Season 25 1-time champion: $30,000 + $2,000.
Mother of Season 32 2-time champion Claudia Corriere.
Carolyn Young - a Homemaker
February 6, 2009
Before the Taping
Me - mild-mannered (sort of) mom and homemaker, I Tivo and watch Jeopardy! every evening during dinner with my husband and usually at least one of my teen-aged kids. For quite a while now, my daughter Rachel and I have had an unspoken competition over who could shout out the answers first, with her always yelling, "Mom, don't read ahead!" But I love to get the answers correct and have imagined myself as a contestant on Jeopardy! for at least 30 years.
A number of years ago (13, more or less), when I was living in Northern California, I signed up to take the Jeopardy! test in San Francisco. I showed up very early at a large hotel, along with what seemed like 300-400 other potential contestants (I don't know how many there actually were, but it was a lot!), and took the written test of 50 questions. I remember "Rocky," from the Jeopardy! staff, wearing a leather "Jeopardy!" bomber jacket and being our host there. At least, that's how I remember it. We all took the test and afterward, a few people were asked to remain in the ballroom and the rest of us were told, "Thanks but you're outta here!." It was short and sweet and while I was somewhat dispirited, I took away an entirely new perception of those contestants who appeared on the show and never seemed to ring in or appeared not to know anything. I personally knew now that anyone who actually passed that initial test and then went on to appear on the show was obviously smart - that test was one difficult sucker!
I continued to watch the show as my family and I moved all around the country, always playing at home, shouting out the answers before Alex could even finish reading the questions and thinking to myself, "I would rock on Jeopardy! I should be a contestant!" but never taking the next step. Finally, one day toward the end of 2007, I saw the announcement during the show that the on-line test would be available and that registration was open. I believed that announcement was made for me personally, and it was "my time." So, I took the on line test in late January of 2008 and waited. And waited. And not actually knowing what to expect regarding a response from Jeopardy!, I waited some more. Then, after a couple of months, I gave up, thinking I just didn't cut it - again!
Out of the blue, in mid-July, I received an e-mail that invited me to a second round "live" Jeopardy! audition in Savannah, not too far from my home in the Atlanta area. Boy, was I excited! So I booked my hotel room and prepared to go to Savannah. And then I began to watch Jeopardy! with a little more intensity. I read Ken Jennings' book and bought some other trivia books, boned up on presidents and on Shakespeare, just in case, and anticipated my big trip to Savannah in September.
Arriving at the testing site in the hotel meeting room, I checked out the "other" potential contestants - maybe 20 or 25 people - and listened to them discuss their "last" time taking the test, and in some cases, actually seeing them being recognized by Jeopardy! staffers, Maggie or Robert. Boy, THAT was discouraging (I'm not sure why...). Some of them even recognized each other - I felt completely out of some mysterious loop that I hadn't even known existed up to that time.
We were all ushered into the testing room where we took a 50-question written test (which vaguely seemed like a snap) and then were given an opportunity to "play" a Jeopardy! game with the actual signaling buttons. I was called up in the first group of three players and we were off! It was a rush! And lots of fun. I certainly saw then that this signaling device would play an integral role in whether I won or lost, along with the luck of the draw on categories. We even had a brief opportunity to "chat" with an Alex stand-in, which was Maggie!
After a few questions and my own little question/answer chat, that first group of 3 was told to be seated and the next group was called up. Only after I returned to my seat and began to observe the other potential contestants play their games did I notice the Jeopardy! staffer sitting off to the side, making notes on every contestant who played their mock game. I realized at that point that THIS was the real audition, this person watching and taking notes about how we played the game, how fun and exciting we could be as contestants (after all, as staff kept reminding us, Jeopardy! is a game!). Wish I had seen that person BEFORE I went up to play my game!
As we finished up and prepared to leave, Maggie told us all that by virtue of passing the on-line test, we are all technically in the contestant pool. The second written test and the mock game would definitely be considered when Jeopardy! staff was deciding who to call, but technically, we all now could be called to do a taping in Los Angeles. Pretty exciting! So I went home to wait - again! - and tried not to think about it too much.
