My Experience

by Steven H Silver


The Wait

And so I waited.  I knew I wouldn’t hear from “Jeopardy!” until at least May, and probably later, since they tried to use up people whose eligibility was expiring first.  The months past.  I left my job and took another.  1999 turned to 2000, and I began to lose hope that I would receive a phone call.

In January, I was at work and decided to check my answering machine.  One message asking me if I would be able to fly out to LA to be on “Jeopardy!”. I jotted down the name and phone number and borrowed the cellular phone from Bob, who sits in the cubicle next to mine (and has long distance built into his plan).  I called Grant Loud at “Jeopardy!”, but he was away from his desk.  I called my wife.

“Elaine, I’m going to be on “Jeopardy!”  I’m going to win a million dollars!”  I blurted into the phone.

“Wrong show,”  she said, her voice filled with excitement.

“Okay, but not having to deal with Regis Philbin has got to be worth $950,000,” I pointed out.

That evening, I managed to get in touch with Grant and he invited me out for the show that taped on March 1.  He explained that they would tape five shows that day and then go on a four week hiatus.  If I won the last show and it was not my fifth show, I would have to return to LA on March 28 for additional shows.

When I had started my new job, I mentioned to the human resources representative who made me the offer that I would need some time off in 2000.  One week in August/September for the Worldcon and possibly one week in the first quarter of the year to appear on “Jeopardy!”.  She told me it wouldn’t be a problem and I would have to let them know when my “Jeopardy!” show would be on if I made it.

The next day, I was talking to the CIO at a company cocktail party, and he made it clear he had heard about my potential to be on “Jeopardy!” and wanted to know when I would be going out to California.  I told him I didn’t know.  After talking to Grant, I walked into the CIO’s office the next morning and explained I finally had an answer to  question he had asked me several weeks earlier.  He knew exactly what I was talking about.  Bob kindly loaned me a videotape of the old Weird Al Yankovich song, “I Lost on 'Jeopardy!'

Over the next couple of weeks, I made reservations for a trip to LA with my wife and daughter.  Arranged to stay with an uncle in Yorba Linda and see some high school friends.  My parents asked if they could come along and we said yes.  My mother offered to pay our expenses in return for 10% of my winnings.  A great deal if I did poorly on the show, but possibly making for an expensive trip if I won more than $6,000.  I declined her offer.  My wife became a little nervous about the money we were spending and I told her that I came up with a figure which represented the cost of the trip and the amount of lost wages for both a week in LA and the week at Chicon, and I told her that if I didn’t think I could win that much money, I wouldn’t be flying the family to LA.

People have asked me how I prepared for “Jeopardy!” and tend to be a bit disappointed with my answer.  I began by taping “Jeopardy!” shows to watch, but that only lasted about a week.  I didn’t read any trivia books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, or anything else.  I didn’t practice pressing down on a buzzer or a pen.  In fact, I tried to ignore the entire situation.  I figured that there was really no way of studying for the show.  If the information wasn’t internalized, it would take to long to access when I was on stage.

The closest I came for preparing was contacting a local bartender.  In October, a local bartender had appeared on “Jeopardy!”, winning $7500 on his first day and a trip to Hong Kong on his second day.  I decided to talk to him and see if he had any pointers.  His main comment was that 80% of the game was the buzzer.  I also discovered that several other fans and science fiction people have appeared on the show.  Janice Gelb was on, as was Rick Cook.

The other question I received, which is apparently the number one question asked of “Jeopardy!” contestants and staff, is whether the show sends out a list of topics to study.  They don’t. In fact, all I received from “Jeopardy!” prior to the date of taping was an eight-page contract, a personal questionnaire (those topics to discuss with Alex, again) and directions to the Sony Pictures Studio lot.  They also recommended an hotel which gave a good rate to “Jeopardy!” contestants.

The day of departure approached.  We were flying out of Midway Airport on Sunday, February 27.  While we were packing, my mother-in-law from Lexington, Kentucky called.  She wanted to wish me good luck and let me know that according to the Thursday issue of the University of Kentucky paper, a student from UK would be flying out to tape an appearance on “Jeopardy!” that week.  On Friday, another article appeared stating that the editor of the geological journal would also be flying out to tape an appearance on “Jeopardy!”. I took down their names and, for the first time, became nervous.  The faceless, nameless contestants I knew I would be facing had become potential adversaries.