Filming Jeopardy! and the Aftermath

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Note: If you’re interested in reading about my history with Jeopardy! and how I got to be on the show, that post is here.

As soon as Emlen and I were chosen to compete in the Wednesday game against returning champion Kevin, we had our makeup touched up, and we had a few minutes to use the bathroom and get a drink. Then we went back to the studio and out on the stage to our podiums (which are also randomly assigned, except for the returning champion, of course). The contestant coordinators came over and made sure we knew which camera to look at for the intros and had our names written on our screens. They asked if we had anyone in the audience, and they had our friends and family wave to us — Jeremy was a little salty that he hadn’t been allowed to look at or talk to me, and at first he didn’t believe that he was finally allowed to interact with me.

I don’t remember a whole lot about getting started. I know I was feeling really anxious, and I kept telling myself I was just on stage for a performance like I’d been zillions of times before. The stage manager called for quiet and started the show, and hearing the opening music while standing on the stage felt a whole lot more surreal than it had when I’d been sitting in the audience. 

My strongest memories from actually playing the game are being really frustrated with the categories I got and with the signaling device. I literally didn’t get a single category I’d studied (although some of them had popped up during the two shows I had watched), and while there was a simple “NFL Teams en Español” category in Monday’s game (I was a Spanish major, in case you didn’t know), I got the absolute worst French category I’ve ever seen — complicated French names for foods that are simple in English. I think it would have been a bear even if it had been a Spanish category, trying to put all those pieces together in the right order and come up with the English term in time. The only way I got the $1000 answer in that category was a great example of what I always tell people who think Jeopardy! is only about knowing lots of information: You have to learn how to read the clues. That $1000 clue mentioned “comfort food” and had the word fromage, which I happened to know means “cheese.” That’s how I came up with “What is macaroni and cheese?” I had no earthly idea what any of the other French words in that clue were (and still don’t!).

At the audition, we used the exact same signaling devices that the contestants use on the show, and sometimes the contestant coordinators would tell someone, “Watch out, you’re ringing in too soon” or “You need to be a little quicker on that button.” We were told to listen for Alex (or Glenn at the audition and day-of-filming practice games) to finish speaking, and there are also lights on the sides of the real Jeopardy! board that indicate the right time to ring in (you don’t see them when you watch on TV). The problem is, if you ring in too early on the real stage, you get locked out for a quarter of a second, and one of your competitors may ring in during that moment. I didn’t receive any instructions about using my signaling device differently during the mock game at the audition or the practice games the morning of filming, and I was able to ring in just fine. But during my actual game, for some reason, my thumb and my brain just were not in sync somehow. During the first commercial break, Glenn came over to me and asked what I was using as my cue to ring in. I said I was watching the lights, and he said, “Okay, that doesn’t seem to be working very well. Why don’t you stop worrying about the lights and just listen for Alex to finish speaking?” So I tried that during the second half of the first round, but it didn’t really make a difference. There were a lot of answers that I knew, but Emlen or Kevin was able to ring in ahead of me and get them right. There’s no one thing I can point to that was messing me up; I guess it was just a combination of nerves and adrenaline.

(Years ago, at an hp-ohio event, some of us sat around and talked about writing a Jeopardy! sketch with Harry Potter characters. Lockhart would be the host, who didn’t like any question that wasn’t about himself. Sirius and Snape would be two of the contestants, more interested in insulting each other than actually answering the questions. And Hermione would be the third contestant who would, of course, know all the answers but have a terrible time ringing in. I used to think this scenario was hilarious. It’s definitely less so now! However, I’m still claiming ownership of this idea for hp-ohio in case we ever get around to it, so be nice and don’t be a thief, please.)

That morning, Corina had picked out three really good topics from the biography/interesting fact pages each contestant had filled out and printed them on a card for each person. For me, she had picked out that J.K. Rowling is the person I most want to meet, that I’ve always lived in Ohio but am fans of baseball teams from elsewhere, and that I studied abroad in Ecuador during college. She had us practice talking about each topic as if we were doing the contestant interview with Alex and then choose which one we most wanted to talk about. She highlighted each person’s top pick but emphasized that Alex might choose to talk about any of our three items. I had a really hard time deciding which topic was my favorite and eventually went with the baseball one, since I knew I could mention Jeremy, but after the fact, I wished I’d picked the J.K. Rowling one, in the hopes that she might somehow see the clip (all I really want to do is thank her for changing my life — and I still could have mentioned Jeremy). After my episode aired, though, one of my best friends posted a clip of my little interview with Alex and said how proud my grampy would be of me, and I feel better about going with the baseball one now.

