Saturday, March 14, 2009

Jeopardy: in which I ride a series of shuttle buses

Part of an ongoing series.

Last time, I was obsessing over Final Jeopardy betting strategy. And was on the plane heading to LA.

The night we got in, January 26th, the night before my tape date, I was reasonably nervous, but trying to stay frosty. Waiting for the shuttle at the airport, Melissa and I eyed the other folks standing at the curb, trying to guess if any were also contestants. Another couple got on the shuttle for the Radisson Los Angeles Westside (pictured), the semi-official hotel of Jeopardy. It turned out that Sonia was indeed another contestant, and had flown out from Boston with her boyfriend. She seemed nice and also frostily nervous.

As we arrived at the hotel it was getting late for us Central Timers. We ate in the hotel's bar as I flipped through the notebook, wondering what I was going to wish I'd studied more. Melissa's parents had driven down from the Central Valley to cheer me on, too. Once they'd arrived and said hello, we went to bed. In the morning I assembled my multiple changes of clothes for potential back-to-back tapings, ate some breakfast (yogurt, granola & fruit — no good being jittery!) and we went down early to gather with the other contestants for the shuttle to the studio. Sizing-up of the competition was inevitable. People in nice clothes without any makeup on eyed each other before tentatively introducing themselves.

Sonia's parents had come out to see her play, and her mother was determined to discover who among the people in the lobby were there for the show. She would report back to the handful of us who had already introduced ourselves, with debriefings like, "he's here for the game, but he doesn't seem very talkative."

The shuttle arrived and the lot of us with our business clothes and garment bags and un-made-up faces said goodbye to our loved supporters and piled in. There were nine of us, not a full day's pool of contestants; I figured others must have been arriving separately. While "Yellow Submarine" played on the driver's radio, we discovered that almost everyone in the van had taken or, in some cases, taught a statistics class. Two contestants found that they had a fairly close mutual friend through connections in Washington, DC. People casually mentioned places around the world they'd traveled or lived for a time. Everybody was impressive. I figured I was probably screwed but continued to force myself to let go of expectations, of results. I’d come to LA prepared to bounce out with the $1000 third-place consolation prize and the experience to talk about. I recommend this mindset. At the same time, I wanted, really badly, to win at least one game.

We arrived at Sony Pictures Studios' Overland Ave gate, and were ushered into a waiting area in the parking ramp. Another contestant arrived on her own. We went around the circle and introduced ourselves. John from Kansas City. Peter from Philadelphia. Beth from Tulsa. Heather from North Carolina. Dana from Georgia. Inta from Toronto. Meg from Washington. Sonia from Boston. Barry from New York. Fred from Minneapolis. Pretty much everybody from the eastern half of the continent; odd, I thought.

Contestant coordinators Corrina and Glenn, who you may remember from the audition, arrived to herd us onto another short bus. They welcomed us and began The Morning Orientation. Turn off your phones. If you absolutely need to make a call, a staffer has to listen in. No wandering around or talking to anyone who isn't a contestant coordinator, another contestant, or someone who has been introduced to you for a specific show-related purpose. And so on. We drove a few blocks through the narrow streets of the former MGM lot, and pulled up next to Pat Sajak's big giant head on the side of a building (Wheel of Fortune tapes next door and shares some staff with Jeopardy). Our bags were poked by security while we walked through a metal detector. Finally, we were ushered into the green room, which I think I remember as purple. I could be wrong about that.

One of the most important things for you to understand about the experience is that everybody involved with the show is really, really nice. Warm, friendly, and funny. You may learn this during the audition process, but it’s really driven home in the morning meetings. The contestant coordinators are all there to prepare you to win money from their bosses, and they love their job. We were greeted by Robert James, who had given me The Call in December, who now asked if Melissa was going to be there. Tony Pandolfo, who splits his time between Jeopardy and Wheel, started confirming the pronunciation of people's names and rattling off the biographical sentences that would be on Trebek's card, asking for us each to highlight a preferred story. Maggie Speak arrived to hold court and get us ready to play.

We were each directed to a pile of release forms with a Jeopardy pen on it. We were encouraged to start coming up with our Hometown Howdies, greetings that our local stations could play to announce our imminent appearances before our air dates. It is my understanding that KARE 11 never uses these. Meanwhile, we were rotated through the makeup chair and Maggie ran through a description of everything that would happen in a given game. Maggie's terrific, and brought us as close to being at ease as eleven people (Mark from Detroit had been caught in traffic) about to be tested on national television can be.

Maggie introduced Inta, who was our returning champion. Inta had been out the week before, and had won the last game of Wednesday's taping (you can read Inta's winner's blog here, for the time being -- she is all class). Inta would be at the first podium for the first game. All new contestants would be drawn randomly from the pool by the compliance company that oversees the gameplay. We would only be taping four shows that day, as they had taped an extra celebrity game in Vegas while they were out there for the Tournament of Champions earlier in January. So six of us plus Inta would play today. The remaining two would be guaranteed to play on Wednesday.

We were instructed to have fun, and to keep the game moving. They know that everybody likes to say "I'll take [category] for [dollar amount], please, Alex," at least once, but to try to keep it brief after our first selection. They encourage shortening category names, and always naming categories before dollar amounts. They don't require sticking with one category—some players were known for bouncing—but do ask that you signal that you're moving to a new category, so their cameras can catch up. Some categories are required to be taken in order, and we'll be informed if this is the case. Mispronunciation is generally ok, as long as it doesn't change the consonant sounds. Misspelling in Final Jeopardy is also alright, as long as it doesn't change the sounds of the word. Giving an answer, any answer, is always preferable to giving none. As I mentioned last time, they discourage playing for ties. And so on.

After the morning talking-to, I could now say I’d had my makeup applied by Vanna White’s makeup artist, and we were moved to the stage to rehearse. My nervousness grew.

Next Jeopardy blog: In the studio!


John said...

Jeopardy is even more fun being backstage with the right crowd. I could have hung out with the gang for days.

Fred said...

We had a really good group. I feel lucky.

Hilary from Planland said...

Fred, you're going to find some way to upload the show (even for a short time) so that those of us without access to it can have a gander, right?

Anonymous said...

I am so excited for you, even though your appearance was taped weeks ago. My #2 son (the techie) has strict instructions to tape your performance for me to watch after work. (The video setup at our house has become far too complicated for a mere mortal like me.)

Anonymous said...

Why did Sonia only bet $1,000 on that double jeopardy? She had ~$7k and you had $22k. Unbelievable.