Jeopardy report!

Watch Hilary on Jeopardy Part 1
Watch Hilary on Jeopardy Part 2

I’d aged out of the contestant pool in November, 18 months after my audition. I figured I’d take the online test again at the end of January and hope for another chance at auditioning. But on 1/8/2010, Jonathan handed me the phone saying, “It’s Glen from Jeopardy.” He started by that checking all my information was the same, giving me a chance to think,  “is he calling for the reason I hope he’s calling? Is this The Call“? Finally he said “Can you be here for taping on February 2nd and 3rd?” I told him I was thrilled and excited, of course, but it wasn’t until I hung up that Jonathan and I started screaming, laughing, and dancing around the living room!

I immediately started telling everyone I know, even slightly. My darling aunt said “I have extra frequent flier miles, I’ll get your plane tickets!” and within half an hour, she had them at our first-choice dates and times! I knew I’d want extra time in LA to adjust before the first day of taping, and hey, if we were going out there anyway, why not make the most of it? Glen had given me a ton of information, including the phone number of the Radisson where most contestants stay. Jonathan called before I had a chance to tell him about “the special Jeopardy rate,” but he actually got an even better rate! (future contestants take note)

Glen told me not to spread the news around on message boards, so I couldn’t announce it on the Jeopardy board at Sony or the Who Wants to be a Millionaire Bored.

There’d been no serious studying going on since my last WWTBAM audition, so it was time to hit the books again. I got out my Secrets of the Jeopardy Champions, visited Karl Coryat’s page, took up volunteers on taping the show for me–since we don’t get TV reception–and finally ordered a copy of Prisoner of Trebekistan to re-read. Two new-to-me books that helped were I Before E (less so, because mnemonics can be slow) and Stuff I Used to Know (wonderful). Jonathan was the greatest coach, peppering me with random questions and reviewing French republics and British kings for me in his inimitable concise, colorful way. He ran J-Archive games for me–even doing the Clue Crew voices!–and I made notes on stuff that came up frequently–Thomas Paine, Beethoven, the Ukraine, etc.

Unfortunately, it was a very busy few weeks at work with lots of overtime, and I didn’t get in as much studying as I wanted. On my practice games, my Coryats were all over the map. I rode the confidence roller coaster frequently–“I might do pretty well!” to “I’m going to embarrass myself…”

Prisoner of Trebekistan arrived the weekend before we were set to leave. I’m looking forward to re-reading it all the way through, because it’s a wonderful book in its own right even if you don’t care about J, but I only had time to skim for tidbits. Bob’s “Eight-Fold Path” sank in, especially “It is better to do nothing than to do something stupid,” and my Coryats began averaging in the high 20Ks as my number of wrong answers went down. Given how wrong answers affected my game, you might think I didn’t absorb this lesson enough, but more on that later.

The online Jeopardy test was Tuesday a week before taping day, and I took it on a “not eligible” basis, just as extra practice. My score was 41 out of 50, giving my confidence a little boost.

The plane ride wasn’t much fun–I get restless legs in the evening when in cramped quarters, and despite being short on sleep I focused on using the time for brain tuning (studying, crosswords, and Sudoku–which I’m terrible at but seems to be good for me). We got to relax with a celebratory snack and glass of wine in the hotel lobby. The Radisson was great–the bar is an area of the lobby so it was easy to make it a spontaneous hangout, and our room was huge and lovely.

We kept busy over the next few days seeing friends and sights and walking around. LA is surprisingly pedestrian-friendly, despite what you may have heard. I caught up on sleep and only studied/rehearsed a little bit. We had some fantastic meals, especially at Little Dom’s, and an Indian restaurant which served pani puri (we’d previously had them only in London). I finally got to visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which is much bigger than it looks–I ran out of time the first day and had to go back, and the Getty Museum and Garden, where I saw ravens and hummingbirds.

