Season 26 1-time champion: $34,401 + $1,000.
Jove's second contestant interview was played during the closing remarks of Wheel of Fortune on 2010-01-11.
Jeopardy! Message Board user name: biomed129
Jove Graham - a Biomedical Engineer
December 11, 2009
From Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
I have a feeling that I'm going to repeat some of what has been said by others, but here are my thoughts about the incredible experience I had this week playing Jeopardy! When I called my wife immediately afterwards, I told her the "plot" of my day could be summed up in three sentences:
1. I went up against a 5-time champion.
2. I beat him and it felt amazing.
3. Then I lost the next game because I missed a Billy Joel question (d'oh!).
Emotionally and big picture-wise, I would sum up the experience as:
1. It is every bit as exciting and thrilling as I thought it would be.
2. Everything happens SO incredibly fast, it is a giant blur.
3. Even though I had heard the warnings from previous contestants, the timing involved in hitting that button is SO incredibly difficult and it makes or breaks you.
PROLOGUE AND PREPARATION
My journey to Jeopardy! was rapid and serendipitous. I had auditioned for the College Tournament almost fifteen years ago, but hadn't thought about trying out again until last winter when I heard about the online test, went online, and found out that the last test was being given that very night. So almost on a whim, I registered, stayed up until test-time, and took it. I felt pretty good about how I'd done, but didn't expect anything would really come of it. A few months later, I got the email inviting me to an in-person audition in D.C. I knew it was still a long shot that I'd ever get to be on the show, but I decided to start memorizing lists of things like world capitals and Best Picture winners anyway. Figured it couldn't hurt. That audition also went pretty well, too (despite the fact that I managed to splash water all over the front of my pants while using the sink in the restroom just beforehand-luckily I was wearing a jacket that I could button). All my friends and relatives kept asking whether I had "made it" or not, and I kept trying to calm them down and tell them that I might not know for another 18 months, and it was still a longshot. But then much to my surprise and jubilation, I got a call from Maggie. I was going! In less than 4 weeks! I had so many butterflies in my stomach for the next 3 days that I couldn't eat and lost about 5 pounds. Eventually my nerves calmed down which was good, because I had a lot more studying to do! How did I prepare? Ever since the in-person audition, I had been taping and playing along with Jeopardy! every night. After the call, I started doing it standing up, behind a makeshift podium, with a homemade buzzer and a light shining in my face. My friend Shane had lent me Michael Dupee's and Chuck Forrest's books about being on Jeopardy!, and I also read Bob Harris's book. I wanted to practice during my commute to work, so I typed answers & questions into a spreadsheet, had the computer's voice read them aloud, recorded them as short MP3's, and downloaded them to my iPod so I could do "drills" in the car. I went through old games on the Jeopardy! archive website, keeping score in a notebook, and analyzing which subjects I needed work on. With four weeks to go, I made myself a study schedule-I spent one week brushing up on Geography, one week on History, one week on Art/Literature, and spent the final week just reviewing those. And then my time was up.
I flew to L.A. on a Sunday so that I'd have Monday to adjust to the time zone and chill out. I stayed with friends the first night, then moved to the hotel in Culver City that the folks at Jeopardy! recommended; I think all but 1 of the other contestants for the day stayed there, too. We all assembled in the lobby at 7:30am and a van took us to the studio. It was cool just to be on the Sony lot and think how far we'd all come to that point. Metal detectors, lots of paperwork, makeup, and lots of pep talk from Maggie came next, and then we all had a chance to walk out on the stage and get a couple practice rounds in pushing that infamous button. I think most of us would have stayed there practicing for hours if given the chance. But no, the show had to go on! At some point during all this preparation, it was revealed that one of us (Dave, an Air Force colonel) was secretly a 4-time champion from last week. He was a really nice guy, and at the same time you could tell he was pretty cool and confident (with good reason). We were all pretty intimidated, and wondered who would have to face him. Or if all of us would have to face him-ulp!