Alex was really friendly, and I felt like he was interested in what I said about baseball. (I almost laughed at how he introduced the topic though, mentioning how bad Cleveland sports teams have been in recent history. I knew that would not go over well at home!) When we took our posed photo together, he complimented the little star I had put at the end of my name. At the very end, once the cameras had quit rolling, he told me he was sorry things hadn’t worked out better, and he actually said “Boo, hiss,” which he says all the time on the show, and for some reason I find it really, really funny. So Alex Trebek actually said “Boo, hiss” to me. The whole Jeopardy! thing was almost worth it for that alone!

So basically, the actual filming was pretty frustrating. Spending the morning with Maggie, Lauri, Corina, Glenn, and the other contestants was a lot more enjoyable than my actual filming experience, or at least it felt that way at the time. It was really frustrating when Kevin hit that Daily Double in the Telecommunications category and didn’t get it right, because I knew the answer. I almost groaned when I saw the Final Jeopardy category – Business. When I first saw the clue, I thought maybe it would come to me after a couple of seconds. It was clear that the thirty-first day of the month was the crux of the clue. But it’s been ages — more than ten years, I’m sure — since I’ve eaten at a Baskin-Robbins, and “31 Flavors” did not pop into my head. I wrote down Thirty-One, a multi-level marketing company that sells tote bags, lunchboxes, diaper bags, etc., even though I knew it wasn’t correct. It was a reasonable guess, and I wanted to write something down.

As soon as my feet left the stage, I started fighting tears. I think it would have happened even if I’d been a lot happier with my performance — just knowing that I was done was a huge emotional release. Emlen and I signed our paperwork to get our money (no, it hasn’t arrived yet; it doesn’t come until after your show airs) and went back to the green room to get our things. (We had the option of staying for the next two shows, but we would have had to get our own lunch since we weren’t contestants anymore, and I certainly didn’t feel like sticking around.) Lauri called a cab for Jeremy and me and walked us out to the gate where it was supposed to pick us up. They chatted about what a good job I’d done and some other things; I mostly just tried not to cry. We waited and waited for the cab, but it never arrived (Lauri had said they’d been having trouble with their usual cab company recently), so we ended up taking an Uber back to the hotel. I made it up to our room before bursting into tears.

After a good cry, I changed my clothes and we took an Uber to an In-N-Out for lunch, and then we went to the movies and saw Moana. We both loved it, although I cried through half of it. There was a Dave & Buster’s nearby, and Jeremy bought us game cards and we had a good time playing in the arcade for a couple of hours. We took an Uber back to the hotel and tried to come to a decision about dinner, and then my sister called. I told her how my episode had gone and cried really hard again. Then I called my parents and cried really hard yet again. I knew that eventually I would get to a point where I could appreciate Jeopardy! as a really wonderful experience even though it hadn’t turned out like I’d wanted, but that day, I was just so disappointed.

Jeremy and I thought about walking to the mall next door, but nothing there sounded good. We really didn’t want to pay for another car plus food, and it was getting late, and Arrow was about to come on TV. Finally, he suggested getting room service. Neither of us had ever had room service before, and if we stuck with some of the cheaper selections it would work out to about the same as casual dining in California, and it allowed us to eat dinner in our PJs and watch Arrow at the same time. Jeremy had wings, I had a really good burger, and it ended up being kind of fun. It was a really good low-key ending to an emotionally charged, less-than-perfect day.

The next morning we packed up and flew home. On our first flight, from LAX to Denver, we sat next to a college student from Australia who was going to visit family somewhere in the U.S. She asked what we’d been doing in California, and since she was a nice stranger whom I didn’t expect to ever see again, I told her about Jeopardy! She’d never heard of the show, but she thought it was really cool. Our flight from Denver to Cleveland was delayed four hours, so Jeremy and I had a lot of time to kill in the airport. We hung out in a toy store and had really good Chinese food. I was feeling better about things, and I almost made it through the day without crying — I had posted in our Thursday Night Dinner Facebook group about the outcome of my game right before turning my phone off on the tarmac in LA, and I cried when I finally read my friends’ sweet and supportive responses.

