While my flight down was comped by the fine people at Sony, bringing the significant other down was not, and last-minute flights from the middle of nowhere are not cheap. However, I was coming into some money soon (one hoped), and when was she ever going to get to see me on a game show again?
This time, I slept much better, and was actually well-rested and ready to go for my second go-round. Once again, the shuttle bus was filled with sleep-deprived and very nervous people… except for my wife and I, who were having a great time.
Back to the Sony lot, back to the Jeopardy! studios, and its time for another playing of the Maggie Speak Show.
“Dave’s our returning champion. How much have you won so far, Dave?” Maggie asks at one point.
“$36,201,” I reply with more than a little bit of pride. This gets a few “oohs” from my fellow contestants. Another advantage, I discover, of being the returning champ: I get in and out of the makeup chair first.
I don’t get too much time at the podiums for the warm-up games, which is fine by me. I use most of the time to scout out the other contestants. There’s a couple of guys who seem pretty sharp and who I’m hoping to avoid early.
This is an important game for me. If I win one more game, I qualify for the Tournament of Champions. To actually qualify for the ToC would be, well, nothing short of amazing. I think I’m Pretty Good, maybe even Really Good. I don’t think I’m Scary Good, like Ken Jennings, Chuck Forrest, and other giants of Jeopardy! Those guys are truly super-genius savants. Me, I know some stuff and have been lucky so far.
My first opponents will be Shane McCune and Jeff Spoeri.
Hmm. Jeff was one of those guys I didn’t want to run into first thing. A lawyer from Boynton Beach, FL, he seems very knowledgeable, personable, and he actually knows about the nightspots (and I use that term loosely) of Moscow, ID. He even has stories about driving the deathtrap that is the Moscow-Pullman Highway!
I like Jeff. Too bad I’ll be doing my best to crush him.
Our opening categories are:
South American Cities (good, Geography is a strong category for me)
The SNL Alumnus Who… (Maybe all those years of watching crappy SNL shows will pay off now)
The Lengths You’ll Go (units of measurement, I assume)
Edison’s Patents (meh)
The U. S. Senate After Hours (I’m a political junkie I should do well here)
P Times 3 (all answers will have three P’s)
I get off to a good start, while Jeff and Shane stumble a bit. With $2200, I hit the only Daily Double of the round, in South American Cities, while Jeff and Shane both have zero.
“Well, Alex, so I can say I’ve said it once, let’s make it a true Daily Double.”
My thinking was this: it’s a good category for me, and even if I miss, I’m still even, but if I get it right, maybe I can really demoralize the competition.
The answer: In this city’s Plaza de Armas, you’re walking in the footsteps of Francisco Pizarro.
“La Paz,” for some reason, jumps into my brain. And nothing else comes up. So, “What is La Paz?”
And my wife, who admitted getting a little teary when she heard my name announced, really started crying when Alex said, “No, I’m sorry, the answer is Lima, Peru.”
She’s an archaeologist. She knows this stuff cold (“and you should remember that! We talked about that,” she reminds me frequently).
Jeff catches new life after our mid-round restart, and we’re trading blows back and forth, with Shane, unfortunately, playing the Admiral James Stockdale role, unable to keep up. Jeff ends the round with a slight lead, $4400 to my $4200.
Buzzer timing, I learn in Double Jeopardy!, is a funny thing. You lose it, and it’s hard to get it back. I lose it. Badly. And Jeff isn’t giving me any chance to get back into the game. He runs the “War Movies” category, beating me to the buzzer on “What is Hamburger Hill?”
Six people in the world saw that movie! Aw, man, that just isn’t fair. When I do manage to break his mojo, I’m getting my coin flips wrong… I will forever remember, from now on, that the simplest form of Greek column is Doric, not Ionic, and General Dynamix is the naval contractor in Virginia, not General Electric.
In short, I see the writing on the wall half way through the round as my score remained static, and Jeff made it a runaway fairly easily. I was playing for second at that point. Final Jeopardy! was: Authors. I bet just enough to cover Shane’s max bet plus one. A thousand bucks is still a thousand bucks.
The question was: John Dryden in 1683 was the first to use the term “biography”–appropriately, while writing about this Greek.
I had no real clue on the answer, so I guessed Herodotus.
Alex starts with Shane. “Who is Homer?” No, that’s wrong.
“D’oh!” Shane replies, which gets a big laugh from everyone in the audience and Alex as well. Alex comes to me for the third and last time. “Who is Herodotus?” No, that’s not right either.