We met friends for dinner in Culver City, driving by the Sony studios on the way there and back, and each time my stomach clenched. I wasn’t nervous most of the time, but seeing the actual building reminded me that it was really going to happen very very soon.

Monday I went for a long run. Running irons out the wrinkles in my brain, and I hoped it would help prepare me. I didn’t expect much in terms of the surroundings, compared to my usual woods and fields, but I passed beautiful gardens and ended up by Ballona Creek. Even though it’s basically just a cement ditch, there were all kinds of birds; not just pigeons and seagulls, but pelicans, egrets, coots, and one more water bird I couldn’t identify. Nature is everywhere, and I found that deeply reassuring.

That evening we met friends from NC, who serendipitously were vacationing in LA. We ate early so I could try to get a good night’s sleep. Earlier in the day I’d studied Shakespeare and classical music for the last time; as a final step I was planning on memorizing my wagering strategy that evening, but it didn’t happen.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very soundly and I woke even earlier than I’d planned. I went down to the hotel gym. A guy was finishing up when I got there (5:30am) but he didn’t look excited enough to be a Jeopardy contestant. I tried to feel positive that nobody else was working out.

Even though I thought I’d left plenty of time, after coffee and cereal I was scrambling to get dressed, assemble my outfits, iron, etc. I don’t normally wear makeup (I find it a huge hassle and I’m lousy at it), but I thought Glen had told me to come pre-made up. It may be that with HDTV they rely on the pros to do it and either I misunderstood or he forgot, because someone else had been told not to put any on. The Jeopardy shuttle was leaving at 7:30 and we were supposed to report to the lobby at 7:20. I was at least 5 minutes late, but not the last to arrive. Jonathan came down with me to meet the other folks; everyone seemed interesting and funny, and we started chatting immediately.

On the shuttle, I sat next to Amy from Portland, a very cool young woman. She said she’d thought of waiting to try getting on until she was older and had had more time to study, but that she didn’t want to miss her chance of being on the show with Alex–“he’s iconic!” I told her how poorly I tend to do on Final Jeopardy, and gave the example of “most populous country whose name in English ends in ‘land.'” “Iceland” immediately popped into my head and wouldn’t go away–I couldn’t think of any other countries because it kept coming back. I can’t review lists in my head–I’m strongest at one-to-one matches.

The shuttle dropped us at the entrance to a parking garage, where there was a metal detector set up. One guy (Buddy) was already waiting there. Someone came around and gathered all our driver’s licenses to check. I gave him my credit card by mistake–definitely a little rattled/distracted. Glen came over–a very nice-looking middle-aged guy, sort of a California surfer type, in a windbreaker–introduced himself, and did roll call. We walked over a manhole cover with a big MGM pressed in it and down narrow alleys between huge blank warehouse walls. Finally we got to a building with big Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune posters or murals. We went through a metal door into a huge warehouse. Inside, facing us, was a large trailer or small house stuck against a wall, with a regular door in it. That was the green room. Inside it was basically a small comfortable office suite, with a large coat rack, a conference table, refreshments set out, two bathrooms, and brightly-lit makeup rooms off to one side. Maggie and Robert (I’d met both of them at the audition) took over our initiation into the role of Jeopardy players. Robert pointed us to the packets of papers we’d sent in and told us to fill out another form confirming that nothing had changed. Post-its on some of them flagged additional tasks–I’d submitted an attachment about contact with other Jeopardy players and had to write “N/A” on the two other sections of the sheet. We also got our lovely gifts: another Jeopardy pen (we’d gotten them at the audition as well), and a Jeopardy tote bag. They look nice, with spiffy graphics…but they are made of that woven polypropylene stuff, the 99 cent bags you get at the supermarket.

