The beginning of my television debut did not go well.
To start, Johnny Gilbert mispronounced my name. He had to retape my intro during the break. Not an auspicious beginning.
Since it was the end of the taping day, the lights and audience had increased the studio’s temperature considerably, and I was flopping sweat all over my clothes. The makeup people placed tissues on my podium so I can strategically daub my forehead when the camera was not on me. For the first ten minutes, I needed them.
After answering the first question, I went on a cold streak. By the first commercial break, I was $1400 in the hole. It was no longer a matter of winning. It was now a matter of getting out of this in the black, with some degree of dignity. The last thing I wanted to do was talk to Alex Trebek. Besides, the years have not been kind to him–his makeup looked almost clownish at close glance. Must be a lot of divots to fill in.
Yet I returned Alex’s banter about my die-cast Ferrari collection, which got a laugh. It relaxed me, somewhat. It was just a game, I remembered. Don’t look at the score and have fun. By the end of round 1, I managed to pull myself to $400, with returning champion Jim Davis (a really nice fellow, by the way) with $2200 and Hannah Lynch with $8000.
The hardest category had to be about Thomas Hardy. We hardly got any of those right. The only reason I had a correct answer of “Return of the Native” was because I remembered the Monty Python sketch about Hardy writing it as a sports event.
By the second round, I was in a zone. The sweat had subsided, and I only flubbed on one question early. By the end of the second round, I was in second place with $13,600. Jim had $12,400 and Hannah had the lead with $17,200. Now it was more like it. Even if I lose, I can lose with dignity and not look like a complete ass.
Yet, as I was doing the math, it dawned on me…I could actually win this. It all depended on the Final Jeopardy category: “Biblical AKA.” I knew a thing or two about the Bible. The problem was that I was Catholic, and Catholics have a distinct disadvantage to our Protestant brethren when it comes to Biblical knowledge, insofar as Protestants actually read the darn thing. So it had to be something that was not the Psalms or the Beatitudes or any of Paul’s letters–an obscure, yet knowable Old Testament factoid that could flub anyone.
Plus I had to bet the farm since it was the only way I was going to win.
Up came the question, “This second king of Israel was the ‘sweet singer of Israel.'” Easy, it was David. Yet it seemed too easy: any half-practicing Episcopalian or lapsed Catholic could figure this one out, I thought. So it was up to the final showing, and hopefully things will break my way.
When Jim’s response was read–“Who was David?”–two things happened. First, I sighed relief. Then, I heard Hannah quietly click her tongue. Holy shit. Had she flubbed it? Is she faking it? Alex came to me next, and my massive wager which put me in the lead, for now.
Last was Hannah, and she answered “Who was Solomon?” I didn’t hear anything from then on. Not even the fact that Alex Trebek just announced that I was the new Jeopardy! champion. It seemed too matter-of-fact, too easy.
The crowd exploded. As Alex shook my hand, he told me that after my poor start, they were thinking of calling an ambulance for me. Funny. At any rate, there I stood, next to Hannah and Jim and Alex Trebek, while people were hurredly getting forms for Jim and I to fill out. Jim didn’t leave empty handed–he was a two-day champion with over $62,000. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, and we chatted all the while afterward, as my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and Jim’s wife all gathered with me at the door to the green room.
That day was a roller-coaster ride, and my win was probably the most dramatic of the day. Even watching it now, it seems so odd. But it happened. I was a Jeopardy! champion. The rest of the week, until my next taping day on Tuesday, was a victory tour in my mind. Even though I couldn’t, it was hard to not tell everyone my good fortune.
Part IV, and the last, will be my dramatic exit as champion, and some sites so teachers can play game shows in their classroom.