I’m just going to come out and say it: I auditioned for Jeopardy!
I struggled with whether or not to reveal this, because it’s one of those things that you’re both proud of and also a little bit embarrassed by. I imagine it feels a lot like getting the high score on an arcade game. You pump your fists and shout with joy as that last spaceship explodes, but then enter “AAA” next to the high score so no one will ever identify you.
It was a neat experience, though. I passed a series of online tests and got invited to L.A. to audition for the show. I flew out early in the morning, spent a few hours moving from spot to spot inside LAX with my sheets of study factoids (U.S. presidents, world rivers and Shakespearean plays), then took a shuttle to the hotel where the auditions were taking place. I milled around for a while, unsure of where to go, and a little worried I had gone to the wrong hotel, until a small stream of guys wearing mustard-colored dress shirts and uncomfortably high-waisted khakis started trickling in (there was also a lot of hair gel). I took this as a sign that I was in the right place.
As we lined up outside the audition room, I made a quick count: 24 guys, one lady. She was a very sharp lawyer from the Bay area, and she had more personality than the rest of us combined. I looked down the line of guys, all of whom were staring at their shoes or talking to themselves. Some of them were checking their calculator watches or fumbling with paperwork. No one talked.
I found myself standing in line, staring at everyone else in their own little worlds, and I was smiling wide and laughing almost audibly. The lawyer turned to me and said, loudly enough for everyone to hear, “Boy, this is not a group of people accustomed to socializing, is it?”
Everyone laughed awkwardly, and the silence returned. No, we were not.
Eventually, the producers of the show let us in and we took another test, just to make sure no one got there by cheating. Afterward, they had us come up in groups of threes to play mock Jeopardy! matches and interview publicly. To be honest, I did fine. Just OK. I swept a category about quarterbacks, but I got hung up on a question about the capital of Saudi Arabia. In fact, I’m still thinking about it now . . . Jedda? Mecca? No. Medina? That’s not it. . . .
Everyone else had their own successes and struggles. At that level of the auditions, everyone knew the same amount of answers. And it was a fairly diverse group, too. I was the only person there still working on a bachelor’s degree, and one of three people below 30 years old, but I was surprised to see that there were no nuclear physicists or heart surgeons. There were quite a few so-called writers (at least 10), as well as a few lawyers, some computer guys, a couple professors and one really nice older guy who (I’m not kidding) brought a bag of chocolate to share with everyone.
Like I said, these were not the most socially normal of people. And it was a little insulting, knowing that I was not just there with them, but one of them.
But it was also oddly freeing. My friends and family are wonderful, but most of them don’t care who played the lead in Patton (George C. Scott) or what class a cuttlefish belongs in (Cephalopoda) or which monarch lost his head alongside Marie Antoinette (Louis XVI). These people, my fellow Jeopardites, cared.
At the end of the day, the producers thanked us and told us that, if they didn’t call us in the next 18 months, then that was it, but they gave us clicky Jeopardy! pens (“You can use them to practice at home along with the show’s contestants!”), and wished us on our way. I flew home, and that was that.
Riaydh! The capital of Saudi Arabia. $#@#. Just got it.