Season 26 1-time champion: $24,405 + $2,000.
The Sesame Street character Oscar the Grouch was named for Jordan's dad, folk musician Oscar Brand.
Jordan Brand - An Anesthesiologist
Westchester, New York
March 11, 2010
1. The Beginning
In retrospect, I think I had to end up on Jeopardy! at some point. I've been kind of a trivia nerd my whole life. Growing up, I did a lot of reading, and I remember having stacks of trivia books about sports, nature, whatever I could get my hands on. I also remember watching Jeopardy! as a kid- back when Alex had that trademark mustache. My Dad, Oscar, is a musician who's written books and taught a few college courses, and he liked watching with me. My family was always very learning-oriented, so it fit in with the rest of our lifestyle. I never really got involved in trivia competitions or bees, but I always loved learning new things and finding out obscure bits of information. Then I got to high school- I started playing sports more seriously, which took up a lot of time, and since I went to boarding school, and I didn't have a TV available for four years, I didn't get to watch Jeopardy! much.
That sad state of affairs changed when I met my wife, Torrie. She loved Jeopardy!, and so did her late father, Phil, who was a maritime historian and shipwreck researcher. Ironically, his most famous discovery, Blackbeard's flagship Queen Anne's Revenge, has been the basis for a clue on Jeopardy! several times. Phil, Torrie, and I spent a lot of nights watching Jeopardy!, and I still think part of the reason Torrie and I got together was my prowess at coming up with little-known pieces of information. Phil was particularly tough to play against- he was great at any history questions, and he knew quite a lot about vintage movies and books. I could usually beat him out on the science questions, though.
For years, Torrie and I had been joking that I should go on the show, since I have a great memory for facts, even though I frequently can't remember what I was supposed to buy at the store. Even so, I didn't actually take the online contestant test until a couple of years ago. The first time, I never heard back, but the second time I took it, I got the email to come to an audition- luckily for me, they were holding one in New York, back in June of 2009. I showed up, met Maggie and Robert, and had a great time, assuming that I, like the majority of prospective contestants, wouldn't make it onto the show. We took a written test, which was kind of tough, and played a mock game. I remember that there was a medical question, which should have been a gimme, since I'm an anesthesiologist, but I couldn't manage to buzz in. This became a recurring theme in my brief Jeopardy! career- missing all the questions I should have known for sure.
When I got the call that I was going to be on the show, the first person to find out was my wife. She was actually the one who got the call at home, and then proceeded to freak out while calling me at work. I was busy in the operating room when she called, so I couldn't pick up the phone, and the level of freak-out was pretty high by the time I called back. The excitement, of course, was contagious: neither of us could really believe that this was happening. Shortly afterwards, panic briefly set in, as the week I was invited to tape was the same week as a major medical conference, and my department at work was going to be really understaffed, making it difficult to take any days off. Fortunately, I was working the previous weekend, meaning that I would have Monday and Tuesday of that week off, and that made it feasible to fly out to Los Angeles for the taping.
2. Logistics and Preparations
Soon, another round of panic set in- I'd been watching Jeopardy! most nights and keeping track of how many questions I got right, but hadn't done a lot of other serious studying or preparation until that point. Now, I knew I was going on the show, and I had a deadline, so it was time to get serious. I started reading a couple of general-reference books, including a great one called The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge, and looking up things online, but ultimately, you can't absorb the sum total of world civilization in four weeks. It was even worse for me, because I typically work a 60+ hour week (not including occasional weekends), commute two hours a day, and don't have a lot of time for reading. As for the buzzer, I tried to get a feel for the timing from watching the show and paying attention to when the podiums would light up, but I couldn't do much else to figure it out. I resolved myself to be happy just making it onto the show, and anything else that happened was cake.
Torrie and I used some credit-card points to buy our airline tickets to L.A. and arranged for her mother to stay at our place and watch our two-year-old daughter. We called some friends in Southern California, booked a hotel, and the game was afoot. I still had no idea what I was getting into, but I knew it would be memorable.
3. The Big Show
After traveling all day, checking into our hotel, and ordering up room-service for dinner, Torrie and I passed out. The next morning, of course, still being stuck on New York time, we woke up at 4 AM. I showered, Torrie picked out my wardrobe, and I headed downstairs to catch the shuttle to the Sony Pictures lot. On the shuttle, I met up with most of the other contestants, who seemed to be a really friendly, smart bunch of people; not intimidating, but very down-to-earth. A few other contestants, including the returning champ, met up with us at the studio. We eventually went into the green room, meeting Glenn (who called me to tell me I had made it on the show), as well as my "old friends" Maggie and Robert. We proceeded to fill out a whole bunch of paperwork and go thorough a detailed review of the show's rules and regulations. One thing I learned is that if you want to have a show as solid and long-lasting as Jeopardy!, everyone involved has to be a consummate professional. The whole day ran smoothly and efficiently. Everybody was having a good time, but it was clear that there was a schedule and that everything was going to happen on that schedule.
After paperwork, makeup, and rehearsing our "one-line stories" for our interview with Alex, it was time to practice the game. We walked out onto the set and took turns standing at the podiums, writing our names, and using The Signaling Device ("the buzzer," if you're a civilian). I remember noticing how well-built the new set is: great attention to detail, lots of sculpted glass, and the podiums themselves are really tricked-out. They have built-in speakers, motorized risers in the floor to keep the contestants' heights even, and lots of other assorted bells and whistles. The signaling device is simple, just a spring-loaded button, but extremely sensitive and hard to time. It's a bit of a cliche, but the game is really all about getting the timing of when to ring in, since so many contestants are trivia whizzes. The only way to win is to ring in first. I felt relatively comfortable with the button, but some of the other contestants seemed really fast, so I knew this wasn't going to be easy.