Then, in the first week of November, Glenn called me and gave me the news that I was scheduled to tape on November 18/19, provided I could make those dates. Could I make those dates? I seriously had to think about it - for 3 seconds - before I confirmed, what? Are you kidding? Of course I can make those dates! I called the recommended hotel to make my reservation, reserved my plane ticket (and treated myself to a first class round trip - I was traveling on miles anyway, so why not?) and tried to call my husband, who was off on a hunting trip. His cell phone was apparently not working as I must have called him 20 times before I gave up and called my Mom - I had to call SOMEBODY! Then, a few days later, I invited my Mom to come from Dallas and join me in L.A. - she had never been to a TV show taping and she was up for it so we were all set. I also invited my best friend Leslie and her husband Bill, who live in Sherman Oaks, to the taping as well. Those two weeks couldn't pass quickly enough!
Since the taping was scheduled to begin on Tuesday morning at 8 a.m., I flew into LAX on Monday afternoon, as did my mom, and we met at the airport. We called the hotel to request that the shuttle pick us up (as Glenn had told me it would) and went to the hotel. I didn't rent a car but would advise everyone, if you can swing it and want to check out any part of LA besides the airport and Culver City, rent a car. Taxis are just too expensive - LA is not New York City. In addition, if you bring along any friends or family to watch your taping, they will have to arrange their own mid-morning transportation to/from the Sony Studio - the hotel shuttle will not take them. But at any rate, on our first night in LA, we did call a taxi and went to Santa Monica for dinner at a restaurant I knew on Ocean Avenue. The taxi to and from Santa Monica cost almost as much as dinner - I could have rented a car for three days for the cost of the taxi - but still figured I would skip the rental car. On Tuesday evening after the taping, Mom and I had arranged to have dinner with my friends, and Wednesday was scheduled to be another taping day. I couldn't forsee any reason to rent a car.
So, on Tuesday morning bright and early, I stood on the drive under the hotel's portico, waiting to board the shuttle along with about 15 other Jeopardy! contestants. We were pretty easy to recognize because we were all dressed somewhat nicely (what has come to be known as "business casual") and holding clothing bags (containing our changes of clothing, if we should be lucky enough to play more than one game, of course!). Some of us were quiet (me), some were pretty gregarious, sizing up the competition. After all, we were about to play against each other on a game show which would be nationally televised, with lots of upside (big bucks!) and lots of downside (public humiliation!). At that point, my greatest desire was that I not embarrass myself on national television. I heard others express the same concern, bracketed by nervous laughter.
We had learned on the shuttle bus ride from the hotel to the Sony Studio who our competition was - a quiet young man, a graduate student from Washington, D.C., sitting at the back of the bus who was a 5-time champion. Wow - that didn't bode well for some of us. But we were here and ready to compete - finally! - so on with it!
We arrived at the Sony Studios Visitor's Center where we waited for Jeopardy! staffer Corina to escort us to the set. She arrived, put us all aboard another shuttle bus and we were told from that point on not to speak to anyone outside the Jeopardy! staff. We were, for the most part, sequestered as a group in the green room which was equipped with bathrooms, make-up chairs/make-up artists and a full spread of breakfast foods. We had no reason to leave that room, and probably would not have been allowed to leave barring some type of personal emergency. We had been told on the bus to turn off our cell phones as we would not be allowed to use them. In fact, we would not be allowed to use any phone, again barring an emergency, and even then the phone conversation would be monitored! This was some pretty serious stuff but it was also very exciting.
While we were in the green room awaiting our rehearsal period, we, the contestants, were sent two-by-two to make-up as Maggie spoke to us. There was also a minor amount of paperwork to complete, so all these chores were accomplished while Maggie, Robert and Tony "oriented" us to the process we were about to begin. Once Maggie's orientation speech was completed and everyone had been to make-up, we all went to the actual Jeopardy! set to play a couple of rehearsal games.
We stepped out of the green room, around the corner and there it was - that bright blue Jeopardy! set, those podiums (or is it podia?), "the board," and lots of stage crew doing various tasks. First, we met John the stage manager. He pointed out the cameras to us, filled us in on where to look when we were introduced and other basic stage directions. Then, he told us to approach the podiums and familiarize ourselves with the writing screens (where you sign in, write your wager and then your question for Final Jeopardy!) and the signaling devices. It was also at this time that we were all made aware of the little white "enable" lights we had heard about in our live audition and how those lights interact with the signaling device. We were all given an opportunity to practice "ringing in" with the signaling devices once we saw the enable lights illuminate. This is a HUGE part of winning on Jeopardy!, definitely as critical as Jeopardy! lore suggests.