They called the first two people's names for the first game, and I wasn't one of them. On one hand, I had thought it might be good to go first, as maybe Dave would be a little rusty on the buzzer from his week off and therefore vulnerable. That didn't turn out to be the case, though, and so I was happier that I got a chance to watch one real game in action before having to get up and play myself. The rest of us all watched that game, which pitted Dave against Olivia and Paul. All three played hard, and it wasn't a runaway, but thanks to a missed Daily Double and some other things, Dave came out on top. The Final Jeopardy! category was "1800's Literature," and I knew the answer immediately (a certain miserly character with the initals E.S.) because I had been taking Bob Harris's advice about studying seasonal topics. I'd been reviewing lots of Christmas (and Hanukkah) material and wondered if everyone else had been, too.
Then, as soon as that game was over, they announced, "Jove! Sarah! You're next!" So I had to run back to the green room, get a touch-up on the makeup, take a deep breath, and then suddenly I'm walking out onto the stage to face the FIVE-time champion. We got to the podiums and wrote our names with the light pen. (I wrote mine really big as a shoutout to my friend Jason who told me he always roots for the person who writes their name the best.) We recorded our Hometown Howdies-mine was really cheesy, but then, so am I. And then it was time. The music started, and Johnny Gilbert said, "This is Jeopardy!" I don't think I even really heard my name being spoken because I was just concentrating on when to smile and trying not to look too nervous on the camera. We clapped as Alex came out, we picked up our buzzers, and we were off.
I know other people have said this but THE GAME FLIES BY SO QUICKLY. It is all a blur. As I write this, it is 3 days later and (with great help from my friend Lesley who watched from the audience) I have been able to recall all but two of the categories I had, and most of the clues. But with a few very memorable exceptions, I couldn't begin to tell you which clues were in which round for which game. It's amazing how many things your brain is trying to process all at once (the category, the clue, the right answer, the last word that Alex will say, how much of a delay you're going to try and wait before pushing that button, and then... push push push!). You have absolutely no time to try and store or record anything that happened to you 10 seconds ago.
There were no categories that popped up where I said, "Oh good!" Mostly, I said, "Oh no," or "Hmm, I don't know what that means." I knew the first couple clues of the game but wasn't able to ring in first on the buzzer. I figured I was buzzing too early and tried to adjust. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn't, even when I felt I was doing the same thing twice in a row. But at least I started to get in more often. I took the advice of the books and websites I had read and did not even try to look at the lights on the side of the board that tell you when to ring in; I tried to time it based on the sound of Alex's voice. Sometimes this worked, but other times it did not, so maybe in hindsight I should have glanced at the lights at least once. But at any rate, I had pulled out into the lead by the first commercial break. Now I can feel there's a little tension coming from the audience like, "Huh, that dude is beating the champ." But we're only a quarter through the game. During the commercial break, Glenn and Maggie tell us we are doing great and that we've cleared half the board so we're "on pace." After the break, then, Alex comes over to interview us. We had to give them at least 5 possible anecdotes about ourselves, and they picked the "anecdote" about me wearing my artificial heart valve around my neck as a good luck charm. It didn't really give me much of a chance to tell a story, but I pulled my necklace out and explained what it was. He said it was "the most unusual good luck charm they'd ever had on Jeopardy!" So now I have that dubious distinction.
