A Year of Jeopardy!

Part One

One year ago today at approximately 5:40 P.M., as I rode toward Milford on the route 29X bus, my cell phone played its ring tone. Looking at the screen I saw the caller was Sony Pictures Studios. My heart skipped a beat as I answered and was told that after waiting thirteen months since my most recent audition, ten years since my first audition, and 46 years since the cancellation of an audition scheduled at Rockefeller Center when I was a rising high school senior, I was at last being invited to play on Jeopardy! I turned to my seatmate Diane and told her what had just happened, and then phoned my wife, Lisa, and said “I just got the call!” She replied, “What call?” “The one I’ve been waiting for all these years – I’m going to be on Jeopardy!”

When I got home, I set about letting friends and family know that I’d be on the show, and Lisa and I started figuring out our travel arrangements. The tape days would be August 15th, and the 16th if I was carried over to the second day, which for viewers is the second week of shows taped on those two days. Those were the first two days of fall orientation at the law school, and I informed the folks at work that I would be out that week.

Next, I started working on whom I would invite to watch from the audience. Each contestant is allowed six guests. Of course Lisa would accompany me; Micah was not particularly interested in such a short trip to southern California, and our daughters’ schedules would not permit them to go. My sister, Kathy, who still lives in the Miami area, did not think she could make it, but my brother, Bruce, lives in Sacramento and said he’d probably be able to drive down.

From there I began reaching out to my friends who live in California. Their schedules were such that I parceled out seats for some on Monday and, if I was held over, for a few others on Tuesday. I then tended to my usual July activities. I went to the American Association of Law Libraries annual meeting in Chicago, where I completed my three-year-term on the executive board. While there I spoke with two previous contestants, Sarah Mauldin, a firm librarian in Atlanta, and Clare Willis, an academic librarian in Chicago. They both gave me useful tips about practicing for the show.

Micah had left for Durham from the A.A.L.L. meeting and the next week Lisa and I joined him there. We set out to find him an apartment as he wanted to return to North Carolina. I came back home to put in another two weeks of work before returning to N.C. for a doctor’s appointment and then the trip to Culver City, site of the Sony Pictures Studios.

On Sunday, August 12th, Lisa and I boarded a Southwest Airlines jet for our flights to LAX. We stayed at the Culver City Doubletree, where most out-of-town contestants stay.

Bright and early Monday morning I grabbed some breakfast, kissed Lisa goodbye, and waited in the hotel lobby for the 7:45 pick-up by the studio van. I met that day’s fellow new contestants, some of whom I knew would be playing against me. They were Yoey Sacks, Joel Goldes, George Stuart, Erin Henry, P. J. Molski, Julia Lee, Meghan Winch, Susan Logan, Norm Burnosky, and Thea Lawton. At the studio we met the returning champion from Friday’s game, Lani Gonzalez. In my only earlier post discussing the taping, I could not provide details from the games. For those of you who did not watch the games, or for those of you who did but would like to see the details of play, head over to the J! Archive to see the clues and scoring. You can begin with Monday’s game and then browse through the rest of the week.

After about 90 minutes of instruction from Maggie and the other coordinators, and having makeup applied, we walked into the studio. What a thrill it was, as I’ve been watching it on weekday evenings since this version of the show premiered in 1984. We took turns on practice playing, getting a feel of the arrangements of the podia, the placement of the screen on which video clues would be shown, and the clue board. We especially learned to watch the light at the edge of the board that signals Alex has finished reading clue and we can ring in to answer. During practice I went on a tear through a simple math category.

In the audience were Lisa and Bruce, my good friend June Liebert, and her daughters Hannah and Sophia. Returning champ Lani Gonzalez tore through her first two games, locking in her wins before Final Jeopardy! by having more than double the score of the second place contestant. I was hoping that I would not have to face her, and I think some of the other contestants felt the same way. On the Wednesday game, George Stuart managed to beat Lani, who plainly was wearing out. We later learned that she had developed an infection late the previous week and was playing with a fever and on meds! She did so well that we would not have known. As we broke for lunch, Maggie told P. J. and me that we’d be in the Thursday game, the next one to tape.