Maggie, who talks faster than any other human alive except the MotorMouth guy, rattled off a long string of anecdotes interspersed with reminders and tips about the game–pronunciation (sounding it out is OK), the Forrest Bounce (do it if it works for you, but they don’t encourage it because sometimes the answers in a category build on each other), phrasing as a question, etc. She told us that the unpredictability of what we’d say kept everyone on their toes; there’s a person whose job is to Google every response as the contestant gives it. Maggie said the contestant coordinators do a happy dance when a contestant comes up with an alternative answer the writers hadn’t thought of. We were told not to talk to our families in the audience, and not to strike up a conversation with anybody–basically we could talk to each other and to the coordinators.

At some point, they introduced the current champion–it was Ian, who’d ridden the shuttle with us. As far as I know, he hadn’t mentioned that he was the reigning winner, so there was a moment of silent “oooh–is this the current Ken Jennings?” He’d only won one game, but I think we still had a little bit of awe–after all, he’d had a whole taping day’s experience while it was all new to us.

Robert–who has the greatest laugh!–ran us through our anecdotes and our Hometown Howdies. I loved hearing everyone’s anecdotes. If they weren’t funny or pithy enough, Robert worked on each one until it popped–and he was entertaining doing it. Most of them were amusing to start with and ended up hysterical–although I later noticed that some didn’t come out as funny on-air.

Unfortunately I got called to makeup during anecdote coaching and I missed a lot of them. After practicing the anecdotes with each person, Robert asked which one the contestant would choose first, and highlighted that one on the pre-typed card (while reminding us that Alex would make the final decision and wouldn’t necessarily pick that one). There were five per person, but at least in my case they weren’t the same 5 I had sent in: one was a “funny travel” memory that had been elicited in the extra questions. Mine were 1. dressing up as a giant blueberry every summer; 2. my roadside trash pickup and the weird things I’ve found (Robert said “You can’t mention some of these on air!” by which he meant the vibrator); 3. staffing Ask Here PA and the weird questions I’ve gotten; 4. putting gasoline in a diesel car in France–on Sunday–when we didn’t have a phone card; and 5. I don’t remember! I chose the blueberry, of course, and thought that was the clear winner anyway.

Makeup was interesting–the person was very nice. She used a sponge and clearly knew exactly what she was doing, but I always look like a clown to myself with lots of makeup. When my show finally aired, some people said I looked much nicer with makeup, and why didn’t I wear it more often, whereas others said it aged me and I look better without!

The Hometown Howdies were kind of a pain, particularly for me because of where I live. We’re in rural Susquehanna County in between two metropolitan areas, Binghamton NY and Scranton PA. Neither city would recognize where tiny little Friendsville is. So I was trying to say “Hello, Twin Tiers!” (the nickname for the six counties that neighbor the state border on either side), but that confused Robert and it was hard to explain. He told me to say “Hello Susquehanna County, I’m Hilary from Friendsville,” so that’s what I went with. You record two HHs, one short and formulaic (“Hi, I’m Hilary Caws-Elwitt from Friendsville. Watch me on Jeopardy!”) and the other longer, ideally with something creative or funny in it. Unless you’re from Philadelphia or another city where the TV stations don’t like whimsical HHs and make their locals stick to a script. I went with “Hello, Susquehanna County, this is Hilary Caws-Elwitt, a librarian from Friendsville. Check me out on Jeopardy!” Ha ha. As it turned out, Alex introduced me as just “from Pennsylvania,” which was rather disappointing in retrospect–I wonder why?

I took a little bit of fruit from the snack table, but stayed away from the donuts and danish which normally call my name very loudly. It wasn’t hard because I was so over-excited, and I’d had two bowls of cereal for breakfast. Plus as the day progressed my stomach started hurting.

