A United Methodist pastor from Parma, Michigan...

Melanie Baker-Streevy

Hi, Mid-Michigan, I'm Melanie Baker-Streevy from Parma. It's taken me ten years to get my chance to be on Jeopardy! Who says persistence doesn't pay off? Watch me!

Season 25 1-time champion: $26,900 + $1,000.

Melanie Baker-Streevy - A United Methodist Pastor
Parma, Michigan
April 24, 2009

My career in Jeopardy! (if not my appearance on the show) has been a long one, starting way back in elementary school. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Price, would bring the school's black and white TV in on a cart so we could watch the Art Fleming version during lunch at our desks. That, and I used to read the encyclopedia for fun when I was a kid. When I began to watch the current show as an adult, I found that I knew a surprising number of correct responses.

The first time I heard of the possibility of a contestant search was ten or eleven years ago, when one of the searches was being held in Detroit. I signed up--in that era we still did not have Internet access, so I remember going to a friend's house to register. I took the fifty-question test at the Renaissance Hotel, and was amazed when my name was called as "making the cut." I never got called to be a contestant after that, and reapplied, auditioning four more times, all in Chicago, about once every other year, as often as there was an audition site within reasonable distance. The last two have been after I've taken the online test. I've joked with people who ask me about Jeopardy! that even if the show never called me, trying out is a pretty harmless hobby!

The most memorable audition to me was my fourth, which was held at Navy Pier in Chicago. I decided to forego staying in a hotel in order to save a few dollars, and rented a guest room the night before in the dorm at the seminary I attended in Evanston. I got up very early on audition day, a Saturday, to walk to the El, head downtown, get breakfast, and collect myself--and discovered a steady drizzle. I hadn't brought an umbrella, so I tore open the plastic garbage bag from the dorm room's trash can to put over my head and shoulders. When I got on the El and settled in for what's supposed to be a twenty minute ride, I quickly learned that Saturday is the day they do maintenance on the El tracks. An hour and a half later, the leisurely (or any other) breakfast was out of the question, and I was panicking on whether I'd even make it in time. I got off the El, spent $20 on a taxi that dropped me off at Navy Pier about with about ten minutes to spare--except that the audition room was clear at the other end of the Pier--about a mile, or so it seemed! I trotted through the building with my acceptance letter in my hand, and arrived, red-faced, breathless, and sweating, to see the end of the line of potential contestants filing into the room. Tony assured me I was in time, and promptly took my Polaroid picture. Great.

The moral to that story, boys and girls, is spend the money on the hotel room the night before the audition!

I did next time around (June 2008), and was pleased to be there in plenty of time, refreshed, and with audition veteran's confidence. I knew I could pass a fifty-question test--though they're different each time, I'd done it four times before--so the task at hand was to be witty and sparkling in the mock game. Maggie and Tony made the audition great fun, and by the time my turn to play the practice game and talk with the staff came around, I felt better about it than any of my previous tries.

Then came the wait. I suspect over these ten-plus years, I've bored and annoyed any number of people with talk of my Jeopardy! ambitions, though I have asked close friends to let me know if I become annoying, just before that happens. Though I've read both Ken Jennings' Brainiac and Bob Harris' Prisoner of Trebekistan, I haven't followed their example of studying endlessly while waiting for a call. I did play along regularly, practicing my wagers (this may come as a surprise, but as a pastor, betting does not come as second nature). I also brushed up on frequent Jeopardy! topics like opera (I made flashcards) and U.S. Presidents. And I wrote a sort of a bucket list of my goals for my Jeopardy! appearance (including"don't get scolded by Alex"-you know, "Oh no, that was the MING dynasty!"). Mostly, I just tried to keep reading, to stay interested in a variety of topics, and relish the idea that I had qualified for Jeopardy! (I do love Bob Harris' book, though. His "Eightfold Path to Enlightened Jeopardy!" is not only a hilarious read, but a pretty darn good philosophy.)

Other contestants talk about getting The Call, but actually I made The Call. I was away from home when Glenn called the house in late January, and my husband Michael called me on my cell to let me know that "Glenn from Jeopardy!" had called. I happened to be with my brother and sister at the time, and debated aloud whether I should call Glenn back rather than waiting for him to call me. My brother said, "for heaven's sake, call!" Trying to remain calm, I wrote down everything Glenn told me while my siblings looked on. When I hung up, the cheering began, and I got used to having people scream into the phone when I told them the good news. The most fun I had telling people I had been called to appear on the show was the announcement I made in worship that next Sunday morning. The congregation has been among my most encouraging supporters.

The Jeopardy! contestant staff is kind enough to give you a few weeks' notice to get arrangements made before coming to California, but by the weekend before the taping date, I was pretty nerved up. The congregation I serve was so gracious, giving me a send-off after worship that Sunday, complete with a "Good Luck on Jeopardy!" cake.

Michael and I had taken the week off so we could have some Southern California vacation time in addition to the Jeopardy! taping. We arrived late Sunday night and had Monday to rest up before the big day on Tuesday.

It's an interesting dynamic to go to the hotel lobby and wait for the shuttle. You look around and see the people who are going to be your competition. For me, it was the first wake-up call that I wasn't in my living room anymore. These folks with the garment bags over their shoulders were as bright as me ( or brighter), several were much younger, no doubt with faster signaling-button reflexes, and all of them were equally eager to do well at the game! I tried hard not to make eye contact with any of them, just staying in my zone, but after a bit Daniel from Georgia (who I ended up playing against in my second game), came over and hung his clothes on a rack next to mine (affirming that it looked like a good idea when I did it) and we struck up a conversation. The bus ride to the studio was quiet for about the first minute, then everyone began telling their Jeopardy! stories.