Jeff guesses Socrates, which is also wrong. The answer was Plutarch, which I would have never known in a million years.
Now it’s my turn to say my goodbyes. I get a goodbye hug from Maggie and a handshake from Glenn. I can’t say enough about the Jeopardy! staff. They do their best, win or lose, to make sure you have fun.
Fun? Hell, this was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
My wife and I decided to spend the rest of the day at Disneyland. Hooray off-season! Still, while wading through three-minute lines for Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Matterhorn, I kept running through that last game. If only… if only… if, if, if. While I was bummed about just missing out on the ToC (and, of course, the extra cash), I was still in a pretty good mood.
Winning about forty grand will do that.
Alas, it was not my destiny to be one of the giants of Jeopardy! No, I’m like one of those minor characters from the Iliad who gets a paragraph or two of exposition before meeting his fate at the end of Hector’s sword. Yes, I am the Laogonus of Jeopardy! Better a brief mention, though, than no mention at all.
The next morning, before my wife and I leave for the airport, we run into the husband and son of another contestant, one who didn’t make the Tuesday tapings but will be on the Wednesday tapings. I learn from them that Jeff went on a monster run after beating me and went on to be a five-timer by the end of the day.
That takes a little sting out of losing. Jeff wanted to make enough money to pay off his law school loans. I’ll venture that he managed to do that.
But the adventure didn’t quite end here. I had a six-week wait to see my shiny mug on the television, and, apparently, I’m a much better actor than I thought. I told all my friends when my show was going to be on, and they were all convinced that I lost, that I was a one-and-done. Nonetheless, my old crew down in Bend, Oregon was very excited, and an impromptu “Jeopardy! viewing party” was arranged. I saw the fliers they made up, complete with a shirtless Alex Trebek.
Where they found a picture of a shirtless Alex Trebek, I really do not want to know.
November 6th was: my first airdate. In addition to having a party at my place, I got to watch the Jeopardy! party in Bend via webcam. I got to watch two groups of people groan as I got that first answer wrong, get excited as I made my Double Jeopardy! Run, and then go nuts when I won that first game. I spent the rest of that evening fielding phone calls from friends, family, and several people I hadn’t heard from in years, expressing their congratulations, abject amazement and, thankfully, no requests for cash. I can only hope, however, that my old Bend crew did not follow through on their plan to do a shot every time I got a right answer.
According to my sister, several of her friends think I’m “hot.” Shiny-headed ol’ me, a sex symbol? Who knew? Sorry, ladies, I’m taken… but where were you when I was in my twenties?
The next day, I was interviewed by the local papers and the campus TV affiliate, got more phone calls and had somebody yell, “Hey, Jeopardy! Guy!” at me from across the quad.
Once I’d lost, though, the bloom was off the rose. No more newspapers, no more interviews. People still ask about my experiences on the show, just not as often, so I still get a little of the reverence and awe due a two-time Jeopardy! champion. Just a little, enough to keep my ego slightly inflated, but still manageable.
This report will pretty much wrap up my fifteen minutes of fame. The money? It hasn’t arrived yet, but should soon. I’ve got my eye on a monster HDTV for the living room, and my wife and I have a second honeymoon planned. Does anybody have any advice about where to go in Belize?
I manage to watch the show fairly regularly, but it’s not quite the same… I still shout at the TV, calling the contestants “idiots” when they miss an “obvious” question; the same way, I’m sure, thousands of Americans screamed at me when I offered up a “La Paz” as an answer. Whenever I’m feeling a little depressed, I can always pop in the tapes of those first two days and that’s a guaranteed pick-me-up.
But, God, I want to do it again so badly. Once you have a taste, you want more, more, more. I know I’ve had my chance, and I had a lot of success on the show, more than 90% of everyone else who’s made it on air.
But that desire is still there, lurking.
If I’ve learned one thing that I’d like to pass along, it’s that you don’t have to be a super-genius to get on the show. If you’ve got a good breadth of knowledge; quick reflexes; the ability to leap to quick, logical conclusions; and at least a scintilla of personality — you’ve got as much change as the next guy (or gal). And, if you get on the show: congratulations! You’re already a winner; enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. It’s a crazy roller coaster of nerves, nausea and adrenalin, and if you ever get the chance to do it, you have nothing to lose by trying.
For me, the ride finally rolls to a stop here… Unless that 1 vs. 100 game has open tryouts some time…
Until next time,
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