We walked over to the studio commissary and took our lunch ticket to order as we wished. Then we had a friendly lunch; as I wrote in that earlier post, we really did develop a strong camaraderie. I was a little anxious to get back to the studio. After a few minutes in makeup, we took our marks on the sound stage.

Next: Playing the Game!


What is: RESIST!

I had intended to add a post discussing my game play and other activity since my taping and appearance on the program. The election of Donald Trump brought me to tears, and the actions of him and his racist, nationalist chief counselor, Steve Bannon, must be answered. I will not be posting any more information about my comparatively minor success until we citizens restore sane, compassionate leadership to our country.



Tonight’s THE Night!

Tonight the culmination of my nearly lifelong dream will air across the country on the television stations that carry Jeopardy! My family will be watching from North Carolina, with new grandson Michael likely being passed around the living room. I’ll be watching with many of my UC Law colleagues and friends at a restaurant up the street. Today I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mike Allen, who was filling in for Bill Cunningham on WLW radio. I’ve made the audio clip available below, as I think doing so falls within fair use. I hope you can watch tonight!!!

Living the Dream!

On Monday I achieved my life-long dream of being a contestant on “Jeopardy!” I cannot tell you about the game itself, as contestants sign a twelve-page release that includes a non-disclosure agreement. I can tell you that the program will air in the U.S. on Thursday, October 27th, and if you don’t already know which local station airs the program, go to http://www.jeopardy.com/about/find-your-station.

The program tapes ten episodes, i.e., two weeks of broadcasts, each week. Though tapings are often on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, this week they were Monday and Tuesday. On Monday morning, I joined most of the week’s contestants on the van from our hotel to the Sony Pictures Studio, which was once the famed MGM Studios. Our camaraderie developed quickly from even before we boarded the van, and it grew throughout the morning. Of course we viewed ourselves as competitors, but throughout the day we wished each of us well.

At the studio we we were guided by the very helpful contestant coordinators: Maggie Speak, Corina Nusu, and Laurie Janover. I had met Maggie, and I think Laurie as well, at my two auditions (2006 and 2015). Glenn Kagan ran us through our rehearsals, standing in for Alex Trebek. We taped three games in the morning, took a lunch break, and then did two more episodes to wrap the day.

The taping stops where commercial breaks will be inserted: after the first part of Jeopardy, at the end of Jeopardy, at the end of Double Jeopardy, and between that and Final Jeopardy. During the breaks Alex and Johnny Gilbert take questions from the audience. Alex was very open and friendly, and has a wry sense of humor. In the audience were my wife and brother, my friend June, and her two daughters.

All-in-all, the day was everything I’d hoped it would be: incredible fun and a chance to work with a group of talented and friendly people, both the staff and my fellow contestants. You can see all of them beginning on October 24, and me on October 27th. Check out the contestant profiles that week to learn about my new-found friends, and please join me in thanking the entire crew, who are listed at http://www.jeopardy.com/about/cast/full-staff.

I may live-tweet my local broadcast, but since it airs at different times in different markets, and we have the added complication of time zones, I will decide on that later. Also, I may have a few words about strategy and other details after the show has aired. See you later!

What is a second chance?

Jeopardy PenAs I write this post I find that it has been exactly nine years since I wrote about my first Jeopardy! contestant audition in Orlando. Last week I flew to Atlanta for the Tuesday morning audition, again held at a Westin hotel. I spent a pleasant Monday evening dinner with friends Nancy Adams and her husband Chris Kinney, and an equally pleasant Tuesday morning breakfast with another friend, Kris Niedringhaus. Afterward I checked out of the slightly lower rent hotel where I had stayed, and crossed the street to the Westin. Just before the appointed hour of 11:30 I entered the waiting room, and found about thirty-five fellow contestants, all sitting very quietly. After two minutes of the silence, I asked, “Is this a conversation free zone?” The ice was broken and in a few minutes we were introducing ourselves to each other and learning about our careers, hometowns, and more.