The first round of the game continued. Again, I'm not sure what I answered when. At some point, I got a funny rebound where they were looking for "Antiques Roadshow" (with an "s" on the end of Antiques that someone left off and Alex almost let slide by). Dave found a Daily Double and closed the gap between us considerably. At the end of the first round, I think I was still hanging onto a lead, but from watching so many games at home, I knew that it doesn't really matter who's ahead by that point. Double Jeopardy! is "where the scores can really change...." DJ started, and it just felt like a brutal battle back and forth on the buzzer. Dave got the first DD, caught up to me, and started to pass me. Fight, fight, fight. I don't mean any disrespect to Sarah by not mentioning her more, because she got some great responses in, too (especially one where the answer was "What is Latin?" since she is a Latin teacher) but the buzzer is just really tough and I suspect she was just having trouble timing it. There was a "Roman Numeral Math" category which has to be one of the most INSANE categories I think I've ever seen-you had to decode Roman numerals, do math on them, and then recode them back into Roman. My recollection is that I nailed the first three of these, but then inserted an extra "X" into my fourth response, and this kind of threw me so I couldn't ring in first on the last clue. So my net gain in the category was actually not all that much, but it just *felt* really good that I was even doing this category at all. (The other contestants in the audience I hung out with afterwards said the same thing; one of them even remembered thinking, "Dude, that guy must be a ROBOT!") Finally, we've cleared all but the last category, and I look up at it, and it is a Video category about "Galapagos Wildlife" (to celebrate the recent Jeopardy! excursion to the Galapagos). I thought, "Oh *great.* This is really not my category, so I may be going down right here." My wife has actually been to the Galapagos, but I have not, and wildlife is not really my strong suit. Dave and I were really close together, but he had pulled ahead a bit (I think). I can't remember the first clue, but after a really long video, Dave beats me to the buzzer on the $800 clue and gets "sea lion." The third clue comes up and shows a blue-footed bird. I have no idea what this bird is by looking at it, but for some reason the phrase "blue footed booby" sticks in my brain, I buzz in, and I'm right. (Although, for a second, the immature part of my brain wonders if they really want me to say that word on TV.) That means I select the $1600 clue, and up comes the last Daily Double of the game. At that point, the scores are $14800 (Dave) to $13800 (me) to something like $7200 (Sarah). And there's just one clue left on the board after this.
Something you don't realize by watching at home is that the game can actually stop. They edit it back together seamlessly for broadcast, but several times during our game (more than I expected), the producers would grind things to a halt, either to research someone's unexpected response to make sure they were really wrong, or occasionally because a glitch had made the scores incorrect. This was one of those times where, as I started to think about my DD wager, the producers stopped things and we all had to turn our backs to the board and wait. Maggie and Glenn come to chat with us, but the whole time, I'm trying to figure out how much I should wager. There is only one clue left on the board (worth $2000). One of us may get it, or neither of us may get it. So I want to bet enough to pass Dave if I get this DD right so I have a shot at ending the round on top. But I don't want to bet so much that I drop below 2/3 (or especially 1/2) of his score if I'm wrong. I'm trying to do this math in my head, and I've just about decided that I want to either bet $1500 (which would just slightly pass him) or $2000. Since the "face value" of the clue is worth $1600 it seems a little chumpy to bet less than that, so I'm leaning towards $2000. The producers say we can turn around, and as I'm ready to speak, Alex announces that the judges have ruled that one of Dave's earlier answers (something to do with Guggenheim) is actually correct and they're giving him an additional $2400 so he really has $17200 now (compared to my $13800). So the wager I had spent all that time thinking about was completely thrown out the window. I can't believe it. So I do some quick NEW math and figure, all right, now I need to bet about $4000 to pass him, and if I get that wrong, I'll still have $9800 which will be more than half his score. C'est la vie. So I say, "I'll bet $4000." The video plays, and I have no idea what wildlife they're even talking about but it becomes apparent that what they're really looking for is a line of latitude, either the Tropic of Cancer, Capricorn or the Equator. The clue doesn't really have much to do with wildlife, which is good for me. I read the wording of the clue carefully (I'm not sure if I even looked at the monitor to watch the actual video) and am pretty sure they want "the midpoint of the tropical region." Which would be the Equator. Which also makes sense since the Galapagos Islands are off the coast of Ecuador which is obviously on the Equator. So I say, "What is the Equator?" And I'm right. So now the score is $17800 (me) to $17200 (Dave) to something (Sarah). The last clue of the DJ round is revealed and they want the name of some kind of flightless bird that they're showing in the video. I have no idea what it is, so I'm not going to ring in. I am tense the whole time Alex is reading, praying that Dave won't know the answer either. And when Alex finishes reading the question, there's just a complete silence from all 3 of us. Nobody rings in, so I breathe a sign of relief that I'm "safe." Well, relatively speaking. I end the round in the lead. Alex announces that the Final Jeopardy! clue will be "Historic Americans."
