front of what will be a national audience is...really weird.

Most of all, I remember a certain Slumdog Millionaire-esque feeling, in which your life flashes before your eyes as clues as you play. It almost felt like friends and family were guiding me to some of the answers (John Wayne for my dad! Nebraska for my friend from Omaha!), and sometimes it even felt like time stopped as long-buried episodes from the past resurfaced (my college roommate’s tortured semester stage-managing Richard III, a Southern friend custom-ordering a car horn that played “Dixie Land” when he was homesick half a world away from South Carolina, the poster from the day my mom took me to see Les Miz as a kid - right in the nick of time on a squeaker of a Final). This works the other way, too. My brilliant brother, who I predict will get himself on the show one of these years (you heard it here first!), sent a well-considered list of pop-culture links to help me study; at least two of them popped up in games I played. I remembered exactly zero of them, and had odd flash-forwards to the heckling I will doubtless receive from him once the episodes air!

On Wagering

Though they are too polite to mention it, I think my friends have all caught on to my habit of quickly throwing cash at restaurant bills in the hope that someone else will make the problems of tip and change go away. As you might imagine, wagering was not my favorite part of the Jeopardy! experience (though I think I disliked the buzzer yet more). Betting enough to win, if possible, was always my plan - go big or go home, to quote a friend with whom I discussed strategy - and I know myself well enough by now to know that I’d be happier losing on a wrong answer than on a too-small wager.

Much of the time the amount I’d need to bet for a shot at the win was theoretically obvious. However, that does not mean that I was practically able to do the corresponding math easily. How hard is it to double and add one? For me, up there under the lights, apparently pretty hard. I think I was always the last person to finish calculating. Alex actually interrupted his patter with the audience during one wagering break to ask the contestant coordinators what was taking so long, and I know the answer was me trying to add and subtract. That may have been during the extremely close fourth game I played, when I almost had a nervous breakdown trying to figure out what the leader (amazing Megan, I believe) would likely bet given my score. There was also a game (I think the fifth, when Julio and Pat were playing so very, very well) where I tried to write more money than I had on the screen as my wager before realizing my mistake. (When I jumped up as I realized what I’d done, Glenn just laughed and said he wouldn’t have let me go through with it.) In my last game, I did think about making a conservative bet to cover a Triple Stumper - did the math and everything - but ultimately figured both of the other contestants were so exceptional and so unlikely to miss the question I’d be better off betting huge and hoping they made offbeat wagers in an effort to outfox each other. Oh well. At least I went out swinging!

Funny PS on wagering: the next morning I charged the cab ride from the airport home. Upon receiving the receipt, I had a total Final flashback and panicked so badly I almost couldn’t sign my name, let alone calculate tip.

Back in Metropolis

The whole experience, while wonderful beyond the wildest frontiers of my imagination, was also so shocking it took several days just to function normally again. I went to work without an overcoat the day I got back - in February! (Similarly, my mom walked a whole cart of groceries out of the supermarket without paying after we called to tell her the news.) As I got more sleep and calmed down a bit, I noticed an extra current of excitement simmering just beneath the surface of my daily existence. As I write this, in the odd period between taping and broadcast, I feel a little like Clark Kent. You know, trying to keep up the regular old mild-mannered facade by day, but secretly propelled at all times by this amazing thing that you just can’t explain to anyone.

I have been getting a bit of a kick from strategically doling out tidbits to my colleagues, mostly stupid answers I gave or silly things I said. (Nothing like lowering expectations!) Like the one I missed on Washington, DC - the city where I go to work every day. And like the chat when Alex followed up another contestant’s Steelers story by asking me if, as a fellow Pennsylvanian, I was also a fan, and I replied that I like the Yankees. The only sport I follow at all is baseball so I swear this made sense in my head...but I’m still trying to make sure all my friends get this one out of their system so they don’t laugh quite as hard when the show airs and Alex reminds me that I gave him an answer about a totally different sport.

I’ve also become a total Jeopardy! lit junkie. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t find most of the fine books written by former contestants before I went out to Culver City, because I would have driven myself nuts trying to follow their advice. (For example, if I’d read about Bob Harris simulating taping days at home, I definitely would have tried that too. Actually, I probably would have tried to play ten practice games in a day, so I could have felt like I was twice as prepared as might have been necessary.) Reading these books after the fact feels like a way of staying connected to an experience I sometimes doubt ever happened. What if I was hallucinating? What if the shows disappear before they air? I haven’t even taken the prize forms out of my Jeopardy! envelope yet, because I’m afraid they might crumble into dust upon exposure to air (see, I’ve been reading five-time champ Arthur Phillips’ The Egyptologist)...

Anyway. This blog is already sorely overdue, so I suppose it is time to screw up my courage and fish around in that envelope to find the guidelines for what the good folks from Jeopardy! request for this piece to make sure I’ve complied. I suppose, if you’re reading this, then the whole thing - a delightful and lucky run on the best quiz show that has ever existed - really was, to steal from a few other blogging champs, a dream come true.

Random PS - A big shout out to Dunmore, Pennsylvania, which is probably a little miffed at me right now for saying I’m from Scranton (where I really was born) on national TV when it knows full well I actually spent most of my formative years living just past the Scranton city line in the Borough of Dunmore. Hope the Hometown Howdy to NEPA made up for it a little bit!

Liz appeared in the following 6 archived games:
#5684, aired 2009-04-30 Liz Murphy vs. Larry Sullivan vs. Jean Cui Liz Murphy game 6.
#5683, aired 2009-04-29 Liz Murphy vs. Julio Alvarez vs. Pat Miller Liz Murphy game 5.
#5682, aired 2009-04-28 Liz Murphy vs. Benny Meyers vs. Megan Lindley Liz Murphy game 4.
#5681, aired 2009-04-27 Liz Murphy vs. Helen Springut vs. Justin Klos Liz Murphy game 3.
#5680, aired 2009-04-24 Liz Murphy vs. Evelyn Chester vs. Peter Latouf Liz Murphy game 2.
#5679, aired 2009-04-23 Melanie Baker-Streevy vs. Liz Murphy vs. Daniel Wilkinson Liz Murphy game 1.
Liz would later appear on Jeopardy! as Liz Murphy in the following 2 archived games:
#5922, aired 2010-05-18 Liz Murphy vs. Nick Yozamp vs. Jason Zollinger 2010 Tournament of Champions semifinal game 2.
#5916, aired 2010-05-10 Ryan Chaffee vs. Liz Murphy vs. Patrick Tucker 2010 Tournament of Champions quarterfinal game 1.

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