The first time I tried to get on Jeopardy! I was still in college and went to an old-school cattle-call at the Mall of America. You (and like 15,000 other people) took a ten-question test. If you got eight or more correct, you took a second test, this time 50 questions on a video monitor in a room of 50-100 people. It stopped at this point for me.
Fast-forward to 2004. I’ve moved to Texas. I got a weird phone call. It was the contestant department. [I assume I passed an online test to get the phone call, but this is a weird interim phase where they had just made the transition from the cattle-call audition to their present no-hurt-feelings-welcome-to-contestant-limbo system.] I was to audition in a few weeks in Houston. Hotel room. Three-hour drive.
They herded roughly 50 contestants at a time into a conference room, and you took the 50-person in-person video test. They graded the tests.
Seven of us stayed.
The other 43 or so were told, thank you for traveling here, but home you go. They told us seven was the most people they’d had pass the test in one section in weeks.
Let us marvel at this for just one moment. There was a time in which hopeful contestants packed up their wedding outfits for the weekend, made a trek to a city that made some semblance of sense, took a 50-question test, waited nervously to have it graded, and then THE VAST MAJORITY of them were told to go screw.
The seven who remained did some mock games with the touring buzzer system and an interactive video game board. We did the interview portion. And that was that.
After you audition, they say you might receive a call with a few weeks lead time before you’re to compete on the show. Given the fact that I knew I’d tested well enough to be in the contestant pool, I figured I had a decent shot at getting the call.
After the audition, you sit around hoping that every random phone number calling you is The One. That is A LOT of answered telemarketing calls that could otherwise have gone ignored.
It did not happen.
After you audition, you can’t take the online test again for what works out to be two years from the last one you took.
A couple cycles later, I was called upon to audition again (seems like this was 2009, but I might be off by a year or two). This audition cycle the closest audition city was Kansas City, which I’d have had to drive 11 hours to from the second-most-populous state in the country that apparently had no need for an audition. My parents lived in the DC area at the time, so I chose throwing down the coin on airplane tickets and visiting my parents for a couple days.
Did I mention that I’m a poor? Like this whole time. No?
I’m. A. Poor.
I destroyed this test. Between 2004 and this point in time, they have apparently decided that telling every poor sap who spent their time and money to get to the audition doesn’t get sent packing the instant their test has been graded and their efforts have been deemed unworthy of being a contestant on Jeopardy!
Everyone plays the mock game with the interview portion, but if I qualified before, how does this complete and utter dominance over a test not get me kicking emphatically through the door with an exclamatory, I’M HERE?
No calls were received.
After more than a decade lost to aimlessness and functional alcoholism encouraged—nay, enabled by the velvet coffin that is Austin, I moved to Los Angeles.
Just as my time in LA was nearing its one-year mark, I got an email asking if I was available to audition in Culver City. With travel no longer needed, saying yes to an audition was easy enough.
I went, took the test, could have passed, but never got a call.
At this point, I was pretty much over this whole song and dance. I still took the online test most years in which I was eligible to take it, but it was clear this whole thing ain’t gonna happen. Furthermore, as I continue to work more in film and television, the likelihood grows of working with someone who would eventually be a connection that could disqualify me as a potential contestant. Time feels like it’s running out for this curmudgeonly bastard.
In August or September, I got an email asking if I was available for an audition.
I’m not gonna get the call anyway, so fuck wearing a suit. I’m gonna just be me.
Hell, my suit probably fits terribly anyway.
I take the test. This whole thing is old hat by now. They pick mock game players at random. The whole room of 25 contestants has gone but me. You play the mock game, and then they ask you all one of your “amusing” stories and what you’d do if you won a bunch of money.
Wanna hear 23 of 24 people talk about how they’d travel if they won big? Me neither.
They pulled two people back up to play the mock game with me. That went all right, though I royally flubbed an answer related to a podcast that I was literally listening to in the car on the way to the audition. Game completed, they asked me about one or two of the five interesting facts I’ve provided.
Then they asked me what I’d do if I won big. I’ll paraphrase here, but this is what my response was:
Well, my wife and I moved here for me to chase the writing dream. For austerity measures, we live in an apartment which we call “Room” because of the Brie Larson movie, with all the sadness and darkness that implies. So I’d probably do something about our living situation.
I got a call like three weeks later.
Now local contestants are alternates the first time they come in. There are two locals. One gets on, one doesn’t. That local will play in the last game of the five they tape in a day. Jeopardy! is a relatively well-oiled machine, but sitting in the audience for four tapings is surprisingly draining. By the third game, I sat in the audience watching clues be read for which I knew the correct response only to not be able to summon that answer.
You watch in horror as your brain fails you while you maybe wait in the wings. You watch other contestants dominate, commiserating with your fellow Angeleno about how you don’t even want to go on today. The next time, maybe you draw the lucky first or second game, and your brain hasn’t turned to mush. You watch games three and four of the day tape, watching Bif Reiser unseat a fairly impressive three-day champ in Will Dawson and follow with a runaway game, amassing $60,801 in just two games.
Then they come to the three remaining contestants waiting in the wings, one out-of-towner who surely sits lamenting what fresh hell God wrought that they are the one out-of-town contestant who similarly got to wait through four episodes being taped, hard drive hopefully not wiped, and the two “locals,” neither of whom want to appear, both of whom would gladly sit through a fifth episode in which they did not compete if they could only be granted a reprieve and a shot at a fresh brain.
I got chosen.
I’m on Jeopardy! today. Watch what happens. Check your local listings.