I think, "Oh boy, that could be anybody. I've been tripped up on clues like this before." I missed the Tom Paine question a few weeks back. But on the other hand, I've been doing a lot of studying of American history and "the first person to do this, or that," etc., etc. Which might be what they mean when they say "historic." So I decide there's no use in trying to overthink the wager; I should hope that I get it right and bet accordingly. So I figure if Dave doubles his score, he'll go to $34400 so I need to bet $16601 to beat him by a dollar. So that's what I write down. Any other day I would be thinking, "Sixteen thousand dollars! That's a lot of money!" But it's just "points" for now. In both games I played, I would say the most stressful period of the game was that waiting period between when the final category is revealed, through your final "writing down the answer" part. Because you spend some time trying to figure out what to bet, but more importantly, your head is spinning with a million possible things that the name of the category could really mean, or subsets of possible responses you should be considering. I thought, well it could be from any era, so I should think about the founding father types (Patrick Henry, Ben Franklin, Sam Adams) but also it could be Civil War types or cowboys or 20th century people. The first person to do this or that. I started thinking, well, it probably won't be a president because otherwise they would just call the category Presidents. But by the same token, maybe it won't be any Civil War (or other war) figures because then they would put "Military" in the clue. So I'm racking my brain trying not to freak out and rule anybody out prematurely, or fixate on anybody.
We come back from "commercial" and the clue is revealed. They're looking for the famous American whose extensive book collection was partly lost in two fires, one in 1770 in his home of "Shadwell" and another in 1851 in the Library of Congress. Alex says "Good luck!" and the Jeopardy! music starts. (That music is REALLY hard to think to, by the way.) My mind immediately goes to Thomas Jefferson because I know his book collection formed the basis of the Library of Congress. But what the heck is "Shadwell?" I know Jefferson's home is Monticello. I didn't learn any presidential homes called "Shadwell." So I think maybe it's not a president. But who else had a big book collection? At least I know I'm dealing with a founding father because of the dates. Sam Adams? That doesn't seem right. So I start to tell myself, maybe Jefferson had more than one home. Or maybe he didn't build Monticello until after 1770, though that seems wrong. By this time the Jeopardy! music has started its second verse so I know I only have a few seconds left and I've got to write something. I write down "Who is Jefferson?" with a few seconds to spare. I don't think it's right. But it's my guess.
Alex reveals Sarah's response first since she was in third place. She put "Who is Ben Franklin?" and I think, of course, that's probably it. But no, Alex says that's wrong. Then he goes to Dave. Dave wrote, "Who is Thomas Jefferson?" and I think, well at least we're either both going up or we're both going down and we'll see by how much. But then, thank God, Alex spouts off some additional fact about Jefferson and says, "That's right!" So I know that I've won the game. I keep a poker face as best I can. Alex goes to me and my face is straight, maybe even a little disappointed looking. But they reveal that I've got the right answer, and that I bet enough to win, and it's over. I won! I turn and shake both players' hands as everyone applauds. It doesn't seem real.
If I can jump ahead in the timeline, I hung out in the bar that night with Leigh and Siobhan, two of the other contestants who played that day and won one game apiece, just like me. (Leigh actually beat me, which we'll get to later.) They gushed on and on about how they liked Dave, but that everyone was scared he would just roll over everyone all day long and so they were rooting for me so hard, and how the game was such a nail biter that the two of them were actually holding hands in the audience, pulling for me. That made me feel really good. Then they said, "And then when you won, we were all scared of you!" Which actually kind of made me feel good, too.