Maggie and Robert had told us about the independent auditing firm which makes sure everything is on the up-and-up, and the representative came in to introduce himself. Finally we were rounded up to go rehearse. We gathered around the contestant podiums and the stage manager showed us the details. Since the set revamp, everything looks really slick–unlike the photo of the podium I’d seen online. The signaling device lives in a little holster on the right side of the podium. The top of the podium is mostly taken up by the screen where you write your name and the accompanying lightpen. When it’s time to wager, the screen shows a place to write the amount and a big button you click to accept the wager. If you make a mistake in your wager, you can call someone over to clear it until you click the button, so they emphasized not to click until we were positive we had the wager we wanted.

Behind each podium is a square on which the contestant stands. When we arrived they were flush with the floor, but they are elevators to bring the three contestants to the same height. During rehearsal we were tethered to the podium with the microphone, so we were warned not to move when we were called down until someone was there. With the microphone, the elevators, and the deceptive steps that are part of the set, they worried someone would fall over.

The set was absolutely gorgeous, even on close inspection. The floor was some kind of shiny black composite that looked a little like marble. Everything glowed and sparkled. It was also a lot larger than I expected, although some other contestants thought it looked small compared to TV. I’ve been on local news and I’m used to everything the camera doesn’t see being grungy and shabby, and what it does see being made of painted cardboard. Granted most of this set does appear on camera, but it was just as solid and professional-looking as it seems on the screen. Facing the stage was a long table with piles of reference books, phones, and I think a computer screen or two.

The first three people were wired for sound and Glen began hosting the practice game. Everything moved exactly as the real game does, except that once someone had rung in and answered a few questions, another person would be called in to replace them. I made sure to speak up when it was my turn and I felt pretty successful with the buzzer. I don’t know if this has changed from the earlier set, but the famous light you can see only in the studio, which goes on when the buzzer is unlocked, was actually a string of very small lights on both sides of the question board. There were about a dozen total but the left-hand side ones were all burned out except for one. They didn’t stand out to me at all because my eyes were glued to the questions. If it had been a large light in a different place, maybe I could have picked it up in my peripheral vision. As it was, they barely helped me at all.

After our cozy retreat in the green room, being on stage brought an extra level of tension. Some people who had been bigger than life in the greenroom came across much more subdued, and the contestant coordinators coached us to have good energy.

After everyone had a chance on stage, it was back to the green room while the audience came in. Of course Ian was up, but the first two new contestants were drawn and then got to pick Podium 1 or Podium 2 by the high-tech method of Robert holding out two bits of scrap paper and having each person pick. The contestants got another round of makeup and were taken out to the stage separately. We we shepherded to our seats. After covertly straining my eyes a bit, I saw my cheering section: Jonathan my wonderful husband and best coach, my dear brother Matthew who had flown out on impulse, our NC friends and a local friend. Serendipitously, another set of hometown friends were also visiting LA, but I didn’t have enough non-spoken-for guest slots so they got regular audience tickets. I hadn’t realized there’s a physical wall separating the contestant/family seats from the audience seats, so unfortunately I couldn’t see them at all.

Johnny Gilbert came out and warmed up the audience. He’s 85 years old and looks amazing! Jonathan said he thought most shows get a young comic to do warm-up and don’t make the announcer do it… certainly true in my experience (Millionaire and Conan). The three people up got to do their Hometown Howdies, which didn’t seem like much fun–except the guy running the camera had them all do something goofy. The music started playing and here came Alex. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking “OMG! I’m really here and this is really finally happening!” It had been emphasized in the green room that the show needed to move along at a good clip, and it usually did.

During commercial breaks, Alex answered questions from the audience. Nothing unusual–how did you get started, etc–but someone in both the morning and the afternoon audiences asked what the red phone on the judge’s table was for. In the morning, Alex said “It’s not hooked up to anything–it’s just to look impressive.” In the afternoon: “It’s a direct line to the garage across the street, so our producer will know when his car is ready.” But they told us in the green room that it goes to the control booth. I guess that’s typical, because I read somewhere that Alex’s favorite answer to “Do you have any hobbies?” is “Burglary.”

