This is an edited excerpt from a post by Pam Nelson on the Triangle Grammar Guide blog. She was a contestant on the long-running quiz show "Jeopardy!" on Monday.
First, I didn't win $20,000. That was my score at the end of the game, but because I came in second, I will receive $2,000.
That will come in handy because I, like every other contestant, paid for my own travel and hotel accommodations. My husband and I flew to Los Angeles in March for the taping.
The show offers an online contestant test from time to time. If you do well enough on the test, you might be invited for an audition. I have taken the 50-question general knowledge test twice, and both times I was called for auditions - first in Atlanta in 2006, then in Washington, D.C., in 2009.
I tried out May 31, 2009. I got the call in late February and went to the taping March 16.
The contestant coordinators greeted us at the studio gate and led us to the green room, which really is green, to prepare us for the taping. Preparation included getting made up by one of the show's staff makeup artists.
Before going to the taping, we had written one-liners and short anecdotes about ourselves. A coordinator interviewed us quickly to find the best three stories to put on an index card for Alex Trebek to use during the on-air contestant chat.
After we were made up, we got our first look at the set. It looks much bigger on TV than it is.
We got to play practice games with a contestant coordinator filling the role of host. That signaling device is tricky. You have to wait until Trebek finishes reading the question before you can ring in to answer. If you ring in too soon, you are locked out for a fraction of a second, and if another contestant rings in first, you are locked out while that player gets a chance to answer.
I was called for the second show in the taping to go up against returning champion Alison Stone Roberg and John Cunningham of Chicago.
I had a slow start. My timing on the signaling device was off, and I was in the negative after missing a couple of questions. At the first break, I was rattled, but a contestant coordinator helped me work on my timing.
After the break, I was able to come back and get some of the high-dollar answers. I knew a lot of the answers but was often beaten to the buzzer by Alison and John, who were good players, and fast.
When I hit a Daily Double, I was cautious in my wager, and that was probably my biggest mistake. Alison, on the other hand, bet big on a Daily Double and pulled far ahead.
At the end of Double Jeopardy, Alison was ahead with $17,800. I was second with $15,000, and John had $4,400.
The wagering strategy
The Final Jeopardy category was Literary Brawls. I was sure that Alison, who had done well on literature questions, would do well on this category. I was fairly certain that I would, too. Even if I bet all I had, I couldn't bet enough to beat her if she also bet big, so I wagered against John. Alison would have to bet against me, so if by some fluke she missed the Final Jeopardy question, I could win. More likely, I thought, I would come in second. I went for a round number, $5,000.
The Final Jeopardy answer turned out to be fairly easy, so we all got it right.
I was gratified to have finished in second place.
Contestants are sworn to secrecy about the outcomes until after the shows they were on air. Let me tell you, it was hard keeping a secret around professional journalists whose job it is to get people to tell them things. But I kept my secret from family and friends. That made the broadcast even more fun. Everyone was in suspense.
My guiding light
I had wanted to be a "Jeopardy!" contestant since I was a girl and watched the show with Art Fleming. But my real motivation to try the online test for an audition was my son, Jake, who was intensely interested in game shows and quiz shows, especially "Jeopardy!" Jake was an expert in the history and formats of television game shows. He memorized game show facts the way some boys memorize baseball stats. He and I watched "Jeopardy!" together, and we played a home game on our computer. He started beating me when he was a teenager, and I was bursting with pride that he was good at the show. He encouraged me to take the test and try out, and we went to Washington together for my audition.
Jake died in August last year of complications after surgery for Crohn's disease. He was just a month shy of his 21st birthday. My husband, Chris, and I were devastated. My heart was and still is broken.
When I got the call to be on the show, I hesitated a bit because I didn't know whether I could do this without Jake. My first feeling was that it was wrong somehow to go on because he wasn't here - because he wouldn't get the chance to enjoy it. So many times in the past 11 months I have thought about the things that Jake is missing.
I decided to take the opportunity, though, because I think Jake would have wanted me to and because I needed to close this chapter. It is a part of coming to terms with losing Jake.
And now the chapter is closed.
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