Yep, that’s me on the set of Jeopardy!
And I was getting beaten.
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.
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