2010 Tournament of Champions quarterfinalist: $5,000.
Season 26 4-time champion: $96,690 + $2,000.
Jeopardy! Message Board user name: porgy
Stephen Weingarten - a Paraeducator
December 30, 2009
I don't remember when I first started watching Jeopardy!, but it must have been right around the time the modern incarnation of the show began. It has long been far and away my favorite game show, I do know that, and it is the show that family and friends have always said I should be on. Why I did not try to actually get on the show until this year, I do not know, though I suspect it has something to do with my computer's current close proximity to my television. More than that, however, it was my wife who urged me on, getting me to sign up for updates on the Jeopardy! website, and for the online test.
I remember that the Brain Bus came through our area a few months before the test was announced, and that I wanted to go, but we had some other commitment that day. Then a little while later I signed up for the online test. When I got the date and time of the test via email, I put a reminder in my phone and then immediately forgot all about it. The night of the test my wife and I had decided to go out to dinner, and we were parking the car when my phone began chirping in a way I had not heard before. I looked at it, and there was the note I'd written myself a month or two before reminding me that the Jeopardy! test was in an hour. We gave up on our seafood dinner and hurried home. I did the test, thought it went OK, and then promptly forgot all about it again. So it was a surprise when, a couple months later, I got the email inviting me up to Seattle for an audition.
This is when things begin to get exciting. Everybody I told about it was just sure that I was going to get on the show and win lots of money. I was probably the most agnostic about things of anyone I told. I just kept saying, "We'll see what happens," to every gushing acquaintance. One thing I learned that I already sort of knew but had confirmed in spades: everyone knows Jeopardy! and everyone likes it.
So I went to the audition, and the big surprise for me that it was a lot of fun. I tried not to have preconceptions, but when I imagined what it would be like, I sort of pictured an American Idol type of setup with me alone in a room facing a panel sitting at a table shooting questions at me. Or perhaps they would give me answers, and I would supply the questions (this is Jeaopardy! after all). But it wasn't like that at all. Instead, I was there with 19 other aspiring contestants, and, though there were in fact 3 "judges" sitting at a table, I didn't feel like I was auditioning so much as I felt like I was getting to learn about and even be somewhat a part of this game that I had loved since childhood. It was really neat! I was a little worried that I was called last to play mock Jeopardy!, and that I only had one opponent instead of two, but those were tea leaves that I could read positively as well. Maybe they liked me so much that they didn't need to see me play against two other people, or maybe I had already been ruled out as a player. There was no way to tell. All I could tell people when they asked how it went was that I would get a call in the next 18 months or I would not, and that I wouldn't be especially surprised at either one of those outcomes.
I was wrong on that count, however, because, true to form, by the time I got the call from Maggie inviting me to come down to LA to be on the show, I had again completely forgotten that I was waiting for the call. I was shampooing my carpet when the phone rang, and I didn't hear it. Then I didn't listen to the message for several hours. When I finally did cal my voice-mail at 8pm on a Friday night, I was floored. I called a bunch of family and friends to tell them, but, as I had only a voice-mail message saying to call back at my earliest convenience, I didn't even have anything to tell them yet. The weekend passed slowly, but Monday morning brought the news: I was going to be on Jeopardy!
I spent the next month preparing. I made a signaling device out of a pen and some black duct tape, and watched the show every evening with it in hand. I bought and started reading Bob Harris's "Prisoner of Trebekistan." I also talked about getting an almanac and studying up on opera and ballet and the other categories that regularly come up that I know not a lot about, but I didn't do it. There was no time for me to, actually, as 10 days before my appearance on Jeopardy!, my wife had our first child, a daughter we named Iris. I did watch the show from our hospital room, though, tape-wrapped pen in hand, and the more I practiced, the more convinced I became that I really could win. I told my wife that I thought I could do it, like for real, really win. She told me that of course I could. That of course I would. And after I did it, really won, she was unsurprised, just saying that she knew I was going to, that of course I was going to win all along. It is nice to have someone be more confident in you than you are in yourself (and I say this as a person who does not lack for confidence in himself).
An interesting side note: I got more questions and more excitement from other people about my upcoming appearance on Jeopardy! than I did about the upcoming birth of my daughter. It was kind of funny, and kind of strange.
Anyway. I left my wife and new baby in my mother's capable hands and flew to Los Angeles. I wasn't nervous when I got to the Jeopardy! set, which looked pretty much exactly as I had expected it to look, surprisingly. I filled out some paperwork with a pen that barely worked, and talked to the other contestants before listening to Maggie's spiel for an hour or two. Then it was rehearsal time. I remember that I felt confident that I could beat most of the competition, but that I was worried about one person, a guy named Matt. He was very good, and I did not want to go up against him. As it turned out, I didn't have to, which is the last story I will tell here.
Here's how it went down: Matt and Abby were chosen to go up against the returning champion, Ryan (the other person I was most wary of, by the way). While Matt and Abby were getting microphones and makeup, I had a chance to talk with Ryan in the green room. I told him that he needed to beat Matt for me, and then lose his next game. He laughed, and said he'd do his best to oblige me. Well, sure enough, he did beat Matt in a close game. And then I got called to play the next game. Before the match I thanked Ryan for beating Matt, and reminded him that all he had to do now was lose to me. I guess I was trying to psyche him out a little bit, but, really, I was just trying to keep myself from being nervous by making jokes. And it worked! Before I knew it, there I was, standing at my podium while Alex revealed the responses to Final Jeopardy! I had the correct response, and I had wagered enough to win. When it was over, I turned to Ryan and shook his hand. He smiled, and I thanked him for doing just as I had asked.
One final thought: I was thrilled to win. And I mean, THRILLED. Dream come true thrilled. If it had happened last year, I might even have said that it was the happiest moment of my life. But I won on Jeopardy! a mere 10 days after my first child was born, which puts happiness in perspective, right? It was not the best day of the year for me, but, I have to say, it was the second best.