2011 Tournament of Champions quarterfinalist: $5,000.
Season 26 5-time champion: $109,411 + $1,000.
Jeopardy! Message Board user name: PKPowerTie
JBoard user name: pkursk
San Francisco, CA
June 24, 2010
From San Francisco, CA
Reading through the Jeopardy! winners' blog entries, I noticed that many of them discussed the same themes. Past winners grew up watching Jeopardy!, some religiously. They largely went about their lives after auditions. They were dumbfounded to get a call telling them they'd be appearing as contestants. Well, don't I feel derivative.
Growing up, almost every night during dinner, my family would watch Jeopardy! (By the way, one of the many cool things about Jeopardy! is that every time you end a sentence with the name of the game, you automatically sound excited.) I remember with pride when I began getting questions right that my parents had missed. I thought it would be so cool to be a contestant, and sent in a postcard to get on the Teen Tournament. I never heard back, but continued watching, telling myself that it was fun just to watch with family and friends and see what I knew.
2008 rolled around; by then I lived outside of Boston, where I'd gone to school. I still watched the show regularly, even DVR-ing it to watch with friends, some of whom even considered it acceptable to pause the TV to get more time to give answers. Cheaters. A few of us registered for the online contestant test and took it. Man, was that thing tough. 15 minutes later, I figured that I'd missed another chance to get on the show and went on with my night. And next day. And week. And month. Then I got an email asking me to come for an in-person audition being held in Boston. Of course, I thought I was the coolest person ever, and a fantasy version of my future flew through my mind, one involving piles of money and fame and fortune and a giant loft on Central Park West, complete with swimming pool-sized, never-ending bowl of pudding.
My dreams deflated somewhat when I arrived at the audition and realized that the 20-odd other people in my audition group had similar dreams, and I'm sure the people in the multiple other audition groups did as well. Those dreams further diminished after I shot up my hand to answer the first question in the audition - incorrectly. Nevertheless, I pushed on and reminded myself to just have fun. That wasn't hard: the other auditioners were kind, the Jeopardy! personnel were lively and fun, and I got a groovy click pen to boot. As the audition ended, the coordinators told us that we were eligible to be called to compete for up to 18 months. "Surely, that pudding will soon be mine," I thought. Not long thereafter, I saw Season 24 repeat champion Dan Pawson while riding the bus, and thought it was a sign. Of course I was going to be on the show, I figured, and maybe I'd do even a sliver as well as he'd done.
Well, nothing happened. No call. No email. My excitement dimmed. Time passed. I filled my sink with pudding as a consolation prize. (It was unfulfilling.) My girlfriend, Melissa, and I packed our belongings and drove across the country to start new lives in San Francisco. (That was more fulfilling.)
Not long after moving, in January 2010, I got a call from Glenn, a Jeopardy! contestant coordinator. I had signed up for the upcoming online contestant test, assuming my chance to be picked for the show had passed, and thought he was calling about my registration. He asked, however, if I still lived in Boston. When I said I'd moved across the country he replied, "That's great, you're much closer."
"Huh? Why does that matter?" I asked.
"Because you're going to be a contestant on Jeopardy!" he replied. (And yes, he said it with the exclamation point.)
"Hang on a second," I said, putting him on mute and running around my apartment doing my best Macaulay Culkin-after-applying-aftershave-in-Home Alone impression. The next month flew by in a blur, until I found myself alone in a hotel room in Los Angeles. Melissa had just begun a new job, so she couldn't make the trip, and I didn't want to have my family trek across the country from New Jersey just to see me embarrass myself on television. So I paced, smiling at the bouquet Melissa had sent to my room.
The next morning, I arrived at the studio in the nick of time, realizing as I got into the green room to meet the other contestants that I'd dropped some clothes in the parking lot. A great first impression, huh? (One of the contestant coordinators was kind enough to hunt them down for me.) For some reason, they let me stick around despite my butterfingers. For the next couple hours the coordinators generally tried to crack through the deer-in-headlights look that dominated our faces. I watched two games from the audience, impressed by the competition. Then I was summoned. And Johnny Gilbert was saying my name. And Alex Trebek was standing on stage with me. Oh my goodness...this was really happening. Please, whatever you do, do not look stupid.
And somehow, I guess I didn't look stupid. I don't remember much from the actual games, though a few things are vivid. Though we were told to play the game pretty speedily, I couldn't help myself from cracking some small joke when I bet it all on a Daily Double (and Alex responded!) Before the game, I'd reminded myself to look excited in the event I actually won, but when it happened I was too dumbfounded to do much.
My biggest scare came in Final Jeopardy! of the fourth game. Only two presidents served in elected federal offices after leaving the Presidency, huh? Once the lights went down, I thought I was toast. It seems impossible, but during the final, that "Think" music really gets your adrenaline pumping. It's as though nothing seems real until, all of a sudden, the music hits and you realize, "I'm on Jeopardy! Right now. And time is running out. Write something!" In this case, a small voice in my head said, "It's either Jefferson or Adams." I couldn't point to an elected office Jefferson had after the presidency, but something nagged me about Adams. I waited, waited. At the last second, my brain said, "Quincy! Not just Adams. Quincy Adams." I wrote so quickly I didn't even have time to add the question mark. I felt kind of invincible after that one.
Of course, I wasn't, and somebody else got my number soon enough. I was kicking myself for talking myself out of Franz Ferdinand, but I wouldn't have won, anyway. It's alright. I'm glad somebody else now gets to experience the thrill of being Jeopardy! champion. In fact, I recommend it to everyone. It's quite a rush. All you've got to do is take the test!