Season 26 1-time champion: $19,410 + $2,000.
Astoria, New York
October 25, 2009
My only ambition when I made it on Jeopardy! was to have a positive score at the end of Double Jeopardy! so I wouldn't get sent packing back to my seat in the audience, a bright red numerical value the only hint that there had ever been a player at podium #2. In hindsight, this could not have possibly been my top expectation for myself. No one spends their life pining not to embarrass themselves on TV. Little 15-year-old and 17-year-old Jens (Jennifers at the time, actually) didn't travel to Boston and Baltimore to unsuccessfully try out for Teen Jeopardy! to fulfill a childhood dream of answering in the form of a question enough times that their loss or 2nd-place-finish wouldn't stand out as memorably bad in the minds of the viewers. It didn't make for good trash talk ("I'm gonna perform SO CONSISTENTLY that yo momma's gonna feel it!"), but that's what I thought my goal was.
The first time the online audition call went out, I made a few calculations and noticed that my upcoming 27 months serving in the Peace Corps were likely to conflict with any possible taping day. As it so happens, a close friend used that audition to finagle his way onto the show before me. I remember the February evening that I got his call after the taping, reaching outside my sleeping bag in my 32-degree bedroom only long enough to grab my Peace Corps-issued cell phone and yank my arm back under the covers. It was some consolation that he came in third place, though truth be told, he always beat me at Trivial Pursuit and could probably beat me at Jeopardy! 99 times out of 100.
But not this time! Bwa ha ha! Wait... I'm getting ahead of myself.
A couple years later, online audition time came around again, and I registered for it the first day that I was notified by the Jeopardy! mailing list, like a nerd. This was in keeping with my doing everything else like a nerd. A few months later, I received the most treasured prize in the world--an audition time--and naturally, it came the day before I was to be playing violin at a wedding in Texas. It's so rare that I can say that. I sent the audition coordinator an email that was probably full of despair, offering to travel to any east coast city they named if I could have another time. Turns out, for some reason, no one wanted to audition at 9 AM on a Sunday, so they had a spot for me in that group. I took it greedily. I made flashcards about senators, ballet, playwrights, and art, all based on top 10 lists made by friends who knew more about those subjects than I did. I bought Art History for Dummies, Poetry for Dummies, and Smart Girl's Guide to Sports. I imagine most self-respecting women would be offended to throw those books in the same category, but I have no shame; even today, I can't name one Cy Young winner. Despite that, the audition went fine.
And then a few months later, standing in a public bathroom stall, I got the call.
I came to the taping after an entire day sitting in my Los Angeles hotel room and trying to find public transportation to anywhere. A friend of a friend had taken pity and driven me to go get a cheeseburger (thanks, Elliot!), but aside from that, it was mostly a day spent reading flash cards and watching Wall-E on Netflix. At 7:30 AM, I met about a dozen other contestants in the lobby, all identifiable by their business casual attire and their wheelie bags with two changes of clothes. I had my other outfits on hotel hangers and strewn across the lobby furniture. The studio shuttle arrived, and I spilled tea on my pants. Go me.
I was intimidated by every single other contestant. Some of them were the type who looked like they were on their way to being titans of industry and had taken a day off making multibillion dollar deals to come stomp everyone else on a game show. Some were completely friendly, yet would let slip a fact or reference something obscure so you could tell, beneath the cordiality, there were millions and millions of answers. Some looked like they did College Bowl in earlier days; these are easiest to recognize. I did College Bowl for four years, and the good players certainly are a 'type.' I don't include myself in that, not because I don't think I look like a nerd (see above) but because I wasn't a particularly good player. That could have been relative; it doesn't help your estimate of your own abilities when your teammates go on to win the VH1 World Series of Pop Culture, certainly.
I vaguely remember hours of Jeopardy! debriefing, a few minutes of make-up, some kind of rehearsal, and wondering when taping would start. Then taping started, the games were taped, and the day was over. That is really what it feels like. Everyone says it, so I will, too--it goes by so fast! I sat in the audience watching the first two games of the day, seeing the champ from the previous week become a 2-day and 3-day champ, and having my mind blown by how quickly the score can change. The time came for them to select the players for the third game, and despite my fervent hope that someone else would knock off the 3-day champion so I wouldn't have to play him, that didn't come to pass. I got my mic on, had my makeup retouched, and carefully climbed up the psychedelically-painted studio floor to the second podium.
I remember two things about the game, and that is all. First was that one of the categories in the first round was "Night at the Museum," which happens to be a movie that my friends and I have an unhealthy interest in, and if it's visible through the Elizabeth I-esque foundation on my face, that's why I'm cracking up when I select that category. The second is that I had never heard of the animal type in my Daily Double question that I was supposed to identify, but I was able to picture an animal that could open its jaw really wide, and that animal was a little plastic Hungry Hungry Hippo.
Another guess was my Final Jeopardy! response, hence the unnecessary question marks and ellipsis. I thought it was a terrible guess because Thomas Paine was British. Turns out he wasn't. If they had revealed the Ben Franklin answer first, I would have kicked myself for not writing it because at least he was American.
The score totals came up, and I won. This was not expected. I didn't have anything ready to say to Alex when we were chit-chatting afterward, and I had even less to say to the winner's circle interview camera. I don't actually remember what I said, but I'm sure it could have been distilled into about one sentence of actual content, and I'm sure I came across either snarkier or dumber than intended. I'm fine with that; it would be the height of ingratitude to complain about my lack of wit (the situation was ripe for a 'Common Sense' joke) after winning.
I would, however, like to take this opportunity to apologize to the New York Mets. For the most of you that don't see the Hometown Howdies, I gave my just-won-Jeopardy! promo with the two options that I would dominate like the Yankees or choke like the Mets. Just to alienate the other half of New York, I'm not a Yankees fan. The Mets are actually my proxy favorite team when I'm out of range from my real favorite team. The assessment of dominance versus choke is entirely mathematical and not based on who I like more. I still love you, David Wright. And just to prove that my team loyalty isn't based on performance, know that my real favorite team is the Washington Nationals.
I haven't told anyone how I did on Jeopardy!, except the friend who made that trans-national call to tell me how he did. One of my other friends is hosting a viewing party with Labatt Blue in honor of the show's color and Alex's Canadian heritage, which is very sweet considering that the climax of the evening could potentially have been my walking off the stage at the end of Double Jeopardy! They'd probably cheer anyway.