Monday, September 29, 2008


5 Years

Five years ago today, an episode of Jeopardy! aired. It was your run of the mill episode except that I was on it. I've gotten a lot of mileage over the years for having lost on a game show. As I reach the five year anniversary of the event, I suppose it's time to put it to rest.

But before I do that, I thought one more post was in order, just some reflections and thoughts about being on the greatest game show in television history and five years of life as a Jeopardy! loser.

  • It's the only thing I ever wanted to do with my life - Well, not being a loser, but being on the show. It had been a dream for about twenty years. I wanted to be on the show. Honestly, the chance that I might win some money, any money, was secondary. I figured I might win if the categories were to my liking. They weren't.

  • It's a game, it's not necessarily about how smart you are - Chuck and Leslie weren't any smarter than me. I wasn't any smarter than them. I knew some things they didn't, they knew some things that I didn't. All three of us knew most of the correct responses. There was the buzzer. That's the game. Chuck had an advantage in that he had played one more game than Leslie and me. He had used the buzzer before.

    Ken Jennings, the biggest, regular game winner in Jeopardy! history was smart, but in his games he regularly rang in first on well over half of the clues. There were games when he rang in first on 45 of the 60 clues. When everyone knows the correct responses, it comes down to getting the chance to answer. Ken Jennings did in every game, simply amazing.

    So am I complaining? No. The buzzer is the main determining factor in success at the game. It is the game. We all knew it going in. I didn't do well at that aspect of the game, and it cost me the game.

  • Besides the buzzer, the other determining factor in game play are the categories - While Chuck, Leslie and I probably knew most of the material in our game, the categories in a game can have a huge impact. You'll see episodes of Jeopardy! where a cop will be in a game with a category on law enforcement,but that's just blind luck. The categories are chosen for a game, but the contestant coordinators have no idea who will be playing in any game.

    For the record, I didn't really like the categories in my game. Nothing I had chosen to study came up, none of the subjects that I typically do well in were in my game. There weren't any sports categories ( a few sports questions, though) and though I do pretty well in geography, I've never had a particular affinity for Russian geography.

    So here are the 13 categories that came up on the show and how I did in each of them:

    Nursery Rhymes
    - $800 (2 correct)
    Hickory, Dickory or Doc - $600 (2 correct)
    The Mouse - $200 (1 correct)
    Wren - $800 (1 correct)
    Up The - $400 (1 correct)
    Clocked - $1600 (2 correct)

    Russian Geography
    - $0 (0 correct)
    History on Film - $800 (1 correct)
    Let's Go Lobstering - $0 (o correct)
    That Year's Headline - -$800 (1 correct, 1 incorrect)
    Williams- $1200 (1 correct)
    Foreign Languages - $3200 (2 correct, including daily double)

    - $4801 (1 correct)

  • I'm amazed at the money you can win by doing stuff on TV - If you answer 15 questions correctly on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, you'll win $1,000,000. You have to get 15 out of 15, but you can change one question if you don't like it, you can get help 3 different times, if you don't like a question you don't have to answer it, the first five questions are absolute gimmes and you're not playing against anyone else.

    On my Jeopardy! game I got 14 out of 15 right before the final. I missed on my final response, but I wouldn't have answered that one if I didn't have to. On Millionaire that would translate to $500,000.

    I won $2,000 on Jeopardy! Millionaire, what a joke...

    Don't get me started on Deal or No Deal. It's a game I'm just no cut out for. The first time the banker offered me over $10,000, the game would be over for me, I'd take it!

  • I can't recreate the outfit I wore on Jeopardy! - Of the many things you have to start thinking about when you're going on a game show, way down the list is "What am I going to wear?" There were some guidelines from the contestant coordinators. I didn't really have anything that fit those guidelines.

    I figured a solid colored jacket would look nice. I didn't have one, but I found a blue one at Goodwill for $10. The problem was that I didn't have anything to go with that jacket.

    My sister had given me a Wal-Mart gift card for something or other and I bought a sort of lavender shirt with that. I borrowed a tie from my roommate. The pants I wore didn't really match, but I was going to be behind a podium anyway.

    I finally threw those pants out a few months ago. A hole had been worn in the left front pocket from a harmonica constantly being there. I still have everything else, the jacket, shirt, belt, socks and underwear (yes, I remember what underwear I was wearing). I don't have the tie because it wasn't mine.

  • "You'll be so nervous you won't remember anything about being on the show" - I never believed that. I had been looking forward to this moment for twenty years, how was I not going to remember every little detail?

