It has been at least six months, and I have yet to write about it…until now.
Most of my friends, and some acquaintances, already know this, but for two glorious days, October 10, 2008 and October 13, 2008, Mr. D was the Jeopardy! champion. Yes, it is spelled with the exclamation point–it’s trademarked that way.
All this time, either out of self-pity at my loss or because there’s just not enough time in the day, I have yet to summon the energy to discuss my experience. Today, the Neighborhood will finally feature this account–but there’s a warning. My travelogues tend to meander more than the Mississippi delta. You may need to slow down some to get the gist of it. You’ve been warned.
It all began in June, when I received an unlikely e-mail. The February before, I had set aside my block of time, like so many brainiacs across this country, to take the Jeopardy! online test. It was 50 questions long, and not necessarily easy. In fact, I thought I didn’t do that well. Last year’s test was much easier, and I wasn’t called. This is why I was surprised to see an e-mail saying I was called to an audition in New York for the show.
I went into a hotel lobby in Manhattan where a room of about 40 people were filling out forms, reading through dictionaries (I didn’t make that up, someone actually lugged a Websters along), or generally pacing around nervously. As we sat down in a large room, the casting team introduced themselves with big Hollywood smiles and big Hollywood energy, rattling off information lightning fast so even the dictionary lady had to stop writing. This was something I had to get used to. Hollywood folks are all about energy, making sure that perkiness and spunk were at their peak. It took all my fortitude to not throttle them with the buzzer cords.
After a rapid-fire review of rules, procedures, and legal minutia, we sat down to another test, issued through an LCD projector onto a wall. We were given 8 seconds for each question, which was a lot in the beginning, but not so towards the end. I can tell you I didn’t get every question right, but it was a good shot. The guy next to me was cursing under his breath towards the end. Dictionary lady was probably hyperventilating.
The final step was the simulated game and review. Groups of three were brought before the casting folks, made to play a short simulated game, and then answer questions based on the questionnaires we filled out. At this point, I knew what they wanted. Almost everyone there was smart, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. What they wanted was the Hollywood energy, a movie star smile, and a go get-em Bob Eubanks style will a little aw-shucks rolled in. In short, it was time for the bullshit, and I’m a Rembrandt at it. As my name was called, we stood before the judges and answered random questions. One lady was limp and lifeless. The other person kept fumbling with the buzzer. I answered each question as if I was Flash Gordon…”Who is Richard III?” (Cue the roguish smile and Errol Flynn pose).
The casting crew were dazzled at my cornucopia of bovine excrement. I never lied once in front of them, but my delivery was straight out of central casting: direct, forceful and with a smile. It also helped that I taught history in the Bronx–few Jeopardy! contestants have any form of “street cred.” I got quite a few oohs and aahs from the other auditioners. In a room full of upper-middle class white and Asian folks, I was practically a Crip.
As we were sent home, we were all told that we were potential contestants, and that we would be in the contestant pool for one year. At that point, I was never expecting to get on the show. The whole process was fine, the people were nice enough–although the dictionary lady still lingers in my mind–and I felt that I did my very best. If I got on the show, great. If not, well there’s always next time.
Within three weeks, I get a phone call. The person on the phone was from Sony Pictures. I knew exactly what it was.
It took some time for the guy to tell me though. He verified some of my personal info and then we reviewed anyone I knew on Jeopardy (my buddy Matt, and he didn’t do so well). Finally, he said it: I was scheduled for an airdate of the week of Oct 6-10, which meant I was taping August 20 in their Culver City studio. That’s the Los Angeles area, for those who don’t know. The date couldn’t come fast enough.
Next time, Part II will cover the Los Angeles experience, and my taping experience. You’ll also see an actual photo of Mr. D as shown on national television. Stay tuned.