What is the wrong answer, Alex?
If being teased for being a know-it-all as a kid renders an upside as an adult, perhaps the flashiest potential would be carrying over that braininess to win fabulous prizes carefully modeled by a woman wearing a forced smile and shiny stilettos on a quiz show. Or, even better, a nice pot of cash. So when the folks at Jeopardy!—the Stanford University of game shows—offered to let an SN&R reporter not only check out the contestant-procurement process, but also to take the test earlier in March, my inner geek eagerly raised her hand from the front row of the classroom.
I have never wanted to be on TV, so I didn't take the online audition test like thousands of people did in January to earn a spot at the regional contestant search at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel. But how would I fare on the test? I couldn't help but wonder if I could be a competitor.
According to Maggie Speak, part veteran contestant producer and part firecracker, only 2,000 of the 100,000 folks who take the online test qualify for the second round of vetting. And from that pool, only 400 get cast on the show for the season. On this day at the Sheraton, 120 potential contestants try to make the cut, 42 of whom are holding their breath in a small conference room with me as if they are about to take the bar exam, not a trivia quiz.
The group gets divided into two rooms, and once inside, each is greeted with a video of game-show-host royalty Alex Trebek on a projection screen, wishing the contestants to be “immensely profitable.” After a Carlton Banks look-alike gives instructions on how to play, the first of two 50-question tests begin. During this round, questions flash on the screen, and contestants have eight seconds to jot down responses on a form—or leave ridiculous false answers such as I do, because unless you are up to speed on classic literature and geography, expect to get half of the queries wrong, like I estimate I did. Which is terrible.
But perhaps hope floats for the second test? Uh, no, it's worse. This time, I quickly count the responses that I am certain are wrong: 31. That's 62 percent. That's practically a failing grade. That's … pathetic.
The third test is a mock game, genuine Jeopardy! buzzer and iconic blue-and-yellow board projected on the screen and all. Speak calls me up first. In light of my disastrous written performance, the faux showdown seems almost as bad as being on television, actually playing a game with opponents who have earned a spot to be here and are dying to get cast, like petite “Ramona,” tense as a mousetrap and from Oregon; and “Patrick,” a crisp-suited marketer from Emeryville. Then again, this is probably my only chance to play Jeopardy! without being on camera. It's on.
At first, I kind of feel bad for buzzing in several times against Ramona and Patrick and actually getting the answers—or questions, as it were—correct. I am befuddled as to why these two standing next to me aren't getting these easy ones. But then, I think, if they can't best little ole me who flunked the written quiz, then maybe they are not cut out to make smalltalk with Alex. Then, I buzz in to name the director of Goodfellas, but I'm blank. I coolly say, “That one guy.” Whatever. I've never seen that movie, anyway.
The show's producers said they don't reveal the test results—candidates just have to wait for an invitation over the next 18 months—but seeing as how I am not eligible to be cast, surely Speak would spill the beans. All I got out of her was, “You were a delight!”
I know enough to know I'm definitely not a know-it-all.