A few of my regular readers may have noticed my complete absence from the blog world over the past few weeks. I wasn’t allowed to post anything about the reason, but am now at liberty to do so. I have not been reading or posting for the past month because I was busy studying for an appearance on the classic TV game show Jeopardy! This post will tell the first half of the story, but I can’t reveal the ending until my episode airs on July 2nd.
How did I get here?
I have been asked by several people how I came to be on Jeopardy to begin with. The process is long but relatively straightforward. It starts with an online test, which I took in February of 2011. If you do well enough on your online test you get an e-mail inviting you to a live audition. My live audition was held in Kansas City in June of 2011. At the audition you take another test (written this time) and play a short game of Jeopardy against two other potential contestants. While playing your game, the contestant wranglers do a personality interview similar to what Alex Trebek does with the actual contestants. The contestant wranglers at my audition were two lovely ladies named Maggie Speak and Corina Nusu. They were both very entertaining and did a great job of drawing the potential contestants out of their shells. I thought I did fairly well on the written test and had a great time playing the game and being interviewed. At the end of the process, the wranglers told us that we were in the contestant pool. The contestant pool is something like limbo. It’s not a guarantee that you will be on, but it’s not a rejection. It’s an 18 month-long maybe. You aren’t allowed to tryout again until your 18 months in the contestant pool expires. My time ran until December 2012. That was it for the next several months. I kept watching Jeopardy, but forced myself not to think too much about the possibility of getting called. For the next few months following my audition, every conversation with a family member would include the question “Have you heard from Jeopardy yet?’. I would remind them all that it could be more than a year before I heard anything, if I heard anything at all.
After roughly six months had gone by since my audition, I began to have a feeling that I would not get called on this attempt. I still had a year to go in the contestant pool but I convinced myself that it wasn’t going to happen for me this time. I wasn’t depressed or upset; I just wanted to force myself to face the likelihood that I would have to wait and tryout again in 2013. As it always seems to happen with these kinds of things, I was proven wrong a short time later. Just a week or two after convincing myself that it was not going to happen, I got the call. My debate team was participating in a tournament in Houston on Friday, January 27th and Saturday the 28th. We had just spent four hours on a charter bus traveling all the way from Dallas and were in the process unpacking our materials in a gymnasium that had been designated as the tournament rallying point. My phone rang as we were setting up and I chose to ignore it (as I usually do with numbers I don’t recognize). The unknown caller left a message, which I immediately checked.
“Hi Taylor, this is Corina with Jeopardy. I am just calling to make sure the information in your file is current. Please call me back when you get a chance.”
I dropped everything and called back immediately. Corina went through all of information as though she were just updating my records, and then casually added “We would like to invite you for a taping on February 22nd, do you think you can make that date?” I agreed and the whirlwind began. Corina reviewed all of the pertinent information with me and gave me a few instructions for things I would have to do before my taping. I was strictly instructed not to post anything online until after my taping. From that point on I was in study mode.
A Bumpy Ride
What followed were three long weeks of nervous studying and excited planning. I was allowed six guests, and quickly had a full quota. My wife would accompany me, as would my father, my younger brother, my grandma, my mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law. We booked flights, hotel rooms, and the biggest rental car we could. I sent in my legal paperwork and filled out three questionnaires to provide material for the interview with Alex. I tried to focus on doing my job and studying when I could, but the excitement was building. The day for departure arrived around the same time that I reached the point that I couldn’t stand to look at another flash card. The party met at the airport (minus Grandma, who would meet us in LA) and we boarded.
I guess this is the point at which I should explain my special relationship with luck. I would generally say that I have very good luck. I have a wonderful and beautiful wife, a great family, the world’s most awesome dog, and a great job. Life is good. It is because life is good that my bad luck likes to trip me up every once in a while. It is sort of like a karmic balance. When things are going well, something has to happen to remind me that the universe is still boss. That’s why I broke both arms (at the same time) in high school. That is why I was bitten by a copperhead. That is why my flight to Kansas City for my audition was cancelled (forcing my mother and myself to drive all the way there and back). And that is why I gave the crew and passengers of American Airlines flight #2407 a trip they will never forget.
I have a long and disgusting history of motion sickness. Fortunately, I have outgrown my tendency to get carsick. Unfortunately, the same is not true of airsickness. On this particular flight I went to sleep shortly after takeoff. After a thirty minute nap, I awakened to the realization that I was about to be sick. I headed for the first class bathroom (because it was closest) and reached out for the handle. The next thing I remember, I was asleep in bed having a dream about getting on an airplane. This lasted for what seemed like quite a while, before I woke up to discover that I was indeed on an airplane. My dad was holding my head up and the flight attendants and first class passengers were watching me with looks of panic and fear. Apparently I had passed out upon reaching the bathroom. I heard one flight attendant ask repeatedly if I was diabetic. My dad assured them that I was not and prevented me from getting an unneeded insulin shot. Another said she was afraid I had suffered a heart attack (a comforting thought at the ripe old age of 25).
At this point I had pretty much returned to reality. The flight attendants gave me a very large bottle of cold water and had me sit in the jump seat while I drank it. My younger brother, Wiley, asked for a wet towel because my nose was bleeding. Unbeknownst to me, I had passed out while standing at the bathroom door and had proceeded to crash face-first into the arm rest of a first class seat (a seat occupied by Don Nelson, former coach of the Dallas Mavericks). I had a gash on the bridge of my nose and two very sore eyes. After sitting for a while, I was ready to return to my own seat in coach, where my very frightened wife was waiting for me. As I left first class, I told them that the in-flight entertainment was now over, which drew a few laughs (Seriously people, lighten up. If I can laugh about it you can too!). I wolfed down a granola bar and enjoyed the rest of the flight.
You’re not from around here, are you?
Our merry band spent the rest of the day being consummate tourists. We visited Venice Beach, where my brother and I swam in the Pacific despite the frigid temperature of the water. We cruised a little bit in Beverly Hills. We went to Grauman’s Chinese Theater and examined the hand and foot prints of the stars (John Wayne had surprisingly small hands and feet). We posed in front of the Hollywood sign. For dinner we hit the Santa Monica Pier and ate at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. At this point we were joined by two other members of the cheering section, friends who had flown in from Houston to watch me compete on their favorite TV show. Through it all I acutely felt the nervous tension that accompanied the awareness of what tomorrow could hold.
This is Jeopardy!
The morning finally arrived and it was time to head to the studio. I rode a shuttle with the other twelve contestants and the nerves were obvious in everybody’s face. We arrived at the studio and began a two-hour process of makeup (mine took especially long thanks to my airplane mishap), rehearsals, and commercial tapings. The rehearsals took place on the actual set, which is smaller than it looks on TV. My first rehearsal was horrible. I couldn’t buzz in no matter how hard I tried. I got another rehearsal a little while later and eventually figured out my timing. We were then returned to our backstage green room. The contestant wranglers did a wonderful job of relaxing us and keeping us all in good spirits. Through all of this, we had not seen Alex Trebek. In order to avoid any possibility of favoritism they keep him away from the contestants until the episode is being filmed (We would all get a picture with him during our episodes, but they won’t e-mail them to us until the air date). The producers did a drawing to see who would appear in the first episode, and my name was called. My heart was beating out of my chest as they led the other contestants out, leaving only myself and my two competitors. The time finally came, and we were marched out to the set. I took my place behind my podium, signed in, and the fun began. This episode will air on July 2nd, and I will post the rest of the story shortly thereafter!