But at any rate, the 15 minutes of turnaround time between games flies by as well. We all chat with Alex center stage for a minute, but I'm just so overwhelmed I don't have much to say. Then we do a little "winner's circle" interview, and again, I sound like an idiot because I'm overwhelmed, I'm nervous about now having to "defend" and I have no idea what to say to the camera. I am no good at speaking in quick sound bites anyway, so I spout off a bunch of rambling platitudes that sort of trail off. Oh well. I run back to the green room, change my shirt (in front of everyone because, hey, there's no time and I was a theater major). I am definitely more nervous going into my second game (as "defending champion") than I was going into my first game. I'm not physically shaken or anything, but I just felt really pumped up the first time and although I know I should feel more confident having won one, I just feel like I'm in a more pressurized position having to maintain my status. I missed the announcement of who would play next, but I find out that it's Leigh and Seyi. Seyi, we found out backstage before the whole day started, was not only in the National Geography Bee as a kid, he *won the National Geography Bee*. Granted, this was in 1996 when he was a teenager, but still. Clearly, he is the super-serious, super-aggressive whiz kid. I think, "Oh man. After a rough game with Dave, of all the other people to have to play against, it has to be him?" I am anything but super-confident. We walk out on stage again, this time I'm at the winner's podium. We write our names on the screen and record new Hometown Howdy promos. And game #2 begins.
And I am getting smoked. Even for the answers I know (which is still the majority), I simply cannot get to the buzzer first. Or, I suspect, I was probably hitting the buzzer too soon and Seyi would beat me every time by waiting that extra half-second. Leigh is hardly getting in at all, but Seyi is just gobbling up answers left and right. I start the game with "Historic Operas" but none of the clues are about any of the famous operas I was expecting, they are all obscure operas about other historic figures or events. I don't think I get any of them right, and I even buzz in on a question about Verdi and guess "Rigoletto" when they're actually looking for "Atilla the Hun." Ouch. Seyi finds Daily Doubles and he bets extremely aggressively. He is clearly trying to leave us way behind in the dust so that he doesn't even have to worry about Final Jeopardy! This would be a crazy strategy except that he is totally pulling it off. In the first round, he does a true daily double, gets it right, and doubles his score. In the DJ round, even though I know all the "State Capital Nicknames," he beats me to the buzzer every time, gets a daily double, and bets $10000 of his $11200 score (and gets it right). So he is pulling way ahead. Leigh starts figuring out how to work the buzzer after the first commercial break, and so she starts picking up a lot of clues. I don't think I was ever in the lead this whole game, and by the end they both have passed me. It wasn't that I didn't know things, I just (a) could not get to the buzzer fast enough, and (b) Seyi's $15000+ worth of Daily Double winnings made it incredibly hard to catch up to him. Leigh found the final Daily Double under the "Fruit Bowl" category and got it right ("pineapple"). Even with Seyi's Daily Doubles, we have somehow managed to keep him from locking us out. When the second round ends, he's got $26400, Leigh has $15000 and I think I have $13800. (That was apparently a recurring number for me.) The Final Jeopardy! clue is revealed as "1989 No. 1 Hits." I think "oh boy."
Again, this period of time is the most stressful part of the game for me. I consider myself reasonably knowledgeable about music-I sing, I play piano, I've been in many choirs and a college a-cappella octet. It's one of those things where I kind of take it for granted, though, and didn't particularly study it. (Actually, I assumed that the Jeopardy! writers would be more likely to ask about 50's and 60's music so I brushed up a little bit on that the night before in the hotel. But I didn't think to brush up on the 80's.) So I am both trying to come up with a wager and trying to predict all the possible artists/songs that might get asked about. I am thinking "Okay, I was in ninth grade. What was popular then? U2? (Joshua Tree? No, a little too late.) INXS?" For some totally bizarre reason I fixate on Tina Turner for a while. I figure there are a lot of other random, one-hit 80's bands that I might have a good shot at coming up with, especially if the clue has any lyrics, or if it's asking who sang a particular song. I also am thinking by this point that Seyi was only 5 or 6 years old in 1989 so unless he's really into retro 80's music, he's very likely to miss it. I have no idea about Leigh. So after a lot of thinking, I decide I should bet at least enough to pass Seyi's current score if I get it right since he might get it wrong. Since I'm behind Leigh, I can't bet enough to double her score if she gets it right, so I'll just focus on Seyi and hope that either Leigh gets it wrong, or doesn't bet enough, or we all get it wrong. In that case, I want to leave enough left over that I could stay ahead of someone who bets most of their money and loses. So, I decide to bet $12799, which will give me $26599 if I'm right (more than Seyi's current score) and $1001 if I get it wrong.
