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I guess I won’t be on “Jeopardy!”after all

POSTED October 22, 2010 9:16 p.m.

Last week a press release came across my desk that killed a dream of mine. The news was innocent enough; it congratulated an Elk Grove college student on his upcoming appearance on the TV show “Jeopardy!” For me, however, this press release ended four months of waiting and hoping on a phone call from the “Jeopardy!”casting staff. You see, I was also in the running to compete in “Jeopardy! College Championship” this year, and I didn’t know the 15 competitor spots were filled until I saw this press release.

My journey to “Jeopardy!”started last winter when I took an online contestant test. The show offers these tests sporadically throughout the year and they are the first screening process for becoming a contestant. As a full-time student at California State University, Stanislaus I was eligible to compete in the college championship, and I figured there was nothing to lose by taking the test.

I sat anxiously at my computer the night of the college test, watching a clock count down the seconds until testing time. The online quiz starts at the same time for everyone in the country, and it is live. You get 15 seconds to type in your answer and there is no way to pause or go back to the last question. I pounded out answers on my keyboard at breakneck speed, and prayed that spelling didn’t count.

 There was a huge range of topics covered on the college test, everything from molecular chemistry to 18th century British Literature to African geography. Some were common knowledge questions, and others were things that you only learn in senior level college courses. “Jeopardy!”never releases the scores for these online tests, so I still have no idea how well I did. Either way it was a fun online game, so I wasn’t too worried about the results.  

I had almost forgotten that I took the test when two months later I received an e-mail from “Jeopardy!”

“Congratulations!  You have been selected for a follow-up appointment at an upcoming “Jeopardy!” contestant search for the College Championship in the Los Angeles area, exclusively for those who successfully passed the online test.  This is the next step in becoming a “Jeopardy!” Contestant.”

I was ecstatic and confused at the same time. Was this a trick? Did one of my friends send this just to mess with my head? There was an audition appointment in the e-mail, and I only had two business days to RSVP. I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I confirmed my audition time and made plans to drive down to Los Angles. I was going to audition for “Jeopardy!”

The day of my audition I was too nervous to drive. What if it was all just a big joke? What if I got to L.A. and there was no audition? What if I got up in front of the casting staff and forgot my own name? My dad agreed to take me to Los Angeles, and he dropped me off safely in front of the hotel were the audition was held.

To my relief a handful of other students were milling around the lobby. I picked up an application from the table and filled it out with an official “Jeopardy!”pen. I asked the man collecting the applications if I could keep my pen as a souvenir, and he said that was o.k. as long as I didn’t sell it on Ebay. Everything happened very fast once I handed in the application, it was like time sped up just for us.

There was suddenly a camera crew in my face, filming us as we stood awkwardly in line outside of the audition room. Someone came by with a Polaroid camera and snapped a picture of each of the 30 or so students. I realized at this point that I was one of only three women at the audition. I didn’t have time to ask where they found Polaroid film before we were ushered into the room and introduced to the casting staff. We ran a few practice questions and used our “Jeopardy!”pens as buzzers. Then it was time for the written test.

We answered 50 questions on the written test, which was honestly a lot easier than the online test. They didn’t tell us who scored the highest and they didn’t kick anyone out of the auditions for failing. Throughout the audition process the “Jeopardy!”staff never gives an indication of who is doing well and who won’t be considered for the show. It calmed my nerves a little to know that I could not be kicked out for a wrong answer.

Next up was the mock game play. We went up three at a time and played the game with the real buzzers. It was almost like the real show, except Alex Trebek wasn’t there. Then we did a short personality interview where we answered questions about ourselves. There were national honors students in my audition group, people who volunteered all over the world and people who had amazing life stories. My answers were pretty lame in comparison.  Then it was all over, and staff said they would call the 15 contestants in September. Those who were not selected would not be notified in any way.

I auditioned in the first week of June, and it was a long three months wait. I had no idea how many people auditioned, or what the criteria were for becoming a contestant. I had no idea how I scored on the written test, or what they thought of my personality interview. However, I was still holding on to hope that they would call.

On Oct. 1, I figured they were never going to call, but I was still holding out hope that they would need an alternate. I really wanted to be on the show. As a senior at CSU Stanislaus this is the last year that I will be eligible for the College Championship. Plus there are $5,000 minimums for everyone who competes this year. 

When I read the press release that the show would air beginning in November, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen for me. I was a little bummed but the audition was a whole lot of fun and I will remember it forever. I would encourage all of my fellow students to take the online test next time it comes around. Plus I got a free “Jeopardy!” pen to commemorate the experience!

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