Season 25 2-time champion: $32,701 + $1,000.
Jason Pratt - A Middle School History Teacher
June 15, 2009
For as long as I can remember, I have been a Jeopardy! fan. I remember watching the show with my family almost every night, amazed that my parents knew so much about so much. Somewhere along the line, appearing on Jeopardy! became a life-goal-- somewhere between becoming an astronaut and learning golf from Bill Murray. (I'm still working on those last two.) I even created a review game for my history students called J-Pratty, telling them that my game was created first. (They all wanted me to sue Jeopardy! for stealing my idea.) It did not even occur to me to take steps towards actually trying out for the show until watching Jeopardy! with my wife last summer. We saw an announcement about online auditions and she insisted that I try out. I took the online test and was surprised to get an email a couple of weeks later asking me to come in for round two.
Round two consisted of a written test (to make sure that we didn't just Google the answers on the online test), and we participated in mock interviews and practice rounds with the buzzers. As nervous as I was coming in, I had such a good time as Maggie and Robert, two terrific Jeopardy! staff members, kept us laughing and regaled us with stories about the show. They reminded us several times that this was a GAME show, and that it should be fun! At the end of the day I learned that I was in the contestant pool, and we were told that I may receive a phone call within the next year (depending on how many contestants they needed). I was ecstatic about getting that far, but I seriously doubted that I would get a call to appear on the show. This doubt only grew stronger as six months passed without word from Jeopardy!.
On my way home from work one day in early February, I received a call from Corrina at Jeopardy! who informed me that I was selected to appear on the show. I was so excited, and she was gracious enough to get excited along with me. My wife, Leslie, was the first person I told. I asked her if we could go shopping for a couple of new shirts and ties, and I told her that I needed a haircut. She said, "Sure. Why?" I replied, "Because I want to look my best on Jeopardy! next month!" We went out to dinner to celebrate, and we spent the next few weeks brainstorming areas which I needed to study and compiling information about these topics. Because of the relatively short amount of time, I did not bother trying to learn new information; I focused most of my efforts on reinforcing information which I had perviously learned and had long since forgotten.
My wife and I arrived in Los Angeles on the afternoon before the day of taping, and we got settled in to our hotel. We tried to spend the afternoon relaxing and reading (and eating our first fish tacos), and we went to bed early so that I could get a good night's sleep. However, I was wide awake at 2:00 a.m., and after tossing and turning for a while I finally decided to get up around 2:30. Our hotel provided a shuttle to the studio, and it was on the shuttle ride that I first met some the other contestants. Everyone seemed very nice, and we all nervously talked about our jobs and hometowns. When we arrived at the studio we were taken to a green room, where we were provided with food and drinks. We spent most of the morning filling out paperwork and discussing what to expect for the rest of the day.
Toward the end of this session, and after spending a few minutes in the make-up chair, we were told that it was time to enter the studio. This was my favorite moment of the day, as we first walked onto the set we had seen on television so many times. The room was set up differently than I had pictured at home, with the audience off to the side, rather than directly in front of the contestants. We all got the opportunity to practice our timing with the buzzers (much more difficult than I had realized), and we participated in a couple of practice rounds. It was now time for the taping to begin. The reality of it all hit me when I saw Alex Trebek walk out onto the stage for the first game.
The show's announcer, Johnny Gilbert, welcomed the studio audience and answered their questions as we got settled into seats on the other side of the audience. The returning champion from the day before took his spot on the podium, and two other names were randomly drawn to compete. One of the things that struck each of us was how quickly the games went by. Before long, the second show was completed and Robert was yelling, "Jason! Let's go!" I was nervous beyond description at that point, but I tried to keep reminding myself that this was something fun that I had always wanted to try.
Once the game began, the competitive juices started flowing and I was able to focus a bit better. Early on I had trouble with timing the buzzer (apparently a pretty common challenge for contestants), but I was able to get settled about halfway through the first round. It was frustrating to know the answers to questions and not be able to ring in, but I know that the others shared the same frustration. Once again, the game went by very quickly (22 minutes, including introductions and interviews), and I found myself in first place going in to Final Jeopardy.
I was kicking myself inside for answering a question incorrectly late in the game with an answer that did not even exist. I was thinking of the Katzenjammer Kids, and I said Katzenmeyer. (Not that it would have mattered, since the answer was Jerry Lewis! ) My wrong answer meant that the game was not a runaway, and I was angry with myself for potentially throwing the game away on a careless mistake. I wrote my wager, breathed deeply, and waited for the final question. I was pretty sure of my answer, but I did not realize that I had won until the contestant to my right revealed her answer to Alex. My heart started racing and the voice in my head started yelling, "You just won on Jeopardy!!! Or did you? Did you do your math correctly on your wager? Aaaauugh!" Fortunately, I did do my math correctly and I won my first match!
During the interview section I had told Alex that I had asked my students to write their biggest life-goals on index cards (before I told them that I would be on the show), along with three specific steps for reaching those goals. It was neat to have the chance to pull those cards out on national television to deliver the message to my students that appearing on Jeopardy! was my biggest life-goal, and that it had become a reality. I wanted them to know that it was now their turn to meet their goals. It was also great that the final question was related to a topic I taught my students this year. I think that they will really enjoy seeing me answer a question that they could have deduced themselves.
We then broke for lunch, and then began the second match. Once again, I started very slowly, and at the end of the game I found myself in second place. The final question was a history question, but I did not know the answer. I kept playing an imaginary scenario over and over in my head in which I took abuse from my colleagues about missing a history question that I should have known. With about 7 seconds to go, the answer suddenly dawned on me, and I quickly scribbled out my response. I wrote the question mark and hit submit as the last note played, and I was floored when I realized that I had won again!
I had about ten minutes to get backstage and change clothes for the third game. In this game, I started very well. Unfortunately, it is more important to finish well, and I did not. I finished in third place, and I felt a sort of sad relief as I realized that this was my last game. I was happy for A.J., the winning contestant, but it was difficult to see this fun ride end. I wish A.J. all the best in his future games! He is a very good competitor, and he should do really well.
Since returning, I have replayed so many questions and answers in my head. (Did I really answer that the Spanish word for beer is...beer?!) There were also quite a few questions that went unanswered that I would love to have a second shot at. (To be fair, I'm sure that the other contestants are saying the same thing.) I have to say, though, that this was by far the most fun I have ever had. The staff, the crew, the other contestants-- everyone I met that day-- were wonderful. They did such a good job at keeping us loose and relaxed throughout the day. I really appreciate the opportunity I was given, and I cannot wait for my friends, family, co-workers, and students to get to see the shows when they air.
Oh, and just in case Bill Murray happens to read this: just name the time and the place, and I'll be there. The drinks are on me.