Saturday marked two months since the audition, and no “Come to Hollywood (Culver City?)” call or email has arrived. Judging by how often some folks here at work ask whether I’ve heard anything, I’m beginning to think they might be more disappointed than I if I am not invited to the show. Not!
Mary Elisabeth, my younger daughter, introduced me to Dar Williams songs about two years ago. She knew I am a big fan of Sarah McLachlan and thought I’d like another singer/songwriter with a distinctive voice. She was right – I love Dar’s music. I only have two of her albums so far, but I will be building my collection. My favorite pieces are “When I Was a Boy,” “The Great Unknown,” “The Christians and the Pagans,” and “Flinty Kind of Woman.”
Every July 4th weekend Durham holds a Festival for the Eno River at the West Point on the Eno City Park. Three weeks ago Mary told me Dar Williams would be performing. Yesterday we went and listed to her first set, at the Orchard Stage. Dar was terrific. She played about 10 songs in just under an hour. In between numbers she was humorous and a little self-deprecating. When she finished our family went backstage and introduced ourselves to her; Mary gave her a hug. Pick up one of her albums!
My good friend, Jim Milles, director of the law library at the University at Buffalo, produces a podcast called “Check this Out.” Jim discusses matters relating to law librarianship, podcasting, adn some other topics. Next week he will be doing nightly casts from the American Association of Law Libraries annual meeting in St. Louis. He has invited a few friend, including yours truly, to join him, so give a listen.
Well dear reader, now I play the waiting game. Will the contestant coordinator contact me and invite me to the show? Only time will tell. Until and if that happens, I might have nothing new about my quest about which to tell you. If you’d like me to fill these pages with other thoughts until then, please let me know.
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.
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.
“Congratulations! You have been selected for a follow-up appointment at an upcoming Jeopardy! contestant search for the Orlando area, exclusively for those who successfully passed the online test. This is the next step in becoming a Jeopardy! contestant. We have reserved the following appointment for you: When: Tuesday, June 20th Time: 12noon Where: Orlando, FL You must RSVP within two business days of receipt of this email to secure your place in the audition. . .”
So began the email I received the morning of May 11. I was mildly stunned, and very excited. And the timing was perfect. I’d be in Ft. Lauderdale for the CALI conference from June 14 – 17, then Lisa and Micah would come down from Melbourne, where they were visiting Lisa’s mother and brother, pick me up, and we’d visit my mom and sister in Miami for two days. We’d then head back upstate to Orlando.
I began watching Jeopardy! more closely, mostly to see what the men were wearing, because the instructions said to dress for the audition as you would for the show. And most men were wearing coat and tie. So much for the casual, nonchalant contestant.
I worried about button technique. I’m sure Ken Jennings’ success was due as much to his skill at ringing in first as it was to his vast store of trivia. My children suggested I practice on the PS2 version of the game. I know I have several weak areas, but I decided not to try any boning up before the audition.
The week before arrived – time to take off from work and head to Florida for the conference, then my appointment with destiny at the Westin Grand Bohemian. But of course, best laid plans …
The morning of Tuesday, June 13, my sister emailed me that my mother was in the hospital with gall stones, awaiting word on whether she would need her gall bladder removed. I called her and then my wife, and changed my plans: I would travel directly to the hospital from my arrival at the airport, then attend the conference when able.
The morning of Wednesday, June 14, our elder daughter Kimberly phoned an hour before I was to leave for the airport. She too had been very sick overnight. I told her she needed to see her doctor right away, as she had a history of symptoms suggesting years of gall stones. ( I had gall bladder surgery shortly after arriving in Durham and Lisa had her own only a year later.) I was torn – I did not want to leave Kimberly, but I knew my mother and sister needed me as well. I set up a three way call with Kimberly and Lisa. Mary Elisabeth, our younger daughter, and her boyfriend Mike, who were to head to the beach that day, would drop me at the airport and then take Kimberly to her doctor’s appointment. Lisa would wait to hear if Kimberly needed surgery. I was taken to the airport and made my flights.
When I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, Dave, my sister’s husband, met me at the airport and told me Mom was back at home. When we got there she and Kathy were in her apartment. She had left the hospital that morning, in a panic because of mention of an MRI. So later that day Kathy and I took her back to the E.R. and waited with her until 2 A.M. She was admitted late the next morning.
In the meantime, back in Durham, Kimberly too was admitted to the hospital after a long stint in the E.R. Her boyfriend Will kept her company, and our deacon and friend Betty also lent support. My mother and daughter were to have their gall bladders removed within the next two days.
Thursday, after 4 hours sleep, I made it to the conference just as it began. Throughout the day I was in touch with my sister, wife and daughter, waiting to learn when surgery was scheduled. That night we learned they could both have their surgery on Friday.
Friday dawned a little better – both patients were scheduled for surgery, Lisa left Melbourne headed to Durham, and I had enjoyed a full night’s sleep. I attended the conference in the morning, then after lunch returned to the hospital to stand by during my mom’s surgery. Will and Betty were tending Kimberly.
My mother went into surgery at 3 PM and came out at 3:45. The surgeon said the laparoscopic procedure had gone well. Kimberly went into surgery at 4 PM and came out at 5:30. Again, her surgeon reported the laparoscopic procedure had gone well.
Kimberly and Lisa had both told me to stay with my mom and then head to Orlando – they did not want me to miss out on my lifetime dream.
Saturday the conference ended and my mother was released late in the day, just before I got to her apartment. Kimberly was also released that day, a few hours after Lisa and Micah had arrived back in Durham.
I helped my sister care for my mother until Monday afternoon, then Dave took me to the airport; I flew to Orlando, picked up my rental car and found the hotel. I settled in for a good night’s sleep before my audition.
Yes, ever since I was 11 years old I have been watching Jeopardy! First on NBC at noon on weekdays, hosted by the late Art Fleming and announced by Don Pardo, better known to most of you as the announcer for SNL for all but its disastrous sixth season. The show went off the air in 1975, and was revived in 1984 with Alex Trebec as host and Johnny Gilbert as announcer. (Fleming hosted an evening version in the late 70’s, SuperJeopardy!) Trebec had once been on NBC in the morning following Hollywood Squares, hosting “High Rollers” with Ruta Lee helping out.
I have been a trivia fiend all my life. When Trivial Pusuit hit the market in 1983 or therabouts, I was thrilled. And when Jeopardy! returned to the air, I began wondering how I could get on the show. Traveling to L.A. for an audition proved too difficult, and when they began taking auditions on the road, I waited patiently for them to come to my town. But alas, when they did, I did not make the cut for the randomly selected list of auditioners.
Earlier this year, my break came. The show announced a one time online test, to be held over the course of three nights, different time zones each night. I signed up right away and at the appointed hour took the 50 question test. My best guess is I got 45 of the 50 questions right.
Again I knew luck would be involved, because of those who received a high score on the test, the limited number of auditioners would be chosen at random. When I took the test, I also had to select an audtion city, in the event I would be selected. All I knew about timing was “during the summer,” and I picked Orlando Florida.
I hoped I would be picked, but had my doubts, so did not give it another thought.