I shall take Balloons for $800, if you please.

So it's about time I sat down and wrote about my experience trying out for Jeopardy!, since almost a month has passed and I keep telling bits of the story over and over again. Some parts have already been told on Twitter (these are copied below), but the whole thing needed fleshing out. So finally it's here! Lucky you.

Oh, so THAT's why I wasn't nervous about presenting about #NAFSA09... I was saving it all up for Monday's Jeopardy! audition. Eek eek eek! - 2:58 PM May 30th

I went out to the NAFSA conference May 25-29. I flew back on Friday and didn't get in until about 1am. I had presented on Thursday afternoon, and was not very nervous at all about presenting. On Saturday, I discovered that this was because I'd been saving all my nerves for Jeopardy!.

I should be packing up and leaving for Chicago, but instead, I'm stressing out about Jeopardy! and sitting on the couch. Productive! - 3:03 PM May 30th

I slept in Saturday morning, then it took me until fairly late in the afternoon to finally get in the car and leave for Chicago, because I was so nervous about forgetting to pack something. I don't know what I would forget to pack, since the main thing I had to remember was my invitation, which I had received as an email and could easily reprint¹.

In Chicago. Primary reason: torture @runningrockstar's cats. Secondary: audition for Jeopardy!. - 9:12 PM May 31st

Fortunately, Roommate² (who I was staying with) was very good at distracting me from my Jeopardy! stress, as were her poor cats. We went to the Harry Potter exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, a German festival and a karaoke night. This kept me pretty busy and my mind pretty occupied until Monday morning.

FREAKING OUT and trying not to puke. #jeopardy! - 2:36 PM Jun 1st

I'm a naturally nervous person, but usually my nerves fall in an elevated-but-manageable range. As I headed to the Westin, I got more and more nervous the closer I got, to the point where I thought I might have to pull my car over and throw up boneless buffalo fingers³ all over Michigan Avenue. Fortunately I didn't get to that point, but as I parked my car in some $15/hour parking garage (or whatever it was) and walked up the street to the Westin, I did think my legs might give out.

When I got to the Westin I stood around in the lobby for a while, looking for signage and finally gave in and asked someone at the desk. She sent me to the elevator. When I got off the elevator, there were lots of business-casual-dressed people sitting around. I sat down, then started to get nervous again so I headed off to the bathroom. In the bathroom, I had a little talk with myself, tried to steady my breathing, brushed my hair, ate some mints, put on some more lipstick and was a little cooler and more relaxed when I was done.

My other new pair of shoesI should mention at some point - and this is as good a point as any - that I had put a lot of thought into what I was going to wear to the audition. The most informative blog post I'd read about Jeopardy! auditions talked about wearing television-ready clothes, so I had to find something that I felt comfortable in, looked pretty good in, but which didn't involve too much white or bold patterns. So I wore a short-sleeved pinkish-red sweater, a black skirt and the shoes I like to think of as my Power Shoes. Unfortunately the Power Shoes are noticed only by women and the Jeopardy! people who were working with us were all male, so they were moot. They make me feel good, though, so hopefully that confidence came through. In the end, I think that for the audition stage, I could have gotten away with being well-dressed but not necessarily excluding patterns or white. Since I auditioned, I have been paying more attention to the outfits that the contestants wear when they're on stage, and white and patterns aren't as noticeable as I'd have expected there, either. I also wore my glasses, which I deliberated over for a long time, then made Roommate help me deliberate over at lunch. Finally I decided that having an obvious accessory like that might make me more memorable, and I think my glasses make me look slightly older. If I make it to the show, I would probably wear contacts, just to avoid any problems with glare.

Eventually the Jeopardy! producers and auditioneers (I don't remember everyone's title so I am going to call them by the made-up word "auditioneers" from now on) came back from lunch and we got our Fancy Jeopardy! Pens4, filled out our contestant information sheets, and had Polaroid mugshots taken, presumably so that the auditioneers could remember us by face as well as by vital statistics once the auditions were over.

We went into the room, where there were glasses and pitchers of water, although not enough for me who - unbeknownst to me at the time - was coming down with The Death Plague. The auditioneers introduced themselves, told us how things were going to work, and then we went around the room and introduced ourselves. We told each other our names and where we were from, and I think all the rest of the introductions were left for our "interviews" later. There were water bottles for the two people who came the longest for the audition (Florida and Texas, if I remember correctly).

The next part was the written test. There were 50 questions, which were projected onto the screen one by one. We didn't have to answer in the form of a question and spelling was not taken into account. There were two or three that I couldn't answer at all, and a few more that I guessed at. I made a little note to myself of the clue for one of them, which was about a singer who had a name that was "not Mich Igan or I Daho" (or something like that) and came back to it whenever I had a little extra time between questions. Finally, by singing "Fifty Nifty United States" in my head, I realized it was Flo Rida. There were a few others like that, that I could get after a little thought, but probably wouldn't have come up with fast enough if I were on the show.

The impression I got was that the written test was basically to ascertain that a) you are the same person who took the online test and b) the online test wasn't a fluke. I don't think our results on that test directly affect whether or not we'll be on the show.