When the morning audience ran out of questions, Alex volunteered that he had overslept that morning. He blamed it on having “gone on the wagon,” explaining that the usual bottle of Chardonnay in the refrigerator calling his name was gone, removed (at his request?) by his wife. Then he said it might have been because he used a ladder the day before, “and whenever I go up a ladder my leg goes all wonky.” He re-enacted being woken by his wife asking “Are you working today?” It was a long, long anecdote, interesting only by virtue of its weirdness. (Mark that word!)

Ian lost the first game to Ken, an intense young man from Arkansas. As the game finished, the next two people were called–Amy and Rick–and sent ahead to the green room for makeup. I didn’t know it was coming so I didn’t have time to be nervous about whether I was up–it goes so fast! Our now-smaller group was herded back soon after. We got to hang around a bit while absorbing the stress; poor Ken, changing into his new suit in the bathroom, which took some time, was hounded by Robert knocking on the door–“Hurry it up, Ken!” Back out to our seats. I was rooting for Amy because I liked her from interacting with her on the bus, and I was pulling for the women in general (J! is often testosterone-heavy).

Amy did well, but Ken was leading going into Final Jeopardy. The question was about what Jerry Seinfeld had donated to the Smithsonian. Boy was I glad to miss that one–I wouldn’t have gotten it, and neither did Ken. So Amy won! This time I knew when they were going to draw the next names. I was half-disappointed/half-relieved when I was passed over again. Relieved because we were all getting tired, and my stomach was hurting, which I hoped would pass with time and/or eating; disappointed because I felt bad that our Susquehanna County friends had attended the whole first half for nothing, because I really didn’t want to be on the last show of the day, and especially didn’t want to be held over. Instead Phil and Patsy were called.

Amy’s second game interview was great–she teased Alex, which I have a feeling will be cut from the final version. Alex said “I understand you dress up as literary characters for Halloween?” Amy said yes, she’d been Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books and Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind. “You don’t need to tell me what books they’re from!” Alex said, mock- (or not?) indignantly. “Last year I was Sam Gamgee,” said Amy; “What book is THAT from, Alex?” Alex sheepishly admitted he didn’t know (Lord of the Rings).

Phil was the most low-key of our group–Maggie and Robert had an especially hard time getting him to smile or chat (Robert had to tell him that one-word answers are never acceptable when Alex is interviewing you!) He’s a social studies teacher from Detroit. A question came up where the answer was Chrysler. Phil said “Who is Walter Chrysler?” and Alex ruled him wrong. Patsy tried to pick it up by saying “Who is Chrysler?”, but she couldn’t give the first name when asked, so that didn’t fly. Then the game halted with lots of scurrying around. I thought they were debating whether it was legitimate to go back to just the last name, although that didn’t make a lot of sense. After it had gone on for a few minutes, they made the 3 contestants turn around (backs to the board) while Maggie (& Robert too?) tried to keep them occupied. Eventually the producer and the independent observer went up on stage and talked to the contestants. It turned out that the writers had put down “Lewis Chrysler,” and no one could reconstruct why. Phil was right. They re-shot Alex’s response and moved on.

Then it happened again, even more impressively. The question referred to the leader of the movement to establish the Republic of Turkey in 1922. Phil responded “Who is Kemal?” and was ruled incorrect. I (Jonathan too!) knew him as “Kemal Ataturk” and figured Phil had incorrectly given just the first name. (Alex presumably fell into this trap as well). Again the show ground to a halt, and eventually the producer and observer came up on stage and renewed their apologies to Phil and the other contestants. Phil was absolutely right–Ataturk is a title. (Actually Kemal wasn’t exactly a surname either, as it was given to him by a math teacher! His birth name was just Mustafa.) Phil was seeming pretty impressive. It wasn’t too much of a surprise that Phil was in the lead at the end and won the game, although the FJ was another triple stumper.