The most amazing thing I learned in this whole process was that it is not only possible, but enjoyable, to bond with your fellow contestants. We're more or less sequestered in the green room before and between games, and together in the audience in the ones we're not appearing in. You might as well get to know and like each other, and I discovered a group of fun, witty, interesting, smart, and gracious people. It was less about psyching anyone out or putting on a game face than about everyone enjoying the experience. To a person, we wished each other the best. Wright, from Yonkers, who I played in my first game, turned to me in the audience during the game before ours, and just beamed as he said, "isn't it cool just to be here?" It is.

We did all the green room preparation--forms, briefings, practicing our "hometown howdies", make-up--and again, the staff (Maggie and Robert on our taping day) kept it light, upbeat, and fast-paced. It helped with the jitters.

Walking onto the set is a thrill. It's not as huge as it looks on television, but impressive to be there in person. We rehearsed a game, several clues' worth for each person, to get used to the signaling button (the stage manager calls them, in my case pretty accurately, "the lockout buttons") and the light pens and the pace, which somehow also seems considerably faster in person than at home.

I wasn't called for the first game, or the second, and it's hard not to get (more) nervous while watching from the audience. It didn't help that at one point I took a swig of water, which went down the wrong pipe, so I started choking and coughing during the first taping. One of the staff came over and asked if I needed some water. ("No thanks I'm fine!" I wheezed.) I also found that many of the categories I'd hoped for came up in their games! The category selection is all random, so there's no point crying over spilled "Biblical Before and After."

My name got drawn for the third show, along with Wright's, and we went up against Stefanie from Seattle, who had mowed her way through the competition in the previous two games. No pressure. I drew the card for podium #2, which was what I'd hoped for--it often seems, watching from home, that the contestant in the #3 podium struggles. We went back to the green room to get make-up retouched, and we were on.

I have little recollection of that first game, except for a few details. I thought, "Wow, you're here," when Johnny Gilbert made the announcement, and watched Alex appear from backstage. The game commenced, and I know I was not keeping up very well in the beginning of the first round--including in a "Religions" category, in which Wright pretty much spanked me. (Live that one down at the next clergy gathering, Melanie!) I hit the Daily Double near the end of the first round, and as much as I wanted to say, "make it a true daily double," I didn't want to go into the next round with nothing. I missed that one, and had just $1000 left, and the unenviable position of "you get to select first in th Double Jeopardy! round". Something turned, and I began to hit my stride. I swept a category (which wasn't on my list of goals, but I wanted to have happen), and the next time I looked at the score monitor, I was right in contention with the others.

We got to Final Jeopardy! which was "U.S. Presidents". When I play at home, I don't wager on the basis of how much I know about the category as much as "how much do I need to win?" Stefanie was in second place behind me, so I did the math--if she doubled her score, plus $100 (I don't like that $1 over business). The clue ("One of two 20th century presidents besides Carter to live 30 years after being elected") led me to believe Gerald Ford was one of the right responses, so I wrote his name down quickly, then spent the rest of the "Think Music" time trying to do THAT math to make sure I was right--being from Michigan, I thought I'd better be right about Ford! As I recall, both Wright and Stefanie responded correctly. But I think my biggest thrill out of the whole experience was hearing Alex say, "Ooh, Hello!" when my fairly large wager was revealed. (That wasn't on my goal list either, but it sure felt good!)

After the third taping, the one I won, is the lunch break. I am seldom unable to eat, but my adrenaline was pumping so hard after that game that I just picked at my sandwich and fries, while everyone else carried on lighthearted conversation. Back to the green room to change into "outfit number two" and try to breathe again. I was grateful for the longer interval between games because of lunch, but I was still awfully nervous!

My opponents for the second game were Daniel and Liz (from Scranton). It was clear from the beginning that I was completely outclassed on the signaling button. Unfortunately, despite all my self-talk before appearing on the show (don't touch the button if you don't know the response!), I began panicking, just hitting the button wildly, and usually too early, locking myself out. Somehow, I stayed in the game--just barely. The highlights (?) of that game for me were one correct response and one incorrect one: getting my birthday right (which corresponds with James Joyce's "Bloomsday"); and the incorrect response "what is a target?" to the clue about what some famous outlaw had tattooed on his chest when he was captured. The audience laughed, and Glenn informed me during the commercial break that that was probably good enough to make it onto the blooper reel. My Jeopardy! moment of glory! I was too far behind at Final Jeopardy! to be in contention, unless both Liz and Daniel, who were in fairly close range, both got the response wrong. We all three got it right, and Liz, very graciously, shook my hand when she won, calling me "a worthy opponent." That was another lovely moment.

Life after Jeopardy! is a big transition. As of this writing, the show still won't air for a while. I've told some family and few friends the outcome, but have to avoid any "spoilers" to the general public. Mostly, I'm proudest of being able to tell people, "I needed more than one of my outfits." (Another of my goals was to play more than one game). I will always love the show, but as a "retired" Jeopardy! champion, I'll have to take up a new hobby!

Melanie appeared in the following 2 archived games:
#5679, aired 2009-04-23 Melanie Baker-Streevy vs. Liz Murphy vs. Daniel Wilkinson Liz Murphy game 1.
#5678, aired 2009-04-22 Stefanie Tomko vs. Melanie Baker-Streevy vs. Wright Polak

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