    Believe it. I remember everything about being backstage and in the green room, being on the show is a different matter entirely. I just have little moments that come in clearly, the rest is a blur. My recollections from the actual game are as much from watching the show than from anything else.

    On the other hand, I wasn't really nervous. I knew I belonged there, I knew I wouldn't embarrass myself. I was more nervous than I though I'd be, but that just wasn't very much.

  • Everyone was so happy to be on Jeopardy! - I didn't know what to expect with the other contestants. We were competing against each other, you'd expect people to be really competitive, but that wasn't the case. Like me, I think, everyone was just so happy to be achieving something they'd dreamed of. My memories of the green room are good ones, very fun and relaxed. I sure didn't expect that.

  • Jeopardy contestants are the "Cream of the Crop" - That's what the contestant coordinators told us anyway. One coordinator who had worked for another show told the story of how he would wait outside of contestant testing and pick up contestants for his show. Someone not good enough to be on Jeopardy! is good enough to be on any other game show.

    Having been on a game show doesn't disqualify from other shows. I can never be on Jeopardy! again (unless they have some Tournament of Really Attractive Losers) but the contestant coordinators urged us to go out and win money on other shows.

    I had tried out for another game show before Jeopardy!, The Weakest Link. First of all, it was before the show had ever aired in the US. If I'd have known what a piece of crap that show was, I never would have tried out.

    Second, the class of prospective contestant on Jeopardy! was so much higher. The wannabes on The Weakest Link just didn't seem that bright and one asshole was actually pissed off when he didn't pass the written test. Nothing like that happened at the Jeopardy! test, not even close.

    I passed the test and got to play a mock game. We had to vote people off and everyone apologized for their vote. The producers told us not to do that and to be meaner. Great show...

    I talked to a couple of folks at The Weakest Link test who had tried out for a number of game shows. They both had tried out for Jeopardy and said the test was too hard. Right then I knew I'd have to give Jeopardy! a shot.

  • My physical appearance is so much different now than when I was on the show - For about 22 minutes I was on a show and seen by millions of people, most of whom I don't know. The weird thing is that I don't really look like that anymore. A few months before the show, I shaved off my goatee. I had been
    coloring my hair, and the gray in my beard sort of defeated the illusion so I shaved, leaving just a 'soul patch.'

    After the show, I moved back to the RC, had stopped coloring my hair and began to tire of cutting off a mole on my chin a couple of times a week. I grew the goatee back, gray spots and all.

    I have a photo taken with Alex Trebek in my living room. People who don't know me have seen it and had to ask if it was me.

    Unemployment and Multiple Sclerosis caused me to lose quite a bit of weight, further changing my appearance. It's a weight loss plan that I don't recommend, but it works...

  • There actually are Lovely Parting Gifts - Funny, but when I watched game shows as a kid and someone lost, I thought they were given "Lovely Party Gifts." I could never figure out why losing on a game show would cause someone to want to throw a party...

    Anyway, the parting gifts aren't like they used to be. Second and third place on Jeopardy used to get you a prize. You were liable for California State Income Tax (7%) on the cash value of the prize. Now it's cash, which makes it a whole lot easier on the contestant, you're still liable for the taxes, but they take it right out.

    Additionally I got a water bottle (leaks), a tote bag and the afore mentioned photo. The photo came in a really nice frame that has the Jeopardy! logo laser inscribed on it. I don't own many irreplaceable items, but this would be one of them.

  • Though September 29 is the anniversary of this event, in some areas this show aired on September 30 - Why, you ask? ABC's Monday Night Football, which, in the Pacific Time Zone is more like Monday Afternoon Football. If an ABC station ran Jeopardy!, it was typically at or around 6pm which is also the usual start time of MNF.

    The answer? Run Jeopardy! on a Tuesday through Saturday schedule during the football season. When telling people to watch, I had fun advising them to "Check your local listings for time and availability in your area."

    Though my game was delayed by one day for football, I was really hoping that it would be pre-empted entirely by a high speed car chase. Not because I didn't want anybody to see my appearance, but because I really enjoyed high speed car chases.

  • Though 2003 was the year Ken Jennings was on Jeopardy!, I didn't play against him - I was on Jeopardy! the same season as the show's most memorable contestant. Would I have wanted to play against him? Why not? I mean, I got beat by a guy from Rhode Island who nobody will ever remember was even on the show. If I was going to lose anyway, why not lose to Ken Jennings? It would make for a much cooler story...

  • No matter how you slice it, the bottom line is that

    I Lost on Jeopardy!

    Here's a post taken from some things I was writing as the events transpired, not foggy recollections from 5 years down the road.

    And here's a post about the actual episode, every answer and response, who responded and such.


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