The next section was the mock game. The auditioneers called us up in groups of three, then projected a computerized Jeopardy! game onto the screen. We rang in with the buzzers and the auditioneers let us know if we should ring in faster or if we were ringing in too early or if we should speak up when we answered the questions. I felt pretty confident about my buzzing, but it was hard to tell because the person who rang in first was not always the person they called on - they wanted to give everyone a chance. We answered ten or fifteen questions, and if none of the current three players knew the answer, the auditioneers would throw it out to the rest of the group. When you were standing up there playing and didn't know the answer and a chorus of "FRANZ KAFKA"s (or whatever) came up at you, it felt like everyone in the room knew the answer except you, but when you were in the audience it was clear that everyone had different strengths and knew some and didn't know others.

After we played our mock game, the auditioneers had us lay down our buzzers and then interviewed us, much like Alex does on the show. Besides the "golden ticket" invitation, we were also asked to come prepared with five stories or facts - the kind of thing that Alex talks about when he's introducing you on the show. First we introduced ourselves (many people talked about what they do for a living, I blathered on about being a study abroad advisor and having lived in France or something) and then the head auditioneer would ask us a question meant to lead into one of our stories. I had written all of my stories as "teasers" anyway. The one he picked for me was the one I wrote as "I went on a crime spree in England at age two." It was interesting listening to the other contestants' stories - one was a writer of erotica, another was a high school teacher who was really into Batman, another owned a gelateria in Louisville and one was a recently-unemployed unemployment lawyer. Those are probably the ones I'm most likely to recognize if they show up on the show.

I felt relieved once I'd had my turn up there. I didn't embarrass myself too much - there were categories about British history and classical music which I did pretty well in. One thing I noticed was that during the written test and the mock game, questions came up that I had just studied recently. It was good to have them fresh in my mind! I had decided, when I first got the invitation, that there was no way to study for Jeopardy!, but then changed my mind about a week and a half before the audition and started cramming5.

Didn't puke! I actually felt pretty confident. I won't know the result unless I get The Call. - 6:08 PM Jun 1st

So, it went well. I had thought that at some point in the audition process, we would be divided up into Contestant Pool Members and Try Again Next Years. It turned out that anyone who came to the audition would be in the contestant pool, which means that the pool is bigger than I expected, and therefore there's less chance that I'll make it on the show in the next 18 months (which is the contestant pool period). If I don't get the call within 18 months, I can take the online test again in January 2011. I don't think I'd mind too much if I don't get the call, because that will give me another opportunity to go through the process, get more confidence and buzzer practice, study and prepare.

One thing I would change: I wish I had thought to ask if I could take pictures. There was nothing anywhere in documentation or signage that said that you couldn't, and I think it would have been fun to have that. If I get to audition again, I will try to remember to ask about it. I'd also like to plan my visit differently if I get another opportunity - some of the other auditioners were talking about going to a quiz night at a bar in Chicago that evening, but I had to head back to Ohio to go to work the next day. I'd like to have an opportunity to get to know more of my fellow Jeopardy! hopefuls.

So, I think I've covered pretty much everything about the whole day, except my GPS trying to drown me in the Chicago River on the way out of town. Any questions? Please phrase them in the form of an answer.

¹ I kept thinking of this as my "golden ticket." I did think about printing this out on yellow paper and then I decided it would be too dorky and I would die of dorkiness.

² For those of you who have started reading this blog since 2002 (there must be some of you out there), Roommate is my roommate from our sophomore and senior years of college. She is called Roommate in the blog because that is how I think of her and address her and sometimes I forget that she has an actual first name. It is Sarah, hence confusion, hence "Roommate."

³ Not recommended as a pre-audition food. If I'd realized how nervous I was going to get, I would have had... I don't know, soup.

4 I don't know what I've done with my Fancy Jeopardy! Pen. I still have the one I got when I tried out for College Jeopardy! ten years ago, but I seem to have put the new one somewhere. I'll find it eventually.

5 A post about study materials to follow.

srah - Tuesday, 23 June 2009 - 5:26 PM
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Comments (7)

gravatar Robertian - June 23, 2009 - 5:47 PM -

I got all nervous and hand-wringy reading your recap of events! Sounds like you did very well, and I hope you get The Call.

(Your shoes are very lovely, by the way.)

gravatar alfie - June 23, 2009 - 7:25 PM -

"You should try out because you know, like, all the stuff I do, plus sports and anatomy!"

I would never have gotten Flo Rida, because although I had heard that song (once or twice), I had no idea who sings it. I have a sneaking suspicion that you know WAY more post-BD music than I do.

gravatar srah - June 23, 2009 - 7:34 PM -

To get Flo Rida, you just have to know that there is a singer named Flo Rida. You don't have to know anything else about him. Although if you knew his song was called "Right Round" then you could guess it a lot easier than I did, and without getting Dead or Alive in your head and trying to figure out what state Dead or Alive is named after.

gravatar Mike - June 23, 2009 - 8:20 PM -

Wow, you just have to basically sit and wait for 18 months? That's weird to go to an audition where you basically don't get to know how you did until you do/don't get a call in the next year and a half.

They should at least play a fanfare for you when you complete the audition.

BTW as for the stories you have to tell, The Soup once featured a contestant (a high school English teacher, which makes it worse) whose story was that one of his daughters was conceived following a game of strip jeopardy.

gravatar Elisabeth - June 24, 2009 - 1:02 AM -

What about Hannah Montana?

I'm hoping you get the Call.

gravatar Elisabeth - June 24, 2009 - 1:03 AM -

Also, please wear a giant foam cowboy hat.

gravatar alfie - June 24, 2009 - 11:32 PM -

I should clarify. I had heard that song (in The Hangover, apparently), but I had no idea who sang it, because I did not know there was a singer named Flo Rida.

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