Several minutes some of the contestant coordinators entered the room and explained what would ensure. Maggie Speak, the senior contestant producer whom I had met at my Orlando audition, joined us shortly. From there on it was nearly a carbon copy of the 2006 audition, although I felt a little more confident in myself, particularly in my social skills. Again, all of us took a fifty question test, played a few minutes of the game in groups of three, and engaged in banter with Maggie and her colleagues. Our auditions were videotaped.

Doing the math on the show, which requires eleven new contestants each week for a season of about 40 weeks, would tell us they need about 400 contestants per year, and that is what Maggie told us. They invite about 2,500 online test-takers to the in-person auditions, so statistically each of us has just under a 1 in 6 chance of being called for the show. They evaluate the contestants based on test performance and how well they will fit the show, so there is a ranking that the producers make in deciding whom to invite. We’re in the pool for eighteen months, so now it is simply a waiting game.

After the audition I rode the MARTA back to the airport and flew to Denver, site of the 2015 CALI Conference on Law School Computing. Before launching into that event I got to spend Wednesday with my long-time friends Don Mock and Anita Colin. I officiated at their wedding during my law school days, when I was a Florida notary public. We hiked on Flagstaff Mountain and had a terrifically fun day. All-in-all, it was a great week and I’ll let you know if I get the long-desired phone call.

The Quest – and the Posts – Resume

I’ve taken the Jeopardy online contestant test nearly every year since it was first offered in 2006. I was ineligible to take it in 2007, while I was in the contestant pool following my ’06 audition. In 2009 we had just moved and, among other pressing matters, we did not yet have home Internet access. In that last post I noted that I was considering starting a separate blog, and I did that.

After six more tries with the online test, at last the time has come to resume the quest and therefore this, my original blog. A few days ago I was notified that I had done well on the online test and that I was invited to my second in-person audition!

Generally I have a good feel for how well I do on the online test, and since 2010 I’ve blanked on too many questions to score well. This year I estimated that I blanked on or gave an incorrect answer on about seven of the fifty questions. I was able to verify this afterward, when the producers posted the test clues and questions on the Jeopardy! Facebook page. As it turns out, whatever my score, it was good enough to earn in invitation to an audition next month. When I registered for the online test, like everyone else I was asked to choose one of the cities where the auditions were likely to be scheduled. None of the options was particularly close to Cincinnati, so I chose Atlanta, to which frequent flights are available from Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

As I noted in my earlier audition post, I’ll be taking another test, trying to show that I’ve got a telegenic personality, and playing a brief round of the game. I’m nine years older than I was the last time I did this, and I know that I am not quite as fast or sharp as I was then. Nevertheless, I plan on doing my best and I’m hoping for the best as well.

If you read the blog those years ago, you’ll notice that it has a new look. It originally was hosted at Google’s Blogger. I’ve been using WordPress for several years now, so I’ve decided to move Ken’s JeopardyQuest to that platform. I’ll be posting updates as I prepare for the audition, and of course I’ll let you know whether I make it to the contestant pool.


Long time, no post….

Greetings faithful reader(s),
You deserve an update. I was confident that I did poorly on the 2008 online test, and in fact I was not contacted for an interview last year. I missed the 2009 opportunity. It was held the week of January 26th, which is exactly when we moved from Durham to the Cincinnati area, Miami Township in Clermont County to be exact. We had no Internet, cable TV, or VOIP for nearly a week. So no test taken. On top of that, the worst snow the area had seen in some time started the night we arrived, followed two days later by an ice storm. So my quest is deferred until 2010.

In the meantime, I am considering starting a separate blog, with more frequent entries. Trying to decide whether to make it on a few specific topics, or whether to hold forth on topics of the day.

Quest Renewed

I, along with likely millions, took the online test tonight. I have nowhere near the level of confidence that I did well on this test, compared to the one I took two years ago. So the blog may be silent for a long time.

My Chances are Fading Fast

According to the Jeopardy Tickets web site there are only four taping dates in this season. There are only two that are in April, with two sessions (5 shows each) for which there would be adequate time to get booked. I’m guessing they need about 12 contestants per day (20 for the 10 shows, a few for alternates), so that is a total of 45 left. But again, this is only an educated guess at best. In about two weeks, if I’ve not heard anything, it will be time to start planning on taking next year’s online test.