We went back to the green room after the rehearsal and I found out that I was going to be on the first episode taped that day. I was excited, and glad I wasn't going to wait for the second day of taping, but also scared out of my wits. I mean, seriously, this was Jeopardy!, and I was about to be on national television. Whoa.
Walking out onto the stage for the first game, I remember my heart starting to race and being very, very aware of my breathing. I got behind the second podium and tried to get comfortable. First, we had to shoot our "Hometown Howdies"- mine was a goofy medical joke. After that, it was time to start taping the actual show. I was trying to concentrate on raising my eyebrow when Johnny Gilbert called my name, which was a shout-out to my wife. However, Johnny almost threw me by initially mispronouncing "anesthesiologist," and I had to focus on not cracking up.
4. Game #1
The Jeopardy! round started off well enough- I answered the first question correctly ("What is ruby?"). When you're actually playing the game, you don't even have time to think about what you're doing, you just answer the questions. Afterwards, it's hard to remember the questions or anything else about what actually went on. The commercial breaks are like a godsend- I was so nervous, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack at any minute, and it was crucial to have those couple of minutes for Maggie and Glenn to keep us loose. Because the show tapes essentially in real time, you need any break you can get. The little interview with Alex was actually really fun and enjoyable. I felt pretty good using the signaling device, got on a couple of rolls, and finished the first round in the lead. According to my wife, who was in the audience with our friend Danny, every time I got a question right, they just shook their heads in awe.
Double Jeopardy! also went well, although it flew by even faster than regular Jeopardy!, because there's no break in the middle of the round. I remember going into Final Jeopardy! with a slim lead, and thinking, "No way- I might actually be able to win this." The category was English History, which I had focused on studying, so I felt somewhat confident. I calculated my wager twice to make sure I could cover my closest competitor if she bet everything. When the clue appeared, I felt good about my response, but I was still nervous- even if I looked calm to the TV camera, my heart was going a mile a minute the whole game. When I realized I got it right, I felt this immense wave of surreality- I just won Jeopardy! Unbelievable. The funniest part of the whole episode was that, again, there was one question that was pretty closely related to my job, and of course, I got it wrong, albeit only because I forgot that the answer had to start with an "e." Oh well.
5. Game #2
After winning the first game, I was still in a bit of shock, which is probably obvious if you see my "winner's circle" video. I felt like a spaz, stumbled over my words, thanked my father-in-law Phil (although I didn't mention him by name at first), and inadvertently made fun of my boss. I was quickly (and mercifully) ushered back to the green room for an outfit change and makeup touch-up, and then back out to tape the next episode. I felt incrementally less nervous, although that just means my heart rate was 140 instead of 150. Walking out to the Champion's Podium, I was just completely on cloud nine. I was a bit worried because I was playing against Vijay Balse, who had actually tried out with me at the New York audition, and who I knew was extremely smart. "The eyebrow" made an appearance again during the introductions, and things started up about the same as the first game. I got a few questions right, and got out to an early lead. My interview with Alex was a little more involved this time: he asked me about my father, who used to have a popular TV show in Canada, and actually made reference to him a couple more times during commercial breaks. That was a really cool feeling: Alex knows my dad! Again, I went into Double Jeopardy! with a nice lead.
Then things started to go downhill. Vijay began to come on strong, and there was a math category on the board. I knew I was in trouble, because it's not my strong suit, and he's an engineer. My wife told me she had the same feeling when she saw the categories. Vijay pretty much swept that category. It's incredibly important to get on a roll with your responses- there's something about ringing in first that helps you cement your timing. It seems easier to get in first after that, and harder for the other contestants to knock you off your game. Making it worse, I botched a couple of questions, including a Daily Double, which would have put me in much better position. Those are pretty much the only individual questions I can remember from the games, of course. Going into Final Jeopardy!, I was just a little behind in second place, so I knew that I probably couldn't win unless I got the question right. The category was Congressional Committees, which isn't my forte, but I bet enough to stay in second place if the third-place contestant and I both got the question right. I knew that I was sunk unless Vijay came up empty, and naturally, we both got it right. I felt disappointed, but not crushed- how can you be angry after winning even one Jeopardy! game?
When I went back out to sit with the audience, I was still on a complete high. Torrie and Danny were gushing and making fun of me at the same time, and we all stayed to watch the rest of the days' shows. I didn't even realize until that night that I was still wearing my makeup.
It's hard to sum up my feelings on the whole experience, but here goes. I had a great time on the show, so great, in fact, that Torrie and I showed up the next day to watch another three episodes just as audience members. As a bonus, I got to sit next to Jerome Vered, the third-highest winner of all time on the show. One thing I realized was that there are a lot of seriously smart people out there, and it's often just a matter of timing whether you succeed or not (I was humbled just watching the game with Jerome).
The staff are all capable and totally professional, but they clearly love what they do, even after years on the show. Alex, who has been doing this for 26 years, seems to relish answering audience questions (many of them repeated each taping session) during commercial breaks, and that's really impressive to me.
There's a certain bittersweet quality to being done with the whole process. While I don't have to study obscure bits of history, culture, and science anymore, I also have a whole new skill set that is pretty much only useful for playing Jeopardy! While knowing a lot of trivia is fun for cocktail parties and the like, you don't usually need to call up numerous facts in quick succession and then deliver them at the perfect time to keep the other guests from answering. I have this feeling now like someone who plays an obscure sport and just retired after the Olympics- I've got to get back to reality, and no one wants to put me on a cereal box.
While I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't win more games, I've realized that it's not about the money, it's because I had so much fun playing the game. I loved the whole experience and I would have preferred for it to continue. All in all, I would definitely do it again if given the chance. It's a story I will be able to tell for the rest of my life.