After months of forced silence, I can finally complete the epic tale of my Jeopardy! experience. If you haven’t already, read Part 1 here (it is worth it, I promise). Compared to my aerial hijinks on the way to LA, the story of my actual episode is almost mundane. Almost.
If I were a dwarf, they’d call me Bashful.
I mentioned in the first half of this story that prior to taping our episodes, all of the contestants were taken onto the set to play a practice round or two. I neglected to mention that we also taped a short promo to air in our home markets. These are known as Hometown Howdies and are heavy on the cheese. You can watch them here for the next week. My Hometown Howdy offers just a glimpse of the nervous feeling coursing its way through my body, as the picture shows. We filmed our howdies, did our rehearsals, and returned to the green room. As I already related, we drew for order and I wound up in the first game.
The game is afoot, Trebek!
The contestant wranglers led myself and my two competitors out onto the stage and we prepared to do battle. I would face off against fellow challenger Misha Bushyager, a stay-at-home mom from Maryland, and Matt Samberg, an attorney from Pittsburgh. Both seemed very nice before the taping but I was fully prepared to crush them mercilessly. I took my place behind the podium, signed in with my child-like scrawl, had my make-up retouched to keep the damage from my facial impact concealed, and tried to stay both confident and continent.
When taping an episode, it works exactly like what you see on TV. They play the intro music and graphic, Johnny Gilbert announces your name, and they turn the camera on you. Although I look fairly calm during the opening sequence (with a smile that is dangerously close to charming), my heart was pounding so hard that I thought the microphone might pick it up. Alex stepped out and greeted the camera, the crowd, and the contestants and turned to the game board. “Let’s start with single Jeopardy in these categories…” cooed the crafty Canadian. Nothing happened. The board was dead. The crew scrambled to fix the problem while the contestants were treated to bottled water and another touch up (for me at least). Board working at last, we picked up exactly where Alex had left off. Our categories would be Rolling Stone’s Greatest Guitarists, Literary Adjectives, State the National Park (what state is each park in), Abbre-V-ations, Famous Hungarians, and Medical Talk. My reaction to each was, respectively: money, meh, okay, okay, *%$*#@**&^%, and meh. Alex turned to Matt to choose the first clue and we were off to the races.
Remember that time I gave Alex Trebek the finger?
Matt started with the medical category and I was thrilled to see that I knew the first answer. I confidently rang in and Alex called on…. Matt. Okay, no big deal. Another medical clue to which I know the answer and another failed attempt to ring in. A third clue and a third failed ring in, this time losing out to Misha. I felt as though it were rehearsal all over again. The fourth medical clue, again one I know. Again, I can’t ring in. They told us in the green room not to get frustrated if we were having trouble ringing in, that we would find out timing. That went completely out the window. I was furious. The fifth medical clue came up and I didn’t even read it. I rang in with all I had, concentrating every bit of my rage into that tiny plastic button. I heard Alex’s voice. “Taylor!” Crap, I didn’t really mean to ring in. I scan the clue: Synonyms for it are pollex and digitus primus. “Umm… what are the index finger?” Both grammar and common sense had left me at this point. I missed it and Matt swooped in with the obvious answer of thumb. I was $1000 in the hole and my confidence had retreated to the pit of my stomach.
I made a minor recovery by getting the first Hungarian clue and could finally steer us towards the Rolling Stone category. Naturally, I couldn’t ring in before Matt and he stole the $200 clue. Back to the Hungarians. Matt missed the $400 question about a Hungarian composer with a guess of Bela Bartok and I correctly rang in with Liszt. I was in control again. Back to the guitarists, and the $400 clue. The answer was George Harrison and I was excited to be called on for a clue involving my favorite band. I stuck with the guitarists and correctly named Jimmy Page for $600. The $800 clue was mine as well with Chuck Berry. I asked for the $1000 clue and was rewarded with the Daily Double. The camera zoomed in on me and I gave the TV audience a good taste of my special TV magic.
Some movie stars and TV actors make love to the camera. I have a different style. I make awkward to it, and I do it well. I offered the camera what could best be called a bemused smile and wagered $1000. I have been asked why I didn’t risk everything when I was doing so well in the category thus far. At this point I had two thoughts in mind. First, I did not want to return to the negative. The pain of being unable to ring in when I knew the answers earlier haunted me and I was afraid if I got behind again I might not be able to make it back. Second, I thought the category had been too easy. Surely the Daily Double would be more obscure. As confident as I was, I was still gun-shy. The question turned out to be an easy one, and I answered correctly with Eric Clapton. I now had the lead and my confidence was back. I made a little bit more awkward to the camera and then went to Literary Adjectives. I knew the $200 answer but Matt beat me to it. He went with the National Park category and I stole control with a correct answer. Back to Literary Adjectives and another answer I knew stolen by Matt. It was finally time for the first commercial break.
