Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jeopardy: The Big Show

Part of an ongoing series. Please note that this entry was written before the episode aired.

First, we recorded our Hometown Howdies (NOTE! This link will expire on Monday, 3/30). I’d heard that KARE 11 in the Twin Cities never, ever uses them, so I knew content was fairly unimportant. The weekend prior, on the Filmspotting podcast, hosts Adam & Matty had recited a scene from Purple Rain for their Massacre Theater segment. Thus:

“Hey Twin Cities, this is Fred Beukema from Minneapolis. Now that I’ve purified myself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, I’m ready to take on Jeopardy.”

Everybody says this, because it’s true, but Alex Trebek is as nice and as dryly goofy in person as he is on TV. As a contestant, you don’t get much chance to interact with him beyond what’s shown on the show. As far as we can tell, he lives in the corner of the studio behind the game board. The moment when he walked out to start the game ranks as one of the more surreal in my life. “Hey, I know that guy! That’s Alex Trebek. Wait, he’s talking to us…”

I don’t think it will (have) be(en) shown, but the moment the categories were announced, a smile spread over my face. The first category was The Sopranos, which was a favorite show of mine over the near-decade that it intermittently ran. Also in the first set was a Before & After category, which I find challenging but fun. This was going to be enjoyable.

When the episode airs, I plan to keep track of two numbers: (1) how many times I was able to get a question on a rebound after someone else got it wrong and (2) how many times I was saved from giving an incorrect response by someone else beating me on the buzzer. My memory is foggy, but I recall benefiting from both.

The game itself is fast, addictive, and fun. Play accordingly. I had to immediately laugh off any incorrect response or any longer stretch of getting beaten on the buzzer. Otherwise all I could expect would be a tail-spin. I was still pretty nervous, and I think that nervousness gave me an edge on the buzzer, although I found that the toes of my right foot went slightly numb during the game due to a slightly bunched sock, which was distracting.

During the first commercial break, Trebek came around to take pictures with me and Beth. When he lined up with me, he started repeating my name, like he was trying to place something. “Fred, Fred, Fred, Fred, Fred… Flintstone!” They took the picture. I want to note that he made that same concerned-looking face with every contestant we saw go through the show.

In Double Jeopardy, I was glad for the other sopranos category, this time about opera singers. My Dad is an opera/classical guy, and I’m a classical guy, so I expected at least a couple questions to be in my wheelhouse. Beverly Sills I knew because she was on the Muppet Show, and I knew her Bubbles nickname because a copy of one of her books sat on top of our piano for as far back as I could remember. And the only reason I’ve even heard of Leontyne Price was because my uncle put a song by her on a Christmas mix tape 25 years ago, which we listened to every year, and 6 years ago I scraped the same mix together on CD for my family. So I happened to have looked her up at that time.

In addition to the friendliness of the show’s staff, it’s important to know that your fellow contestants, and their families, are probably also awesome. My group cheered each other on from show to show, and the families did the same. At some point, while Melissa was nervously leaning forward during the game Sonia’s father patted her on the shoulder: “It’s gonna be ok. He’s doing well!”

Through the game, I managed to build up some momentum. I don’t remember whether I got a Daily Double in that first game or not, but I tried very hard to keep my eyes off the scores unless I was wagering. When I looked up at the pre-Final Jeopardy commercial break, I was delighted to discover I had a lock game: as long as I wagered sanely, I’d won.

Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy make me more nervous than the regular gameplay: you can’t avoid guessing on something you don’t necessarily know. I could have wagered more than I did, but I remember deciding to stick with a couple thousand (or something) in case I got a stumper. Having a lock game is the rare case in Jeopardy when you can look at your score and think of it as actual money. Lit is a bad category for me, so I decided to play it safe and only bet $2k, though I could have safely bet a bit more.

That the FJ question (pictured, right) ended up being pretty straight-forward was a nice little bonus. So now I was the Jeopardy champion, with winnings over $20k. That’s ridiculous, I thought, and imagined bills disappearing.

After Final Jeopardy, they bring the contestants to mid-stage for the awkward chitchat. I have very little recollection of what we talked to Alex about at the end of my games.

After the taping, they immediately un-mic the winner and scoot them back to the greenroom while the 2nd- and 3rd-place contestants sign their prize forms. On the way out, I snuck a glance at Melissa in the audience, who was beaming/stunned. I gave her a subtle thumbs-up before heading out of the studio.

So at this point, I'd achieved the two things I set out to do in my appearance:
1. Avoid humiliating myself.
2. Win a game.
Sweet. Everything from here on would be gravy.

Back in the green room, I made a quick stop in the bathroom before changing jacket & tie and heading back to the makeup chair. The next players had been selected, and it was Sonia and Mark. We all got wired for sound, and headed back out to play.

Next Jeopardy blog: Defending champeen!


Tiffany Mair said...

Hi Fred!

I had a blast watching you tonight win it big out in California!

Ol' Beth only knew her drug and sex questions...hilarious!

Did a great job!

I have a hair appointment tomorrow night but I'm making my stylist watch Jeopardy!


Nathan Melcher said...

I recorded your episode and Kelly and I watched it tonight. Congratulations, sir!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Fred! I had no idea that you knew opera so well. That's so cool. I'm glad I watched the tape tonight. Now I've got to set my vcr again for tomorrow.

Hilary from Planland said...

"Hi, this is Fred Beukema from Minneapolis, home of Prince. ..."

Very impressed with your S/sopranos knowledge all around. Can't believe no one got cholesterol!?

Am excited to watch-watch -- I had to listen over the phone (over the ocean) instead. See you tomorrow, same bat time, same bat channel!

Donovan said...

Hey Fred,

Awesome performance, in terms of actual learnin' but also charm and presence. Kasia and I were totally psyched and will be cheering you on in the pseudo-liveness of tonight's airing. Congrats man!


Randie said...

I came across your blog after searching for people who wrote about their Jeopardy! audition experiences - thanks for your detailed and well-chronicled posts! And congratulations on last night's win. I recently auditioned in February and only hope to be half as lucky as you!


Hilary from Planland said...

Is my comment in your spam filter?

Fred said...

Thanks y'all.

Randie -- I hope your audition gets you The Call soon!

Hilary -- whoops. I think I deleted the email notice of your comment with a batch of Facebook notices. Rectified! I'll let you know when I get the episode up in an online format.

Doug Cutchins said...

Congratulations, Fred! Emma and Bea have never watched Jeopardy! before, but now they get it and are cheering for you on every question. You're a real hero to them -- Emma has already declared that she wants to go on Jeopardy! some day, "Just like Fred!"

Nora Rocket said...

Jo and I have been glued to the show - and when those first round categories came up, we said "oh, it's over: Fred's taking it home!"