June 24th, 2004

smug

This should sound familiar to anyone who's driven in Atlanta (or anywhere, for that matter)

My mom sent me this:

A man is being tailgated by a stressed-out woman on a busy street in Atlanta.
Suddenly, the light turns yellow, just in front of him. He does the proper
thing, and stops at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman hits the horn, screaming in frustration as she misses her chance to get through the intersection with him. She is still in mid-rant; she hears a tap on her window and looks up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer orders her to exit her car an arrests her and takes her to the police station where she is searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a cell.

After a couple of hours, a policeman approaches the cell and opens the door. She is escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer is waiting with her personal effects. He says, "I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the 'Choose Life' license plate holder, the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, the 'Follow Me to Sunday School' bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car."
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Jeopardy! by underwhelming

So what was it like being on Jeopardy!, Kelly?

Now that the episode has aired, I can give my full account of The Jeopardy! Experience.

The morning of taping, my mom and atomicnumber51 (who had flown down for taping) got me up and did my hair and makeup. The hotel was providing a shuttle and Natalia walked me downstairs and tried to keep me calm (which was a feat). After the shuttle picked us up, she switched gears to trying to keep my mom calm (which I suspect was even more of a feat).

Several people were on the shuttle and we all chatted pleasantly. This continued once we got dropped off at Sony Studios, where we stood around waiting for the next shuttle to come get us. I think I expected people to be standoffish, since we were going to be competing against each other, but almost everyone was really friendly and genial.

One guy was there because, as he explained, he knew the defending champion and he had to wait for him to get defeated before he could play.

Someone said something about the "circumstances." This was the first inkling I got of just how much trouble I was in.

Once on the shuttle, I asked Ken, the defending champion, if I could ask how many times he had won. (I don't think I had even heard that they had revoked the five-time champion rule until a week or so before the taping.)

He modestly told me, "Thirteen times."

I crossed myself, and I'm not even Catholic.

In the green room (which isn't green, of course), Maggie, one of the producers(I think?) took us through some of the getting-ready stuff. She is terrifically nice and very energetic -- she took care of my purse during taping and we had a nice chat about where I got it. She reassured us that we were all very smart just to get there and reminded us to have fun.

All of the Jeopardy staff were very very nice, including the stage manager and the makeup artist. They had a lovely spread of fruit and goodies (I had a chocolate-filled croissant -- come on, you know I'm never too nervous to eat!!). There were lots of laughs, which greatly helped with the nerves. I just want to say again that I was terrifically impressed with how nice everyone was, including and especially the other contestants. One of the most interesting parts of the morning was when Maggie was reviewing our interview stories with us and we got to hear everyone else's. People had some really interesting stories.

When it got close to time for taping, they took us out on the set for a little practice with the buzzers with the announcer, and then it was nearly time to go. They drew to see who was going first and seated the rest of us in the audience in our own section. There were lots of schoolkids there, along with our friends and family, who we weren't supposed to look at. They're very careful to avoid even the appearance of anything fishy to prevent any Quiz Show-style scandals.

Then the first game started, and I saw Ken in action.

My heart plummeted.

I was up for the second game. As the makeup artist was doing the last touch-ups, I joked that "I came out here with the goal of being a five-time champion, now I think I'll be happy if I don't look stupid and look good on TV."

Then, it started.

It all happened so fast that I barely had time to react to any of it. When we taped the Hometown Howdys (which you can see on the Jeopardy website), I goofed mine up twice. The set was somehow smaller than I always expected.

The game started and it was quite an exciting feeling when I answered my first question and got to pick a clue. And ever so briefly I was in the lead. Something that held true for the games I watched as well as my own was that on nearly every question, everyone was trying to ring in. I don't think I truly believed what they said about "just getting here means you know a lot" until I saw that.

During the first commercial break, the stage manager told me that I was ringing in too soon and it was locking me out of the system. I know we talked about it here before taping and I tried so hard to practice for this, but I don't think I ever quite got the hang of it.

Everyone wants to know what Alex Trebek was like. We didn't really interact with him much, but I would say the main surprise to me was how showbizzy he was. I don't think that necessarily comes across on TV. He seemed nice enough. He's funny and does accents very well. They took a picture of each one of us with him during the first commercial break, which was very nice.

I was pleased when the audience laughed at my "I'll take Shakespeare for a thousand, Alex" joke. I was also pleased when Alex referred to me as the Lady in Red.

Somewhere during Double Jeopardy I could really feel any chance of winning, or even making a game of it, slipping away. I think I was a little bit in shock. Go ahead and mock me for being overly dramatic, but it was like the speech that Burt Lancaster gave as Doc "Moonshine" Graham in Field of Dreams, about his one major-league baseball game: like brushing past someone in a crowd. I wonder if the reason I got several in Double Jeopardy was because Ken felt sorry for Rick and me and backed off. And it really broke my heart that there was a question about The Great Gatsby -- my favorite book -- and I didn't get it because I just couldn't ring in in time. My favorite clue that I got was the Dunsinane question. The person who writes recaps at the Jeopardy message board dubbed it the "Best 'I'll Take Shakespeare For $1600, Alex" Moment."

I had always wanted to run a category, and I had always wanted to bet it all on a Daily Double. I didn't get to do either. They told us we would look like good sports if we clapped when the other players got Daily Doubles, but when I watched the episode, there was once when Ken got yet another one and I couldn't stop myself from rolling my eyes. Oh, and I didn't get bleeped like y'all were hoping I would, but I did once mouth "shit!" when I missed a question. purpig said he saw it on air.

Ken had the game locked up going into Final Jeopardy. I think I managed to shut off my disappointment long enough to realize that I was playing for second and make a mid-level bet on the category, which was Historic Partnerships. Then they revealed the clue, the music started playing, I thought for a second -- the answer was "The almost 4-decade collaboration of these 2 Germans began in Paris in 1844" -- and wrote "Who are Marx and Engels?"

When I finished writing, there were still about ten seconds to go, so I took a moment to do what I hadn't had time to do: look around and go "holy shit, I'm on Jeopardy."

I started watching the camera. The camera panned to Ken, looking confused, then Rick, also looking confused.

Then to me, staring straight at the camera.

I did the one thing I could do: looked dead-on into the camera and shrugged.

That moment was me attempting to express the two words going through my head, which were: ...the hell?!

But I was the only one to get Final Jeopardy right (the guys didn't even guess), and I came from behind to come in second. That did a lot to mitigate the disappointment. At the end where we're all standing next to Alex, he was riffing on Marx in a German accent.

Afterwards, I decided to stay for one more taping. When the categories for that next game came up and they were all Shakespeare-related, I elbowed Natalia and whispered "God hates me!"

So... that was my Jeopardy experience. Looking back, my main disappointment was that it had to be against the winningest guy in Jeopardy history. He'd had seven and a half hours of practice with the buzzers to my ninety seconds, so I guess I didn't stand a chance. It's just really disappointing knowing that that was my one shot and I can't try again. :/

Incidentally, all of us challengers wanted to hate Ken, but we really couldn't. He was very nice, and after overhearing about my comics hobby, made sure to chat with me about that. I told him my claim to fame would be that I got Final Jeopardy right and he didn't, and he laughed.

However, this did not apply to my mom. She pretty much hated him on sight. She wouldn't even clap for him, which is part of why I love her so much. ;)
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