After this little orientation, contestants all filed into the audience seats and waited to be called to rehearse. The returning champ, Matt, stood at the #1 position, of course, and two other contestants were called to fill the other two spots and rehearsal began, with Glenn standing in for Alex. We played two complete rounds of Jeopardy!, with every contestant having the opportunity to practice at least twice. This rehearsal period was primarily an opportunity to use the signaling device and observe the enable lights. Obviously, we would never see the categories again (at least not on OUR games), although I must say I KILLED at playing those rehearsal rounds!
After rehearsal, we were then escorted back to the green room where we would learn who would be up first against 5-time champion Matt from D.C. Unbelievably, my name was called and I was immediately rushed back into the make-up chair for a touch-up before being taken back to the set. Wow - no time to get nervous, this is it, just go for it! I had only wanted to do this for 30 years, and here I was, ready to go on national TV to either make or break my rep with my family and friends as the knower of all things factoid. So Matt and I and obviously one other person (I have no idea who it was now, because the whole thing is something of a blur to me) were waiting in the green room and the other contestants prepared to go out into the audience to watch. And then we received word that there was some kind of "delay," so we waited. And then we waited a little longer. If you think a theme has developed here, it has - waiting.
Finally, after a few more minutes, Corina entered the green room and headed straight to me. I had a sinking feeling and immediately knew what had happened, even without being told. My Mom, after having made her way to Sony in a taxi, arriving at the Visitor's Center, being brought around to the studio and filing into the audience seats, had a devastating accident on the stairs and required immediate medical attention. Sony medical people had been called and they had, in turn, called Culver City paramedics. Once I was taken to her, I discovered that she had taken quite a spill on the stairs and had a contusion on her forehead and on her lower arm, but the biggest concern was serious pain in her rib area. Considering my mom's advanced age, we all agreed she needed x-rays so off we went to the nearest hospital, with me riding in the ambulance.
Need I say this was certainly an unforeseen turn of events? Was this the end of my Jeopardy! dream? Well, of course not! Jeopardy! Staff could not have been nicer or more supportive. They insisted I call as soon as I knew how my mom was doing, and come back that day if possible (it wasn't) but definitely the next day if I could (I did). They thrust papers into my hands with phone numbers and expressed great concern. Once my mom was finally diagnosed (fractured rib, extremely painful for an elderly woman), we filled her prescription for pain medication and made our way back to the hotel, I was somewhat distracted from Jeopardy! and more concerned about my mom. Within minutes of arriving in our room, however, Maggie was calling to check on us and express her concern for my mom. I assured her I'd be there the next day and we had a room service dinner.
The next day, my mom was still in terrible shape but insisted I go to play Jeopardy! and although looking back now, I realize I probably should not have left her alone, I did a repeat of the previous morning after getting Mom set up with food, snacks, pain meds and the do not disturb sign on the hotel room door. When I went downstairs to wait on the shuttle, I discovered only two contestants left from the previous day! And one of those guys had won 3 games and $110,000! I immediately texted my husband that I was probably dead meat but what the heck, I was going to go play Jeopardy!
After going through a complete re-run of the previous morning (I felt like I was in "Groundhog Day") I was again chosen to be up in the first group of contestants to challenge that 3-time champion, again along with some other guy who I don't remember! (Is it all about me or what?) We got our make-up touched up and were led on stage by staff - I stood in the #3 position, farthest downstage, or on the far right. We were introduced (those 5 seconds you have to smile into the camera feel like 105!), the champion was introduced and then Alex came out and we all turned to him and applauded, with Johnny Gilbert making all those announcements we've all heard him make for years! Then the game began.