We didn’t watch Jeopardy! the next night, which was a Friday. Neither of us said anything about it, and we just didn’t turn the TV on. I wasn’t mad at the show, though, and I wanted to get back into the habit of watching it, so we watched it on Monday, and then on Tuesday, when Cindy Stowell first appeared. She was so quiet but sure of herself, and it was really fun to watch her play. On the morning of what would end up being the last day she was on the show, I saw an article on Facebook about how she had had cancer and had known she was dying when she filmed, how she had chosen to donate all her winnings to cancer research, and how she had passed away just a few days before her episodes aired. I was really moved, and I felt grateful for having been a part of something that someone so incredible had also been a part of. After a few days of thinking, I decided that I was going to have a watch party when my episode aired (a lot of my friends wanted me to, but I hadn’t really wanted to after my disappointment) and use it as an opportunity to raise some money for the American Cancer Society in honor of Cindy. I’m very proud to say that I did have a group of family and friends get together for a party on Wednesday, and we raised $105.30!

I was really, really nervous for people to see me on TV this past week, but I was so glad to have so many wonderful people who came out to support me. My parents drove up from Columbus, most of my boyfriend’s family drove down from Cleveland, and I had friends come in from all over the local area, including some people I hadn’t seen since graduating college almost six years ago. (Also, a big thanks to my friend Ashley for gathering a few copies of the Akron-Beacon Journal for the really nice article that Clint O’Connor wrote about me! And since he mentioned the art at the top of this page — my sister did it! She draws and paints on all sorts of surfaces and takes commissions. Contact me if you’re interested!) On Facebook and Twitter, I had friends and family cheering me on from Maine to Florida, California to Spain. (Although I’ve also received around 20 unwanted friend requests, a few from high school classmates that I was never close with and haven’t spoken to in ten years, and a whole bunch from random people — mostly men — from the Akron area and elsewhere. I’m really glad I double-checked the security settings on my profiles before my episode aired! As a general rule, I don’t add people to my Facebook whom I don’t know. I definitely don’t add anyone unless I already know who they are and know they’re legit.) One of my new Facebook friends, however, is Jon Beebe, who was on Friday’s episode of Jeopardy! He and I sat next to each other in the green room and talked a little (he’s originally from Ohio), and he was really nice. I might have tried to add him as a friend anyway, except that I couldn’t remember his last name and would have spelled his first name wrong. After my episode aired in California, however, I was texting with my cousin Matt about everything, and eventually he said, “It’s the craziest thing — I’ve never known anyone before you to be on a game show, but one of my good friends from college is going to be on Jeopardy! this week too. Did you meet a guy named Jon Beebe when you were there?” It didn’t take long to put the pieces together and figure out that the guy I had sat next to was Matt’s friend! What on earth are the odds of that???

Watching my episode as it aired on TV gave me the chance to re-live good moments that I hadn’t remembered, such as my first answer (from “The ‘Anti’-Category”), about how “pro-lifers” should actually be called “anti-choice.” There was the macaroni and cheese one, and the one I managed to get in the awful “Hidden U.K. Cities” category. For the two questions I got wrong, my answers were reasonably close, and no one else rang in with the correct response. (I guessed “rods” when the answer was “cones” in a question about eyes and “Kevin Eubanks” instead of “Branford Marsalis” in a question about music director of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.) I had really hard categories, and Kevin and Emlen were doing well with their signaling devices. If had played in a different game, or if one of them had played in a different game, who knows how things would have turned out?

The bottom line is this: Everyone who makes it on Jeopardy! has worked REALLY hard to get there. They have already beat out hundreds if not thousands of other people, and they are already winners. Since filming my episode, I’ve been working really hard to change my vocabulary: Instead of saying the contestants “won” or “lost,” I’m trying to say they “came in first” or “came in second” or “came in third,” and I’m trying to get my friends and family to do the same. A friend asked me recently if I would try to get on Jeopardy! again if they someday roll out a whole new show (I’m never allowed to be on an episode with Alex Trebek again unless they invite me for something special, which I’m not expecting), and I said I’d have to think really hard about it if the opportunity presented itself. The truth is, I really loved my Jeopardy! experience, even though it didn’t turn out the way I wanted. All of the staff was so nice. You could tell they wished everyone could come in first. All of the other contestants were so nice. I definitely wished there was a way everyone could come in first. I’m just really, really grateful for the opportunity to accomplish a goal I have literally always wanted to do, and to be really satisfied with the end result.

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