Season 26 1-time champion: $27,500 + $2,000.
Wife of Season 16 2-time champion Tim Hughes.
Laura Hughes - A Mom
New Market, Maryland
April 12, 2010
Finally...but no more pens...
I remember watching Jeopardy! as a kid with my grandparents every night. It was our favorite family activity each day, and nobody missed it. When I met my husband, playing trivia at a bar, I knew we were kindred spirits. And now we have both won on Jeopardy! It all started more than 10 years ago when we both tried out for the show together. He passed the test and was called to the show within a year, and I heard nothing more. So I took the test again (and got another fabulous pen) the following year when the wonderful crew returned to DC again. I didn't make the show that year either (but I was 8 months pregnant that time). I just kept plugging away, taking every Jeopardy! test I was eligible for, online and in person. I have a great collection of Jeopardy! pens now: white with blue lettering, blue with white lettering, and 4 in my favorite style, in the shape of the Jeopardy! buzzers! But I have collected my last Jeopardy! pen, the one they gave me the day I showed up at the Sony Pictures Studios to tape my own episode of Jeopardy! Alas, a hobby cut short in its prime.
Then one day I was minding my own business, and the phone rang. I was shocked and terrified to find out it was Maggie from the Jeopardy! contestant office. Yes, terrified. I did not want to faint or throw up on national TV, and the idea of going on the show was appalling and thrilling at the same time. After all that I had gone through to get on the show, I almost asked if I could put it off for a while while I absorbed it all. But I agreed to the date she offered me, and was very happy to find out that my daughter, Lucy, was old enough to come sit in the audience and watch me play. Maybe that's why it took so long for me to get on the show, someone somewhere knew that she would want to see her mom tape Jeopardy! Luckily for us, she had a few days off school that week, and we made it a family vacation to beautiful, sunny LA (where it proceeded to rain for 5 days straight).
I don't think there is a way to study for Jeopardy! How can you memorize "general knowledge"? So I just kept doing what I always do, reading everything I can get my hands on, following the news, and talking about everything that interests me. Luckily, by the time the tape date rolled around, I was feeling a lot more relaxed about the idea of appearing on TV, and potentially looking really silly in front of an awful lot of people. Talking with my husband about his memories of being a Jeopardy! champ himself really helped with this. I felt pretty good going in there by the morning the shuttle but arrived at the hotel to take all the contestants to the studio. Everyone was nervous and excited, and glad to get on the bus and to the studio.
Well, that shuttle bus was running late that day, picking up a load of gymnasts from the airport. I was starting to panic in the hotel lobby again when they announced it was time to go. From that moment on, everything is kind of a blur. It is go, go, go, learning everything you need to know about being a contestant, how to correctly respond so as not to be ruled against, and every rule and detail you could imagine about being on the show. It is a little overwhelming and awe inspiring, how systematically they have the whole procedure down; from makeup, to discussing which personal tidbit Alex might ask you about, to signing all the release forms, it is a whirlwind! The hardest thing before taping starts is walking up on the stage the first time, learning to use the buzzer. Ugh! I was awful at that! I kept thinking from that moment on, "oh, well, it will be fun anyway, I will never win because I can't ring in to save my life." From that moment on, my moment of fatalism, I relaxed, and that was the best thing I could have done.
I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience for one show before I was called up to the stage, and then I began panicking again, but there really wasn't enough time to panic (more makeup, last minute details, and then rush to the stage). Standing up at the podium, I felt like I was about 5 years old, and play-acting all this. It couldn't be real. It still doesn't seem real, but it was. One thing I realized quickly, the game moves very fast, and there isn't a lot of time to be looking around at things, including the total board that shows how much you have so far during the game. When I looked up at it during the first commercial break, I was in shock to find I wasn't humiliating myself, yet. At least I was on the positive side of things! I was all flustered when Alex came to talk with me, and then, whoosh, right back to the game. During commercial breaks, Maggie and John come up with water bottles, and the talented make-up ladies come and make you beautiful again, and all the while you are being briefed on what is coming up next (do you need to be holding your buzzer, what will happen when the game starts again, etc.). So I kept gulping water hoping to cure that cottonmouth feeling (to no avail), and then feared I had drunk too much water and wouldn't make it through the show.
By the time Final Jeopardy! rolled around, I was feeling like I had a great time, and either way, win or lose, I had won something. I didn't faint or throw up after all. I remember thinking, well, I should wager high because I only get one shot at this, may as well make it a good shot! Unbelievably, it had been a good idea, and now I am a Jeopardy! Champ. I spent the next few minutes standing on stage smiling to the closing credits, wondering with Alex if this means I had beaten my husband's winnings record (he won $16,300 on 3 shows, before the money was doubled). Well, dollar for dollar, I guess I beat him, but it isn't a really fair comparison. Then I recorded a brief interview about what it was like being a Jeopardy! champ, and lets say that was the most surreal thing I did that day. I couldn't believe I was standing there talking about what it was like having just won on Jeopardy!
Then, rush rush rush back to the dressing room, oh no not that shirt change again, makeup again, rush back to the stage, game 2. That's what it felt like. When we got to the stage, I remember talking with Brandon, who was nervous, and I tried to reassure him that it was so much fun. He commented that it might have something to do with the fact that I had won, but I assured him that, no, it really is fun! By the first commercial break, my old signaling button problems had returned (button was fine, I was the problem!). I leaned over to Brandon, who was in the lead, and reminded him that it was fun, and he looked like I felt, dazed but happy. My main memory was ringing in to answer a question that had been overruled on another contestant, and just pausing because Alex looked distracted. I should have shouted out the answer, because I had it, but I held my tongue. Aargh! I could have had some more cash, which might have been a help by the time Final rolled around again, because Brandon had made it a runaway. I just couldn't ring in, he was so fast on the button, and nothing I did helped me any. When he won, I turned to him, smiled, and he finally agreed that being on Jeopardy! was fun. And then, it was all over. I got to hug my family, and walk out of the studio as a Champion, and forever more I can say that I am a Jeopardy! Champ!
So we had an extra day before we had to travel home, and I figured it would all sink in by then. But it still hasn't become totally real to me, and I don't know if it ever will. The most fun thing so far was confessing to everyone my reason for traveling to L.A. I told two people at my daughter's school the day we got back, and the next time I went over there, everyone was stopping me in the halls to confirm that I am going to be on. Every time I relate what I can about being on Jeopardy!, it becomes a little more real to me, and a little more surreal as well. It was a great experience overall. I highly recommend it to everyone! Just the chance to be a part of Jeopardy!, to meet all the great people who work at the show, and to experience what the contestants go through just to be on the show, it was all one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Thanks again, Jeopardy!, and everyone involved in the show. I just wish I could do it all again!