To this day, I can't tell you what my categories were. I can't tell you how anyone else played. I can tell you that a tunnel-vision develops. The studio lights are bright, you see that big answer board, the answers come up as Alex reads, you peripherally notice the white enable lights, you peripherally notice your red signal lights have come on, which means you rang in first and get to respond, you answer correctly and you move on. Before you can believe it, it's time for the first break. It seems as though you have played for only a moment. Maggie, Glenn and Robert descend during the break with water, words of encouragement and support. You can step back for a moment and kind of take it all in - it's Jeopardy! Do you even believe it?!?
After the commercial break is over, Alex is standing with you waiting to ask you about something you have written on that little index card. He has not spoken directly to you before, except to read the answer board, and during the break he chats with the audience. He is a bit of a cut-up, and invites questions. But now, he's standing next to you and asking you about some ridiculous thing you thought you wanted to discuss on national television! He is very personable, though, and seems to actually be interested in your little story. He even asks an appropriate question to elicit a little more information from you. I guess that's why he gets paid the big bucks.
Everyone gets their chance to speak and then it's back to the game. The second half seemed to go by faster than the first half. I can remember that I ran most of a category about skyscrapers (go figure) and another one about brand names. But I will be curious to see my show air because frankly, I don't remember much else. I was ahead for part of the game, definitely NOT ahead for part of it, and when Final Jeopardy! came around, I was in second place with $15,000. The leader (also the 3-time champ) had $17,000+ and the other guy - well, I don't remember exactly how much he had but I think it was in the $8,000 range.
The category for Final Jeopardy! was "State Capitals." Well, I have done a lot of traveling, and have visited almost every state in the United States. State capitals is something I know a little bit about. But it's probably something everybody else on Jeopardy! would know about as well, so I don't feel particularly sure of myself. One thing I do know, however, is that I will have to risk everything I have on this one question and hope the champ either does his math wrong or can't come up with the answer. So during the commercial break, I write down my wager - $15,000. Go big or go home. Then I start listing state capitals in my head.
After the commercial break was over, the Final Jeopardy! answer was revealed. It read (and I'm paraphrasing here), "The only state capital named for a VICE President." Hallelujah! I started writing my answer before Alex even finished reading. I knew this one but it was so easy, I figured the champ knew it as well. I felt that the "other guy" began to write immediately, just as I did. I couldn't see, due to the privacy screens between us, but he seemed to kind of step back from the podium just as I did. I believed we both had the correct answer. I couldn't see what the champ was doing. I assumed he'd gotten it correct and I would be in second place because he certainly had enough money going into final to beat me.
"Other guy's" answer was revealed first because he went into Final Jeopardy! in third place. He had written the correct question - What is Jefferson City? So then I knew I also had it right. My question was revealed second because I was in second place going into Final Jeopardy! That meant I had $30,000. Then the champ's wager was revealed - I have no idea what it was now but I'm sure he wagered enough that he could have beaten me with $30,001. BUT - wait for it - HE DIDN'T COME UP WITH THE CORRECT QUESTION! HE COULDN'T COME UP WITH ANY QUESTION! I HAD WON THIS GAME!
I am sure now, when my show airs and I watch the ending, it will be completely apparent how totally and completely shocked I was to win. That guy was a great Jeopardy! player and obviously, having won 3 games and $110,000, he was very smart.
So that was it - I won on Jeopardy! and now I am a Jeopardy! Champion! Unbelievable. Still, two weeks later, it's unbelievable. I changed clothes and played a second game, which I lost miserably but came in second, so I got $2000 for it. Awesome! After my second game, I went back to the green room, gathered my belongings and met my friends Leslie and Bill outside. We hopped in Bill's car and went to the Hotel Bel Air for lunch - my treat!
What an experience those two days were. Of course, I could have lived without the first one, and my mom's accident. She could have lived without it even more than I! But who knows? Maybe if I had played on that first day, I would have completely bombed out and gone home with $1000 for third place. Things happen for a reason - even unpleasant things. My mom brought along a little "good luck" charm that my cousin had made and sent to me - twin silver hearts to represent my twin granddaughters. Maybe they brought me good luck after all!
Do I need to bother saying I have already spent my money (which I probably won't actually have in my hand until June 2009)? I am taking my entire family on a vacation to Costa Rica. It will be amazing and considering the ages of my kids (one in high school, one in college and one already married with her own kids), it might well be our last family vacation. Thanks, Jeopardy!