Tag Archives: Jeopardy

Watson Vs. The Champs on Jeopardy!

A partially revealed Jeopardy! Round board in ...

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As a former champion of the show, it’s kind of an obligation.

This week, go to your local ABC station to watch Jeopardy! as Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of the show’s greatest champions (Besides Mr. D, obviously) will square off against Watson, an IBM supercomputer that apparently has the recall and reflexes to outwit almost anyone.

I was asked last year to schedule a sparring match with Watson, as a former champion.  I never got the chance, and would still love to duke a few rounds with that behemoth from Armonk.  As for me, I’m rooting for Brad and Ken this week.

Apparently, tonight Brad and Watson came out tied for first…which I guess is a victory for us mortals.  I’m still not sure if Watson can handle the interviews after the first commercial break.

 

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Mr. D and the Jeopardy! Experience, Part IV

Todd Covert, who ended my reign as champion.

Todd Covert, who ended my reign as champion.

The Tuesday of my second show was bright and sunny.  It did not take long for storm clouds to gather.

I entered Sony Studios with the confidence of Muhammad Ali after dancing with George Foreman in Zaire.  Whatever was coming, I was ready.  Let’s see what this new batch of contestants had in store.

As we did the usual rigamarole of last session, I perused the group.  All of them, in my mind, were beatable.  By the rehearsal, however, there was one wild card–a local contestant named Todd Covert.  If anyone was capable of taking me down, it was him.  But that would have to be decided later.

The contestants for my first title defense were drawn.  The first was a demure, retired teacher from Groton, Connecticut named Mary Tuohy.  The second was Todd.  Crap.  Oh well, maybe the board will break my way, as it did last week.  Hopefully, even the Daily Doubles will finally work out to my advantage.

The entire show was a joust between Todd and I.  Mary didn’t even buzz in the entire first round.  By Final Jeopardy, we were both neck and neck, with Mary finally chiming in for some questions.  The category: “Historical Shakespeare.”  I owned this.  Even if you didn’t read all the plays, a cursory knowledge of the plotlines of the histories, coupled with an extensive knowledge of medieval British history–both of which I had–could get you clear.  Yet once again, it was unsure whether Todd or Mary could handle it, too.

“In ‘Henry VI, Part I’ this woman is described as ‘a holy prophetess new risen up'”

Shit. 

The one goddamn history that I never even glanced at.  Screw these late Lancastrians.  So I guessed.  If I reasoned it out, especially the time period, I should have written the right answer, which was Joan of Arc.  I used my balls, and went with Isabella of Spain.  I bet the farm.  Do the math.  In all fairness, Todd would’ve beaten me anyway since he could bet $1 more than my doubled score.

So I lost.  Todd ended up becoming a multi-day champion, so it was no slouch on my part to lose to him.   I had a great time, and its an experience I carry everywhere, especially my classroom.  One thing I like to do is create Jeopardy!-like games for my students to play–culminating in a 5th-grade trivia contest attended by much of the school.  We didn’t have time for it this year, but it is happening again next year. 

So that you can do the same, below are some links to Jeopardy templates you can use in your classroom:

Amy Johns at Fayette County Public Schools has a great site with game show templates: http://teach.fcps.net/trt2/links/powerpointgames.htm

You can also try Elaine Fitzgerald’s site at: http://www.elainefitzgerald.com/gametemplates.htm

The following website has links to templates that are both browser-based and PowerPoint-based, in case you want to work outside of Powerpoint: http://www.shambles.net/pages/learning/games/jeopardy/

If you want to see how I did question by question on Jeopardy!, go to http://www.j-archive.com  It has all the games cataloged since the first syndicated game in 1984.  My games were the 25th season, Oct 10 and Oct 13, 2008.  See if you can do as well.

Anyone who wants to discuss the game show process further, especially people in the Neighborhood who will appear or plan to appear on Jeopardy!, can certainly post or e-mail with any questions.

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Mr. D and the Jeopardy! Experience, Part III

Jim Davis, the two-time champion I played against that fateful afternoon.  A great guy.

Jim Davis, the two-time champion I played against that fateful afternoon. A great guy.

Mr. D, for those who missed last week's post.

Mr. D, for those who missed last week's post.

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.

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Mr. D and the Jeopardy! Experience, Part II

Mr. D on Jeopardy!  Ain't he a handsome devil.

Mr. D on Jeopardy! Ain't he a handsome devil.

Los Angeles is still a different planet to me. I can still remember going to my sister’s wedding, sitting next to my father. After numerous trips to visit her, Dad had only this to say:

“These people are weird. They’re pretty stupid, too.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

Take the roads, for example. On the day of my appearance on Jeopardy!, I was in my sister’s apartment, the home base of the morning’s operations. Since she lived in the northern part of the city, just south of Griffith Park, getting to the Culver City studios would be a hike. So I Googled the directions, as I normally would. It showed a logical, straightforward path using highways and one local street.

My sister gave me this look, a look which said, “Why not nail yourself to a hunk of wood and hang suspended over Los Feliz Boulevard. That would be less painful than the route you have in your hand.”

