SCG Daily – I’ll Take “Magic Writers on Jeopardy!” for $200: My Experiences on America’s Favorite Game S

We’re up to the fourth taping and we’re running out of contestants. There are always a few extra would-be players, mostly locals who are generally the last chosen since they can always come back, whereas those of us who fly are kind of restricted to the day(s) we arrived. There’s five people left for four slots, so I like my chances.

We’re up to the fourth taping and we’re running out of contestants. There are always a few extra would-be players, mostly locals who are generally the last chosen since they can always come back, whereas those of us who fly are kind of restricted to the day(s) we arrived. There’s five people left for four slots, so I like my chances.

The random contestant generator comes up with the two people to play newly-crowned champion Jim Spilman: Catherine and Dave! Come on down, you’re our next contestants on…

Sorry. Wrong game show.

It’s strange, I don’t remember being really nervous or worried. I was just thinking “alright, let’s kick this pig, before I fall asleep!”

After a quick touch-up of pancake makeup – big surprise, it takes a while for me – Catherine, Jim, and I are hooked up with wireless mikes. I’m assigned podium three, the rightmost, meaning that I’ll be the first person introduced.

At this point, we get to record our “Hometown Howdies.” Mine was: “Hello, Moscow! I’m Dave Meddish, and I’ll do my best no to ‘coug it’ for Washington State on Jeopardy!”

Some explanation is required here: I work for Washington State University, which is best known for being a) the biggest university in the U.S. that’s truly in the middle of nowhere, and b) having sports teams that always, always find a way to lose games they shouldn’t lose. Hence, “to coug it” is a verb meaning “to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Yeah, it’s a little inside. I remember watching this and wondering why I’ve got that weird Dick Cheney half-grin, until my wife reminded me, “well, you were hopped up on Red Bull at the time.”

Oh yeah.

I get to the podium, pick up my buzzer and “assume the position.” Unfortunately, my Zen-like serenity goes out the window as soon as the music begins and I hear Johnny Gilbert call my name, it finally hits me: “Holy crap! I’m really on Jeopardy!”

Fortunately, I had a few moments between Alex’s introduction and the game beginning to relocate that serenity and his friends, Quick Mental Recall and Fast Reflexes.

The opening round has these categories:

Before They Were First Ladies: Good thing I’ve been boning up on those.
Primetime TV Reunions: Who knew all that worthless TV I watch would end up being useful?
Myspace.man: I got no clue here – it turns out to be about astronauts.
Poet’s Glossary: Ugh. Poetry is not my strong point.
Containers: I’m neutral about this one.
From the Greek: Ah, science! All those chem classes may come in handy here.

Jim starts with “Before They Were First Ladies,” and while I know the first few questions, I don’t have the timing down. Catherine and Jim trade correct responses until they get to the $1000 answer: She was president (Natl. Pres. of the Girl Scouts, that is) in the 1920s while her husband was merely Secy. of Commerce.

Jim guesses Harding, Catherine answers with Eleanor Roosevelt. Both wrong. Something in the back of my brain whispers, “Hoover,” and being as Catherine and Jim had already answered incorrectly, I figured I had nothing to lose, and I ring in and answer, “Who is Edith Hoover?”

Oh, no.

I’d just committed one of the cardinal Jeopardy! sins, the biggest after “not answering in the form of a question” and “never get involved in a land war in Asia.” I’d given too much information, as Alex informs me, that I must have been thinking of Edith Wilson, not Lou Hoover. Had I just said “Hoover,” I’d be in the blue numbers, but Dave the Idiot’s first ever answer on Jeopardy has me $1000 in the red. If you saw the show, you can see me physically recoiling from my stupidity. Yes, this moment was truly twenty years in the making.

Nothing to do now but dig my way out, and dig I do. Fortunately, neither Jim nor Catherine are lighting the world on fire, and come the first commercial break, I’m the only person on the board with a positive score. Once we go to break, Alex comes over and discusses, briefly, the anecdote they’re going to use.

Now, since I’ve appeared on Jeopardy, the question people ask the most is “What’s Alex Trebek like?” I got to know Alex a bit after the tapings, when he took all of the contestants back to his Van Nuys ranch, where we sipped Bordeaux wines and chatted it up while waiting for his manservants to finish barbecuing the pig.

No, not really.

The answer is “I really don’t know.” With the game show scandals of the 50s still apparently very fresh in the minds of Jeopardy! staff, Alex is kept very isolated from the contestants to prevent any possible illusion of favoritism creeping in. The first time you see Alex is when he emerges from backstage, and as soon as the show ends and the cameras go dark, he immediately returns there to change for the next taping. During the breaks, however, he will interact with the audience, telling stories (I have one thing in common with Alex, I discovered, listening to him over one commercial break – we both hate cell phones) and answering questions.

As far as I can tell, Alex Trebek is smart, fairly funny, and very good at what he does: keeping the show running quickly and smoothly. Beyond that, I really can’t tell you much.

Back from the commercial break, Alex calls an audible and selects a different anecdote than the one I’d selected, this one was about how I decided that I was going to marry the woman who would be my wife when she was the only person to ever beat me at Trivial Pursuit (awwww…).

“So you’ll marry anyone who beats you at Trivial Pursuit?” Alex asked.

“Well, nobody’s else has beaten me yet,” I reply. Yeah, it was weak, but I wasn’t expecting to bring my Witty Response A-game to this. During his remarkable run, Ken Jennings was actually able to add a few jokes to his responses (“What is rap, yo?”). I couldn’t even fathom doing that at this time, although about a week before I taped, there was a category called “Non-Bond Connery Films,” and not one person attempted a Sean Connery impression. There wasn’t even a Zardoz reference. Pity.

Regarding my Trivial Pursuit prowess, however, I have been reminded by my best friend and best man, Paul, that he did, in fact, once beat me at Trivial Pursuit many, many years ago. However, as fond as I am of Paul as a friend, I don’t swing that way, and that sort of thing is illegal in this state anyway.

Caroline recounted her cross-country drive to get to Jeopardy!, and Jim told Alex about his massive collection of out-of-print history textbooks. Talking about his history book collection seems to invigorate Jim and he immediately goes on a tear, and Caroline climbs out of the red thanks to her knowledge of poetry. I manage a few answers here and there, doing well with my Greek words and TV reunions shows, but by and large am shut out of the round after that break. At the end of the Jeopardy! round, Catherine and I are tied at $1400, and Jim has taken a commanding lead with $4400.

On the bright side, I’m not down by much, and everyone else who’s had Podium #3 today has had great Double Jeopardy! rounds. On the downside, my timing still feels off and $3000 isn’t chump change to make up. Anything can happen, though, I’ve just got to refocus and stay sharp.

Or the dream that was twenty years in the making will end in less than ten minutes.

To Be Continued in Part IV: I Hate Sinatra