Interview with a Vamp… err…. Game Show Legend
We returned from commercial and it was time for the contestant interviews with Alex. He is given a card with three interesting facts about each contestant. The wranglers circle their favorite and then Alex picks which one he wants to talk about. I had chosen not to tell them about my airplane mishap on the trip out and stuck with the stories I had already submitted. They assured me that Alex would probably ask about the time I refused a hair cut as a child because I thought I was Cinderella. I was completely prepared to become America’s new sweetheart with this endearing and self-deprecating tale. I thought Alex might ask me about my second most interesting fact, so I prepared myself mentally to talk about the time I broke both arms simultaneously in high school. Instead, he surprised me by asking about my blog. I managed to respond without seeming surprised, but neglected to say the name of the blog (of course!). He advised me to read shorter books, to which I responded “Absolutely. Dr. Seuss.” That’s the best I could come up with? Dr. Freaking Seuss? It turns out that the cord on the buzzer isn’t quite long enough to wrap around your own neck.
Are we too old for the Kid’s Tournament?
We returned to the game and went through a very rough patch. Matt and I traded off a few times but we wound up with nine Triple Stumpers in the first round. Not exactly an impressive showing. There were one or two that I knew but was too much of a chicken to guess because I wasn’t completely sure. The round ended with me leading Matt $4000 to $3600. Misha was in third with -$1000. at this point, I had answered 9 correctly and 1 wrong. Matt had answered 10 correctly and 2 wrong. Misha had answered 2 correctly and 2 wrong. Surely Double Jeopardy would be better.
We began the second round by uncovering the categories, a theme board based on…. Charles Dickens! You know, that guy who is so famous and yet I have read a whopping one of his books. I muttered a few obscenities under my breath and prepared for a rough round. We set to work and it turned out to be a decent board. We were all fairly competitive, but I was again plagued by buzzer problems. There were so many questions in this round that I just couldn’t manage to get in on. Matt found one daily double in the middle of the round and answered correctly to tie me for the lead at $10,000. We continued until only three clues were left, this time with only one Triple Stumper. I got the second to last question correct, and was left with two choices: Dickens Bicentennial for $1600 or $2000. One of them had the Daily Double. I guessed $1600, hoping to have found a way to catch Matt, now leading me $16,000 to $13,200. Unfortunately, it was not the Daily Double. I was able to ring in but missed with an absolute guess of Oliver Twist. Matt got the right answer and thus the Daily Double. I felt completely sunk at this point.
A Ray of Hope?
Matt was given the Daily Double, which read as follows: This city named for its “harbor entrance” location re-created the dance at which Elizabeth Dickens’ water broke. I knew without hesitation. I am an avid fan of the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin books, which center on the Royal Navy. Many scenes have transpired in this particular city. If only I were able to answer. Matt wagered $5300 and guessed Liverpool. The correct answer was Portsmouth. He dropped down to 12,300, a lead of only $700 going in to Final Jeopardy. Our category would be Famous Relatives. We went to commercial and made our wagers. I bet everything but $10. I knew I had to hope for an incorrect answer on Matt’s part.
We came back and were given this clue: In 2011, his daughter Svetlana, living in the US under the name Lana Peters, died in Wisconsin at age 85. I knew it was Stalin immediately. I could only hope that Matt didn’t. Alex revealed Misha’s answer of Stalin, with a wager of $9000, doubling up to $18,000 and briefly taking the lead. He revealed my answer and wager, and I took the lead with $23,190. Finally it was time for Matt’s answer. Alex said that he seemed to struggle with it before revealing the answer of… Stalin. With a wager of $10,901 for a total of $23,201 and the win. By eleven dollars. All told, I answered 20 correctly and 2 wrong. Matt answered 20 correct and 3 wrong. Misha answered 9 correct and 2 wrong. Unable to bear watching the later games, I left the studio with my entourage and had a nice day of sightseeing capped by a steak dinner with my Dad and younger brother.
I have a growth…
Now that it is all over, I have to reflect on the experience. I will admit that I was upset after the game. I felt like I had blown the opportunity to win and was not pleased with myself. There was some weeping and some gnashing of teeth. Ultimately there was also the awareness that I had realized one of my long-standing dreams. It still stings a little bit to watch my episode, but I think I am coping well. A younger version of myself would have imploded over this disappointment but I recognize the honor of being invited to compete and truly enjoyed the experience. It has been fun having a bit of minor celebrity (I even got interviewed by The Jeopardy! Fan blog today, to be posted Saturday). This whole ‘focus on the positive’ thing borders dangerously close on personal growth.
Matt was a nice guy and a gracious winner (despite what some of my friends think based on his facial expression). I will continue to watch Jeopardy and soak up as much random knowledge as possible. In answer to the question everyone seems to have: No, I do not intend to try out for Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?, or any other game show. Jeopardy! is the best and most difficult game show and represents the sum of my trivia based ambitions. Maybe after Alex retires and I am eligible I will give it another shot. Until then, I will enjoy the life of a game show almost-was. Second in the game but first in the hearts of my fans (I love you too Grandma and Mom).