What is a fifty question test?

First step in qualifying for the Jeopardy! contestant pool. I arrived at the Westin Grand Bohemian at 11:20 for my noon audition. I had heard of a late contestant being locked out, and that was not going to happen to me.

NOT a cattle call

Until the advent of the online test, the Jeopardy! audition was almost a cattle call. Typically thousands of hopefuls would register for the chance to audition, and several hundred would be selected. They would show up at the appointed time and take the 50-question written test. A select number of the highest scoring people would then advance to the other steps, which I describe below. But for us, the fifteen hopefuls who had passed the online test and then been randomly selected, the atmosphere was relatively peaceful. We knew we had already made the first cut. We looked forward to the audition with some confidence, hopeful we would make it into the contestant pool. We comprised one of three groups of online applicants who would be intereviewed that day. At 11:40 Dan introduced himself to us, gave us bio sheets to complete, and took Polaroid photos of us. He led us into the audition room at noon.

The Audition

Alex was not there to greet us, but he did welcome us from a prerecorded DVD. Maggie, the lead contestant coordinator, began by having us introduce ourselves. She explained the audition process and the basic rules, the most important one of which is this: we are not allowed to discuss the contents of the 50-question test. Otherwise, I will give you the details. A few minutes later we took the test, which I believe is intended to make sure our passage of the online test was not a fluke, and to give them a way to compare the hopefuls. The test sheet has 50 blank lines – no multiple choice here. The answers were on screen, one at a time, each read by Johnny Gilbert, who first identified the category. We had eight seconds to write our answer for each question, and just this once it did not have to be in the form of a question. On #16, which asked for the identity of a well known person, I blanked. I kept thinking about it after each following question, until number 45, when like a bolt of lighting the answer jumped into my mind. I completed the test with 50 answers, and I felt I had answered them all correctly.

While the other staff reviewed our tests, Maggie told us more about the show. She revealed some treasures on the new Jeopardy! DVD. She told us that contestants are usually given about three weeks notice that they have been selected to come on the show. And she explained how to use the button to ring in. Then she told us the next step: we would come to the front of the room, in groups of three, and play a short version of the game, following which we would be interviewed to give the coordinator more information about us. She asked us to speak loudly.

When they began calling us up, I was called first in the first group. While I am not positive, I think this means I at least tied for the highest score on the test. Playing the game was fun. I rang in first about 1/3 of the time, and correctly answered all that I had tried. During my interview I mentioned that I perform karaoke for fun, and that led to Maggie asking me to do a few bars of “Mac the Knife.” She interviewed the next two contestants, then called up the other 12, three at a time. When we had finished she told us that all of us were in the contestant pool. The pool is the group of people from whom they will call new contestants. It has many more members than they need for the show. They select contestants based on several criteria, including how telegenic we appear, skill at the game, and to meet their feelings of how best to provide a balanced, diverse game. We will be in the pool through the 2006-07 television season. We finished at 2:00 P.M.

I then met Grace Mills, director of the law library at Florida A & M and fellow SEAALL executive committee member, for lunch. Then I returned the rental car to the airport and flew home, arriving at last with my family and recuperating daughter.

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