How to be Poised and Smiling While Getting Creamed on Jeopardy!

Yep, that’s me on the set of Jeopardy!

And I was getting beaten.

Me - with Alex Trebeck - I was a bundle of nerves with a smile slapped on

Me – with Alex Trebeck – I was a bundle of nerves with a smile

Creamed actually.

If you’re a Jeopardy! fan, let me tell you it was the buzzer that tormented me.

I just couldn’t get the hang of it.

It’s not simply a matter of being the first to answer. You can’t be too quick either!

What people watching the game show on TV don’t realize is that a ring of lights around the board goes on as soon as a question is chosen. The lights go off when host Alex Trebeck finishes reading the question.

If you hit your buzzer too soon, you’re penalized a tenth of a second, giving someone else the chance to be “first.”

Was I too early? Was I too late?

No matter, I was losing.

Actually I was happy – losing meant I wouldn’t have to go through this again!

But Let’s Start at the Beginning

They tape five shows a day and I was chosen by lottery to be in the last one.

During the wait I spent most of the time with my stomach in knots and my hands clammy in anticipation. I was so nervous I couldn’t even enjoy the free lunch with the contestants who were left standing after the first three games.

Finally I was on the set and in the game but by the first commercial break it was clear that the whiz-kid on my right was mopping the floor with me and the guy on my left.

As soon as knew I wouldn’t win, I just wanted the show to be over. Here I was on national TV, trying to look smart but praying that I wouldn’t look like an idiot.

I’ve had similar feelings when a presentation or interview didn’t go so well.

I always try to do my best. What keeps me calm is realizing that if I screw up, life will go on. In the grand scheme of things, Jeopardy! was one half-hour of my life. The rest of the world would little note nor long remember it.

So I’d just enjoy it and have fun.

Jeopardy studio

The Jeopardy! studio in Los Angeles – the bright lights of show biz and the call to be at your best as a contestant.

Salvation Received

I had already avoided my worst fear – never getting to answer a single question and finishing with a score of zero – something I had never seen in years of watching Jeopardy!

Now I prayed that I wouldn’t embarrass myself by finishing with a negative score and have to slink out in shame before Final Jeopardy (à la my remark about looking stupid).


But, pushing the fear aside, I had a strategy for Final Jeopardy.

I aimed for second place, protected my meager assets, and risked nothing.

The category was “George Washington.” And the answer was, “In 1798, George wrote to John Greenwood, a man in this profession, ‘I am …ready to pay what ever you may charge me.’”

Hmmmm…I’m no expert on GW. But I did know that George was famous for his ill-fitting wooden false teeth.

So I wrote “What is a dentist?”

And I was right … and I was the only one who got it!

In the end, I finished with a pathetic $4,600, compared to $23,600 for the leader and $12,200 for the other contestant.

Maybe the Pièce de Résistance

Only the winner gets to keep the dollars scored. The second-place contestant gets $2,000, and the third gets $1,000.

I was content, because my second-place earnings paid for the airfare and three days in Los Angeles for my husband and me.

But perhaps my talent really lies in being cheeky and bawdy – during the contestant chat Alex asked about my honeymoon, which my husband and I spent traveling around the south of England in a cheap rented van.

I said we particularly liked an ancient hillside chalk carving called the Rude Man of Cerne.

When he asked what was so special about it, I said it had a certain body part that was very large – and that’s why it’s called the “rude” man.

Alex was speechless.

That’s something that not every contestant can achieve.

Still, it was a thrill for me. In my living room I have a beautiful, glass-framed souvenir photo of Alex Trebeck and me, and I still beam with pride whenever someone new sees it and asks, with admiration, “You were on Jeopardy!?”


Image credit: Jeopardy studio by jurvetson


About Bobbie

Barbara (Bobbie to you) Lewis was once a reporter for a daily newspaper but found her career niche in putting her communications skills to work for nonprofit organizations. More than 36 years ago she moved to Detroit from Philly, had three babies, grew roots, and tried to be a good Jew - whatever that means. She's still figuring it out. Meantime, she votes liberal, dotes on her toddler granddaughter and supports her hubby, Joe, who runs a small home-based business. Oh yes, she's got degrees from Antioch College, Temple and Central Michigan along with a shelf full of accolades for writing and publication production - whatever that means.


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