Jay Cridlin went through ‘Jeopardy!’ auditions and has a few questions.
Our intrepid reporter gets insight into the process and ends up with questions. Lots of them.
TAMPA — What’s it like to audition for Jeopardy!?
What kind of questions are you asked? How deep into your life should you expect producers to dig? Can you keep your cool with the buzzer in your hand, or will you flop sweat through your Jockeys, fumbling with the button like the mopes on TV, the ones you’re always dressing down through a mouth full of Hungry-Man?
And is it possible for one of those HungryMan schlubs — a guy like me — to make it through with zero prep whatsoever?
Did Jeopardy! producers consider any of this when they set up in Tampa on Thursday, welcoming 40-odd potential contestants to a final round of auditions at the Westin Tampa Waterside? Were those hopefuls — some on their second or third audition, some who’d flown in — likewise in the dark about the process?
Or was it just me?
I was there only for what was essentially a media photo op, invited to sit in and report how Jeopardy! obsessives become potential Jeopardy! champions, but even so, wouldn’t you have questions?
Can I name all the presidents and state capitals? Is my conversational knowledge of Central Asian mountain ranges on par with that guy’s? When I’m standing there holding the buzzer in my right hand, what on earth should I do with my left?
And the rule they gave me beforehand, the one about not revealing specific questions — was that really necessary? Actually, what am I saying? With Jeopardy! accepting only about 400 contestants per season out of countless online applicants and about 3,000 who make it to this level, wouldn’t fanatical Trebekkies seek ever y advantage? Because, honestly, who wouldn’t want to appear on an American institution like Jeopardy!?
“Everyone have your application,” said contestant coordina- tor Ryan Keller, “and your five interesting stories?”
What would you tell Alex Trebek? Would you tell him about your disc golf team, or your Yoda collection, or the time Slash played your guitar? Will producers find you as fascinating as Barbara, the purple-haired lady who might be a descendent of Confucius? Or Fiona, an aspiring professional calligrapher who dreams of honeymooning in Mongolia?
“When you come down today,” said Jimmy McGuire of the show’s “Clue Crew,” “why don’t you be the best version of yourself ?”
As for the actual trivia? It starts with a 50-question written pop quiz, and when’s the last time you took one of those? We weren’t required to begin with “Who is …” and “What are …”, but when you’re playing Jeopardy!, don’t all answers start to sound like questions?
What is New Hampshire? What is Nutella? Who is Neil deGrasse Tyson? What are onions?
When contestant coordinator Glenn Kagan called me and two others to grab buzzers and step up to the “podium” — actually just strips of lime green duct tape — was I prepared for categories like “Ex-Members of the Band” and “There’s a Bug in My Book Title”? Probably not, but when you’re up against fans who have been studying for years, does it really matter?
What is Mount McKinley? Who are the Grateful Dead? What is a bulldog? What is Zionism? Who is Reggie Bush?
Out of 13 questions, I knew answers to nine and buzzed in first on four — not bad, right? But isn’t there more to landing on Jeopardy! than book smarts? Aren’t producers looking for contestants like past champs Ken Jennings and Arthur Chu?
Aren’t they looking for people like Kelly Adams, a 40-year-old executive assistant and Animaniacs podcaster who drove from Atlanta because she has “watched this show since I was in elementary school”? Or Steve Carney, a 41- year-old host on Tampa’s WDAEAM 620, who said that “even if I never make it to television, I will try out every 18 months, because I love it so much”? You think they haven’t been dreaming of this for decades?
Is Jeopardy! looking for people who know all the answers, or for people who want to ask all the questions?
“Would you want to tune in,” McGuire said, “to see someone not having a good time?”
Can I get an amen for $1,000, Alex?
Jeopardy! contestant coordinator Glenn Kagan holds a signaling button while speaking to about 40 people auditioning for the show at the Westin Tampa Waterside on Thursday. The auditions included a 50-question quiz and a sample game.