Season 26 3-time champion: $58,000 + $2,000.
New York, NY
June 30, 2010
An Insurance Agent
From New York, New York
I actually first started watching Jeopardy! back in the Art Fleming days when my 4th grade teacher (Miss Hermer at PS 176 in Queens) thought it was educational and brought the school television into our classroom. Since it was on at 11:30 in the morning; I did not always get to watch it after 4th grade - most of my teachers were not as enlightened and no one had a VCR back then. That was the case until the second coming of Jeopardy! with Alex Trebek in the 1980's when I purchased a VCR and was able to watch when I liked.
I never tried out for Jeopardy! until recently when the tests were available on the Internet. I had always played along in the living room, but everyone is a champion in the living room. My husband, Joe, finally convinced me that I should take the online test. I did and received the notification that I had passed. I was fortunate that the written test and auditions were being held near my office. It is convenient working in midtown Manhattan and having a flexible schedule. I met Maggie and Robert, from the Jeopardy! staff, and they were a lot of fun and very encouraging. I thought I did pretty well on the test, but never heard back. They did say to keep trying out, so two years later, I took the online test a second time, passed and took the written test and auditioned again. Months go by. I had actually put it out of my mind when I received the call to come to Los Angeles.
Excitement, nerves, panic, all of these, came into my mind immediately. I did not want to freeze on TV and experience a complete meltdown and utter humiliation. I just knew my mind would go blank and I would look like an idiot on national TV. My second thought was that I had nothing to wear and I needed new shoes.
I have a lot of friends who have appeared on Jeopardy! - whether it was on the Art Fleming version or the Alex Trebek version. Since I have been going to crossword tournaments for years and am a member of the National Puzzlers League, I know a lot of people who like to play games. My friends are the ones who helped me to prepare for Jeopardy!
I cannot just sit down and read and memorize lists for hours on end.
One friend lent me a copy of Ken Jennings' book "Brainiac." I actually liked reading it and it was a bit helpful. (I did not make any note cards though.) Others lent me other trivia books, which had interesting information. One gave me an almanac to hang onto just to look up quick facts, like a bit of presidential trivia I might have forgotten otherwise. (Should have read the Roman Gods more carefully.) I have learned all sorts of trivia by doing lots of puzzles and watching Jeopardy! for years, so mostly I prepped by doing more of the same. My friend Adam had created his own trivia questions for the NPL conventions during the last ten years, and he volunteered to be my quizmaster. He had a buzzer device we could use, but I needed to find friends to play with. They needed to be very competitive and smart, and have really good reflexes. I knew from previous game playing parties who might be good candidates (and who lived nearby since we were playing on work nights). Leslie, Mark, Jon, Ellen & Jeff were willing game playing partners. We set up a schedule since everyone was so busy; we not only practiced how to buzz in, but how to bet. This was my husband's most important contribution to our practice sessions (other than bringing in good snacks). We would talk about betting strategies based upon: the place you were in; the amount of money you had; your knowledge of the final category; and playing to win. This became critical in one of my games. They also were great confidence boosters because if I could beat them, maybe I could beat other people too.
I flew to LA a few days early to get over the jet lag and to see some old friends and family and to relax for a couple of days. There also was 20 inches of snow in NY and I was concerned that the planes were not going to take off. I was lucky and the weather on Saturday was perfect, the airport was dug out from the previous day's snowstorm and I made it to LA.
I took the hotel shuttle to the studio to be on time and meet the other contestants. All of the other contestants seemed as nervous as I was, but everyone was really nice. Maggie and Robert had selected us for diversity so we were from all parts of the country and had all types of careers. At rehearsal and signaling device practice, I was way too slow. I could not seem to ring in faster than anyone else. I just knew I was toast. The staff was great at calming us down and everyone was very professional. I was very happy that I was not chosen to compete against the defending champion Paul who came in as a three- time champ and went out a five-time champ. He was very good. There was definite camaraderie building among the contestants as we got to watch the first couple of games. Those of us who had not yet played got to go to the commissary for lunch, and when we came back, it was my turn to be called up. Joey had just knocked off Paul and we were very happy he had done it. We also really liked Joey, but this was Jeopardy! and we all wanted to win.
One of the contestants was so tall I had to be raised up to almost the maximum height on the podium. I thought I was going to fall over, I was up so high. I could barely reach the signaling device. As the game was playing, I was not even aware of the score; I could not concentrate on watching the scoreboard and the game board at the same time. When it was time for final Jeopardy! I realized I was in first place, and I was in shock, but I remembered our discussions on how to bet and how to do the arithmetic and to play to win. I did not know the answer but made an educated guess and was right. Wow. I could not believe I had done it, I was a Jeopardy! champion too.
I had five minutes to change clothes and fix my make-up and get back out there. Next game one of the competitors was very fast ringing in.
There was also a sports category I knew nothing about. I was close at the end but in second place. Final Jeopardy! was very hard and no one got it right, but I did not bet that much since I did not like the category and thought I might blow it. The guy in first had to defend against me betting it all and he bet too much. I won again, stunned. Thank you honey, for your betting strategy.
In the next game, three women playing this time, thank goodness we were all of a similar height so I did not have to be raised to the maximum podium height. Another sports category and you could just tell all of the guys waiting to play were saying: "I could run this category!" We barely rang in on any of them. I think I rang in on two of them, but I had no idea on the rest; it was about basketball coaches, not my sport. At the end, I looked up at the score and was not sure it was correct. I had more than double either of my two opponents so I could bet zero to win, or a small amount, or be greedy and bet more. I rounded up. The category looked hard. As soon as I saw the clue I wished I had bet more. I was positive I knew the answer. No one else got it, but I did. However, it was too much of a risk to have bet a lot since I would have lost the money if it had been a question like the prior final. I was a three-time champion, I had won $58,000!
I could not believe it. The afternoon was now over and I had to come back the next day and do it again, but as returning champion. I don't think I got much sleep that night, the adrenaline was pumping.
The next day, we had rehearsal, more practice with the signaling device. I was not in sync and was way too slow. A new group of contestants, plus two who had not been selected from the prior day were back. One of those was chosen as my first opponent. He had said as we were leaving the day before, that he was going to beat me and he did. He was so fast. I just could not ring in fast enough to beat him and he was ahead of me at the end and I missed the final Jeopardy! He did not. I always hated physics in high school and in college. It was my least favorite subject then and now in Jeopardy! too.
I have not told anyone that I won other than my husband. I just told my friends and co-workers to watch on June 24th. Some people just assumed that I won or why would I want anyone to watch. One person told me he knew I had won because he just knew me and there was no way I would not have won. I guess it is nice when people are so confident about you.
Before I left for LA, a five-time Jeopardy! Champion and Tournament of Champions winner, Leslie Frates, had given me some great advice: it is a game; have fun; it will be the fastest 22 minutes in your life; and enjoy yourself. I tried to take her advice. I absolutely loved my time on Jeopardy! I had a great time with the other contestants, some of whom I saw at the hotel afterwards. I had lunch with the family of one contestant after I had lost and we left the studio together with her family to go back to the hotel. They were wonderful people.
This was a wonderful experience to have had. I can't wait for people to see me win! (Especially my parents.)