The Final Jeopardy! clue is revealed. It says something like, "Billboard received many positive letters from school teachers about this song." 30 seconds, good luck. My mind is racing. I figure it's a song that lists a lot of things. Unfortunately I start thinking of all the novelty songs that I've learned to help memorize lists of things, like Tom Lehrer's "The Elements" or They Might Be Giants' "Alphabet of Nations" or the Animaniacs' "Presidents" or even Schoolhouse Rock songs. But none of these are 1989 No. 1 hits. I'm running out of time, so my brain switches gears and stops trying to think of songs with lists in them. Then I try and think of songs that pertain to a specific historic event, or some aspect of geography. I consider "The Battle of New Orleans" but that's like a 50's song. The second verse of the Jeopardy! song is already playing so I know I only have a few seconds left to write something. So even though I know it was released in 1990, and even though I don't think it was a popular enough song to reach No. 1 on any charts, I write "What is Istanbul?" [by They Might Be Giants] as I think of my wife and the story that I was going to tell about us if I got to come back a third time..... (The first conversation we ever had, before we'd been introduced, was when I was DJ'ing a party and she requested I play "Istanbul" for her and I refused. She eventually forgave me.)
The lights come back up, and Alex comes to me first since I'm in third place. He reveals my answer and says oooh, sorry, that's wrong and you'll go alllll the way down to $1001. He goes to Leigh, reveals her answer and she's written down "We Didn't Start the Fire" [by Billy Joel]. I weep a little inside. Of course. My 10th grade history teacher, Mr. Ellis, even used this song in class, bringing in a printout of the lyrics with explanations of what all the phrases referred to. How did I not think of this. She is correct. But interestingly, she did not wager enough to pass Seyi's current score. Finally, they go to Seyi and he has written down "Born in the USA" which isn't the right year (like my response) or particularly educational. He bet enough to cover Leigh's score if she doubled, so this knocks him down and Leigh is the new winner and I went from winning my first game to coming in 3rd place in my second game. Well, easy come and easy go. Everything is incredibly anticlimactic from there. They take me and Seyi down to sign some paperwork acknowledging what we won. They take us back to the green room to collect our belongings, offer to call us a cab, and then we're basically shooed out the door. No more Jeopardy! for us.
My friend Lesley came to watch, so she comes outside to greet me, gives me a big hug and says it was really fun to watch, and we go to grab a bite for lunch. As we're walking to the car, a group of college kids who have been taking the Sony tour and who were in the audience for my game run up to me and ask if they can take a picture with me. Now I have fans!
As I said before, I hung out that night at the hotel bar with Leigh and Siobhan (who beat Leigh in Game #4 of the day) and their spouses and they are really cool people. Although I am still kicking myself (and probably always will) for not thinking of that @#$% Billy Joel song, it actually made me feel a little better about Game 2 to know that Leigh had been dreaming and preparing for this day just as hard as I was and that she got to fulfill her dream of winning on Jeopardy! just like me. I also had a new first-hand appreciation for the amount of luck-good and bad-that goes into any Jeopardy! game. I can't blame my loss all on luck, but I can't take full credit for my win, either, without acknowledging there was some good luck there. The past few days have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster-I went to bed that night feeling pretty happy, then I woke up the next morning and was beating myself up. But now I'm back in a happier place, psyched that I could now put "comma, Jeopardy! Champion" after my name if I wanted to, and excited about the big party we'll throw a month from now when all my friends get to see it on television. (Besides my friend who came to the taping, my wife is the only other person right now who knows what happened.) Although I'm always going to wish I had won more games, it's also kind of a relief to know that it's over, I had my chance and I won't get to play again, so I can stop studying world capitals and the kings of England! But on the other hand, now I'm thinking I would actually like to *read* all those Dickens books and *see* all those Oscar-winning movies that I memorized lists of. It's been an inspiring experience, and I am just so thankful for the chance to have done it. Thanks, Jeopardy!