My Experience

by Steven H Silver

The Day Dawns

On March first, I awoke at 3:00 in the morning with a splitting sinus headache and the sounds of the elevator running in the hall outside our room.  I stumbled to the bathroom and managed to locate an allergy pill, but nothing for the headache.  As I lay in bed, wishing I were asleep, I could hear the whirring of the elevators continue.  Eventually, I did manage to fall back asleep, but I kept waking up, the headache still there and the elevators still moving.

When I did wake up at 6:45, my headache was miraculously gone.  A wake-up call came while I was in the shower and Elaine and Robin wound up joining me for breakfast in the hotel restaurant.  I still hadn’t decided whether to leave for the studio at 8:00 or 8:30, but as I ate, 8:30 seemed like it would work.  I didn’t see any point in rushing at the hotel so that I would sit around the gate at Sony for an extra half-hour.

At about 8:15, I wandered over to the concierge’s desk to see about getting a cab over to the studio.  There were three women standing around and I had a feeling they were also looking for transportation to Sony.  I introduced myself and learned that one of the women was Meg Smath, the woman my mother-in-law had seen an article about in the paper the previous week.  The other two women were her cheering section.  When I heard her name, I commented that she was from Lexington, KY, immediately explaining how I knew.  She later told me that for a split second, she thought “He memorizes phone books, I don’t want to go up against him.”

One of the interesting things about the “Jeopardy!” contestants I would come to meet that day is that none of us felt that we knew everything.  In fact, we were all very aware of the limitations of our knowledge.  Similarly, we were all positive that our opponents knew everything, or at least more than we did. 

We were shortly joined by Kari, an investment banker from New York.  Elaine and Robin came by to join us and we chatted for a while, trying to determine if Meg or her companions knew my in-laws (they didn’t, but one of Meg’s companions works in the building next to my mother-in-law’s office).  Eventually, the hotel bus arrived and took Meg, her supporters, Kari and me to Sony.  When we arrived, there were already four contestants waiting by the gate.  Eventually, when we all arrived, we were escorted to the Green Room for our orientation, paperwork and make-up.

The green room is a small room with a coffee set up and pastries in one corner, two bathrooms at the back, a make-up area which leads to a changing room, and a wall of photos of former “Jeopardy!” celebrity contestants.  Regis Philbin’s picture had been turned conspicuously upside down (he had also done very poorly in his various “Jeopardy!” appearances.)

We all hung up our bags and sat at a long table to fill out our contracts and make sure all the information they had was correct and current.  We were also asked to think about what we wanted to say when they filmed something they call a “Hometown Howdy.”  This is a short promotion which can be run on local television, basically informing people that a local resident will be appearing on “Jeopardy!” 

While we filled out our paper work, Jennifer, the make-up artist, began pulling people to have a base coat of make-up put on.  Maggie Speak, one of the Contestant Coordinators, tried her best to make everyone feel at ease in the green room.  Two of the members of the contestant pool, Ted and Camille, had been potential contestants from the day before and they began to tell us about the returning champion, Jason Parker, who had not yet arrived.

Jason was a graduate student in American history from the University of Florida.  He was six-foot-six and very quick on the buzzer.  Over his first three days, he averaged $10,000 in winnings each day.  Neither were looking forward to the possibility of facing him and hoped that by coming in on the first they would be thrown into the pool with the rest of us and gain a reprieve.  Everything Ted, Camille and the “Jeopardy!” staff said made it sound like Jason was unbeatable and would rank in the pantheon of five-time “Jeopardy!” winners.

Meanwhile, the rest of the contestants joked in a friendly manner until Susanne came in an began to explain how the day would work.  Despite the fact that everyone in the room had seen “Jeopardy!” on television, it was necessary for Susanne to cover the rules, explaining that there were two changes from the contract which was sitting in front of us.  Although the contract stated that all trips won would originate in Los Angeles, they could now originate from the major airport of the winner’s choice.  Secondly, the clause about not revealing the outcome of the games only applied to the media.  We were allowed to tell our friends, family, enemies, co-workers, etc., if we so desired.

Eventually, we were led onto the stage, where we met John Lauderdale, the Stage Manager.  They showed us how the podiums and buzzers worked and had us run through a practice show.  Our instructions were to play the game until we had answered three questions correctly.  This would give us a feel for the pace of the game and, more importantly, a feel for the buzzers.  The first group was made up of Ted, Camille and Jason, but Jason was replaced after he buzzed in once.  He hardly needed the additional practice.  I was in the second group, and Susanne quickly asked me to refrain from buzzing in.  I was having no problem with the buzzer at all.

I felt a few moments of nervousness when I first walked on to the stage.  Just as hearing the names of potential competitors had made the whole situation more real on Sunday, actually being on the stage furthered the reality of the situation.  However, the nervousness only lasted a few minutes and I was fine.

While we were sitting in the audience being briefed, a woman and a teenage girl came into the studio.  Apparently they were the wife and daughter of one of the contestants, Scott.  They had managed to get in early and were quickly escorted out.

The audience is divided into two portions.  The larger part, taking up about two-thirds of the audience, is for the general audience.  These are people who have written for tickets to “Jeopardy!” or been given tickets while looking at the sites of Hollywood.  The smaller section is reserved for the contestants, their guests and guests of Sony, “Jeopardy!” or similar organizations.  A wall divides the two parts of the audience from each other.  The majority of audience shots are taken on the larger side.

We were escorted back to the green room for a final make-up touch up.  At about this time, Susanne informed us that the shows we would be taping would not air until the week of June 12.  Although contestant order was determined at random, I asked if it would be possible for me to appear in the third show, which would air on June 14, my anniversary.  Susanne responded that if I were selected for one of the first two shows, I would have to earn my way to the third show and there was no way they could simply put me on that show.  I joking said, “Then I’ll just have to beat Jason.”