So the seven of us who were left got to have lunch. The show had run very long in the morning because of the many stops, so we only had about 40 minutes. I hoped that was enough for my family & friends, who were on their own (turns out they went to Samosa House and had a much better lunch than I did!) We went back to the green room and were issued $10 vouchers (little paper tickets) for the commissary. They passed around a menu. My stomach was still hurting and I was focused on getting something relatively healthy and protein-y (plus I’m a vegetarian, so my choices were limited). I recalled Pastor Dave’s story of the grilled cheese that made him sick, so I was going to avoid that.

We trooped over to the restaurant, which had been recently remodeled and was a very nice cafeteria. Even though it was in the heart of the lot, it gave on an expanse of grass and trees with scattered picnic tables. The interior was spacious. I ordered my tofu stir-fry–a huge portion in a big bowl–and decided I should get something to drink. Bravely I avoided even looking at the desserts. I took a bottle of iced tea and went to the cash register. “That’ll be $11.35,” said the checkout person. Argh! (We were told to leave our belongings in the green room so I had no money on me). I had to put back the iced tea. I asked if there was water (thinking water fountain etc.) but the cash register person pointed me back to the drinks case, where there was bottled water. Meanwhile, though, Robert came over and said “Don’t worry about it, buy whatever you want, I’ll cover it!” which was very sweet of him. But I’d already picked up a bottle of water and was able to squeak by with my $10. (You’d think they could raise it to $12!)

There were two tables set aside for Jeopardy contestants, in a corner with empty tables all around so we didn’t have to worry about talking to any strangers. We discussed movies at lunch (people laughed after I revealed my love for both 2012 and The Lives of Others). Maggie pointed out our one celebrity sighting–Stanley Tucci–and she and Robert talked about famous people who’d been on the lot recently. Stanley Tucci looked extremely fit and much younger than he does onscreen. My stomach continued to hurt, but it felt good to have a healthy lunch–nothing to write home about, but warm and nutritious.

We walked back to the studio and had another brief rehearsal–this time the audience filed in while we were still doing it, and I found out later that Jonathan had worried they’d missed the beginning of my show. Right after that my name got drawn. (The other contestant was Chris, who had been very aggressive in rehearsal and did the Forrest Bounce.) We drew for podium position and I got #2. A different makeup person touched me up (more revolting lipstick, ugh) and this time I got the microphone pack on my back with the microphone threaded up my shirt. It all felt somewhat floaty and unreal, so I wasn’t nervous.

They raised my elevator very high–I don’t remember Phil being that tall! To make it look like you’re on the same level, it’s high enough that I felt taller than either Chris or Phil. Most of the time I had my hands down on either side of the light pad to keep myself steady. I had read someone’s sensible advice to anchor your hand on the podium and only move one finger to control the buzzer, but I couldn’t find a comfortable position at that height–I mostly had my buzzer hand down and raised it to try to ring in. (I regret it now because people see me mashing the button, exactly as we’re supposed to do, and feel bad for me or think my buzzer was broken!) I wrote my name nice and big on the pad.

I flubbed my first long hometown howdy completely, which made me seem rattled even though I wasn’t very. The warm-up camera guy had us do some kind of dancey movement which I sucked at–then I think Maggie suggested the Saturday Night Fever move. I guess it’s all to get you a little loose before the game starts.

I tried to stay relaxed when we were introduced. You can see contestants often looking awkward when the camera is on them as their names are announced. It’s especially hard for the winner because it takes longer. It’s hard to know where to look & what to do with your face.

And we were off! I so didn’t want to be the one girl between two guys not able to buzz in, but for the first few minutes that’s exactly what happened. We were working on the category John Travolta Movies and I was still at $0. Then the $1000 question–“Travolta was romantically involved with Diana Hyland, who played his mom in this made-for-TV film about a sick kid.” I didn’t buzz in initially, and neither Chris nor Phil did either. The time was ticking down when I realized “I know this!” It was a TV movie Matthew and I had watched in the 70s. I buzzed in and said “What is The Boy in the Bubble?”

