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!


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