So we took PhDini’s route, which looked like a staircase to Hell. Left here, Right on Sunset, Left on La Brea, Right on Pico, Left on Crenshaw, Right on Venice…I forgot the rest, but somehow I made it to the Sony Pictures lot. Sis alleges this was faster than the freeway. According to most Angelenos, EVERY route is faster than the freeway.

As I got to the gate, the casting director who called me the month before greeted me and we boarded a tram bus to the Jeopardy! lot. I have to admit, it was really cool to be on a working studio and not on the little tram tour–although I expected more noise. The hanger-like sound lots are eerily quiet from the outside. The casting director was, like me, from Brooklyn. Insert California transplant cliché here.

Apparently, since I elected to stay with PhDini instead of fork up dough for my accommodations, I did not arrive with most of the other contestants. They were waiting for me, but they didn’t seem to mind. I missed a lot of the pre-show harangue from the casting team–the same team with the Hollywood smiles from June. I hung up my extra wardrobe (we’re mandated to bring three wardrobe changes) and helped myself to coffee in the green room.

Each of us then went for makeup. The makeup people were gushing over my tanned complexion, which I worked on assiduously on a beach vacation in Rehoboth, Delaware. One of them said I had the perfect skin for television. Made up, dressed and caffeinated, I chatted with my fellow contestants.

In all honesty, I was expecting hyper-intelligent, yet hyper-competitive Ivy-League types and Ph.D candidates from MIT, the kind that would slit their mother’s throat to get the A in the economics class at Harvard. You remember those guys—they sat at the front of the class, kept answering inane questions to show their paper-thin intelligence or the fact that they sacrificed their social skills for doing all the month’s readings ahead of time, and always seemed to hang around the professor after class. I would’ve preferred the weird dictionary lady from the audition.

What I got was the exact opposite. On the whole, my fellow contestants had to be the nicest, friendliest people I’ve met here. They came from all walks of life and all over the country, and the last thing they were thinking of was beating you. They were pleasant, warm, pretty relaxed, and in a really fun state of mind. This was a game show, after all, and we were all in the same boat, so there was no point into finding an “edge.”

Rehearsal came next, and we were all escorted to the stage. It was cold, empty, and a lot smaller than I thought. The game board was showing cartoons as test patterns. I got up to the podium and felt the paint–cheap paint job, I thought. Maybe this was due to the High-Definition broadcasts. I sneaked around to Alex Trebek’s podium, just to see from his vantage point–he wouldn’t show until the actual taping. This was the point when it became real: I’m going to be on television, so I better not look like an ass. Maybe another browsing of the Norton Anthology would do me good.

It took some time to get used to the timing of the buzzer. The buzzers are activated by a guy offstage with a button. He waits for Alex to finish speaking, then presses a button to light up white Christmas lights around the board (you can’t see them on TV). My button technique took some doing, yet I felt confident enough that I could manage. It also helped that we joked around during rehearsal, doing our best Sean Connery impersonations. I chimed in with “An Album Cover” (“Anal Bumcover”).

Before each game, two names were drawn to be the contestants against the returning champion, this time a grad student from Boston. He was good, and we were all waiting for him to go down because no one wanted to tangle with his buzzing prowess. I did not get called first, which was a relief. The remaining contestants sat in a sectioned off corner of the audience while the three combatants down, Johnny Gilbert, the announcer, makes his windup speech, introduces the contestants, and out comes our hero Mr. Trebek.

It amazes me how many mistakes are made in the course of taping. Alex must be getting old because he flubs on a number of questions. Yet what really impresses is what you don’t see. On commercial breaks, Alex re-records these questions so that the editors can splice together a clean, finished product. Johnny Gilbert also re-records some contestant introductions. It’s not just clean-cut white kids anymore—all those Asian, Indian and Eastern European names have gotten poor Johnny tongue-tied.

What isn’t so clean is Alex’s extemporaneous banter with the audience, which he uses to relax and maintain his flow. Most of his responses are rather mundane: personal details, what it’s like to work on the set, does it ever get tiring, etc. He handles these easily enough. Sometimes, though, his inner voice gets the better of him:

Little Girl: “Do you have any pets?”

Alex: “Do I have any pets? What pets do you have?”

Little Girl: “Two kitties and a bunny!”

Alex: Two kitties and a bunny?! Why don’t you bring them over to my house and feed them to my dogs!”

This was among the tamer comments he made. If for nothing else, Alex’s off-color remarks and dark humor kept the taping session moving along.

Five shows were taped that day. I sat through four shows, growing more nervous by the hour. Plus it was getting warm in there. By the time my name was called for the last show, I was sweating like a hog and couldn’t button my coat. The makeup people—the same people who complemented me on my skin—were daubing frantically while I was getting miked up.

The Alan Shepard prayer kept ringing in my head, “Lord don’t make me f**k up.”

Part III will cover the show and the aftermath.

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Mr. D and the Jeopardy! Experience, Part I

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.

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