Alex said that I was very close but it was The Boy in the PLASTIC Bubble. As soon as he said it I remembered. Remembering the game later, I thought that at least I hadn’t given it to Phil or Chris–but having watched it, they would have had time to pick up. Luckily it was presumably too obscure for them. But there I was, minus 1K in red. Again in my memory we cut to commercial with me down $1000, but actually I got back to zero. Maggie told me she was sure I would make it back, and remarkably, I felt sure of it too. A little part of me was saying “This is a nightmare come true!” but mostly I was still calm.

On to anecdote time. Chris told a story about encountering an electrified fence when he was a teen staying on a farm, then going back the next day with friends to see if the charge would propagate if they all held hands (it did). Alex said “You dress up as a giant blueberry every summer?” SCORE! I told him about the Blueberry Festival and then he asked “What color are a blueberry’s legs?” I said I didn’t know about real blueberries because I’d never seen their legs, but ours are blue. This is not true–they’re green! I think I was seeing the gloves in my mind’s eye. But of course I couldn’t take it back. Maybe I’ll buy blue pants for next year to make it true. Alex said to me “You’re weird…” before moving on to Phil, who had a bizarre story about liking to smell his hand (it was funnier in the green room). At the end Alex stared at the camera for a beat–a long beat on  such a quick-paced show–and said “We could have gotten three normal contestants, but no…”

I don’t remember much about the rest of the first Jeopardy round, but I did start catching up. I think it was at the commercial break before Double Jeopardy that Alex, talking to himself but miked of course, said “Hilary… Dillary… Duff.” That was pretty strange. Somebody I spoke to suggested that maybe it was to help him remember my name–a better explanation than any I could come up with. At another commercial break we got our photos taken with Alex. He climbed onto our podiums and posed with his arm around each of us. I’ll get the photo around the same time I get the check (120 days after air-date), and I’m eager to see if it looks as Photoshopped as the ones I saw projected on the screen when I was in the audience.!

I was still trailing when Double Jeopardy started. The last category came up and it was “Before and After.” UGH–my least favorite. I mentally crossed that one off (but I was lucky not to get any pure sports categories on top of it). I was making up more ground as we started the category “Literary Characters.” Theoretically I could have run it, but of course Phil beat me to the buzzer a couple of times. It did give me two great moments. One was a Daily Double. I had a little over $5K but was still behind the other two, so I got to say “Let’s make it a true Daily Double!” The answer was an insta-get, and you can see me smirking as I said it, because it was The Red Badge of Courage–the book we’re doing for Susquehanna County Reads (our one-book /one-county community reading program) this year! The other moment was the answer “Poirot.” I had hoped for Alex to correct my pronunciation. He didn’t correct it, but even better, he rolled off an incredible “HerCUUUUle PoiRRRRRRot.” (J loves those little gray cells!)

Then we started the Before and Afters, and as usual I couldn’t come up with anything while Chris and Phil knocked off the first four. So the $2000 question was “A nickname for Alaska & Sweden about perpetual daylight becomes the father of modern China.” Neither Phil nor Chris buzzed in and the time was running out when it came to me. I buzzed in with “What is Midnight Sun Yat Sen?” [sad trombone]… it needed to be LAND of the Midnight Sun Yat Sen. Two thousand dollars down. Ouch! If I had gotten “plastic” and “land of the” I would have had $6,000 more and I would have won. Oh, well, them’s the breaks and it’s part of the character of the show to be so pernickety.

Soon it was time for Final Jeopardy. The show goes by really quickly when you’re on stage! The category was revealed to be “Telecommunications Terminology.” I thought I had a shot because I’m all about the IT. But the wagering was really rattling me. I’d gone through the J Archive scenarios and calculator, made myself spreadsheets and cheat sheets, but all I had a firm grip on was to double the trailing score and add $1. Luckily our scores were nice and round: Chris at 10,000, me at 12,000, and Phil at 16,000. We had paper and felt-tips pens to do our calculations. I started doubling and subtracting. Phil was so smart, I figured all I should worry about was staying ahead of Chris; if Phil got it wrong I’d have a chance since it wasn’t a shut-out. I did my calculations and wrote $4,001 on the light pad, then double-checked. OOPS! I turned in a panic to Maggie and asked her to reset the pad, and wrote $8,001. I triple-checked and when Maggie came over–only to see how I was doing, as it turned out–I quickly tapped the “Set wager” button, thinking she was telling me time was up. But I was sure anyway.

The question will be burned into my synapses forever: “In 1992, New York City got the first one of these: 917.” Rattled by the wagering, I thought, “Oh, no-brainer, all 3 of us will get it” and wrote down “What is an area code?” If I’d taken my time and re-read the question (I still don’t understand why I didn’t), I would have realized it couldn’t possibly be an area code, and I probably would have changed it to “cell phone area code” or something. But I’m sure they wouldn’t have given it to me because of the word “terminology.”

Alex went along the line. Chris had “What is a [blank] area code?” I don’t remember what he had wagered, but I knew I’d come in ahead. My turn, and my score counter (they are above the cameras, to the left of Alex’s podium) rolled to $3,999. Phil had written “What is a fax code?” and had bet what I thought was a sensible amount (although there’s been disagreement about that on the boards). He ended with $12,001 and won the game despite the triple stumper. Alex revealed that the answer was “What is an overlay?” and I was relieved–even if I’d re-read the question as I should have, I would never have gotten it. Once Phil was announced the winner, Chris’ and my counters went to 1,000 and 2,000 respectively. The stage crew unhooked us and lowered my elevator. We went out to our floor marks for the inaudible little chat over which the credits roll. Our topic of conversation was what a hard FJ it had been, and how many triple stumpers there had been that day. As soon as that was over, we were hustled off stage again, Phil to the green room and Chris and I to Corina’s table where we signed a release.

Then we had to retrieve our stuff from the green room and could rejoin our families. We were given the choice to stay for the last game. I checked with my group that it was OK to stay–I wanted to watch Phil (half rooting for him to have a Ken-Jennings-like streak, which would make my loss more palatable, and half rooting for Kathy). It was great sitting between Jonathan and Matthew, although I did have waves of disappointment at my loss, alternating with happiness that I had held my own. Maggie came by and met everyone. I told her Jonathan was a great coach and she said to send in his contact info in case he could be a contestant too. Kathy won!

After the show we all spilled into the alley, where we caught up with our Susquehanna County friends. I was still flying quite high on adrenaline. Matthew, Jonathan and I went back to the wine bar in Culver City and had a great time hanging out, although my stomach started hurting worse and worse. I have internal adhesions from endometriosis surgery which sometimes act up, especially when I am stressed or get too hungry, and I think that’s what was bothering me all day. I ended up having to go for a vigorous walk and that finally resolved it. We had dinner at a great fancy-casual restaurant (Akasha). I had hoped maybe contestants were hanging around in the Radisson bar, but by the time we got back it was deserted. I was very ready to curl up in bed anyway.

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking that the J folks would change their mind and give me the Midnight Sun Yat Sen clue. Cold light of day convinced me that was ridiculous. (I didn’t sleep well the rest of the week–powerful post-Jeopardy letdown!)

More LA hang-out fun Wednesday day, and in the evening we had drinks with Amy Wilson. It was great to compare notes. Thursday morning we flew back, bringing the Jeopardy experience to a close. It was a wonderful week. Despite my disappointment in not winning, I had a great game and don’t kick myself about anything that happened. I wish I had been right on my 2 close, expensive wrong answers, but with the level of confidence I had before I buzzed in, I would do the same thing again.

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