Before we get to any Jeopardy audition survival strategies…Godfrey Daniels! It’s me with Alex Trebek. (I have decided that Godfrey Daniels is my code with Alex for “As you wish.” But that’s pretty much in my head.)
If you watched my eps, October 23-27, you know what happened. If you’d like to watch now, here are the links (and I’ll be on the lookout for higher quality links, and if you know any, please let me know where they are):
And if you want to know a little more about me, this link will take you to my bio, including some recent writing clips.
For the upcoming posts, please know my survival strategies are just that. Obviously, I’m not the person to tap for buzzer timing or how to win oceans of money. Heck, I think Austin Roberts knocked out more in one daily double than I did in my entire run.
I just want to help you Calm the Hell Down.
Potential Jeopardy contestant, you know who you are. You have that weird little thing in your head that remembers lots and lots of facts. There are many people who designate this as “useless information,” and that is your secret. You know it’s not useless. You learned it and have hung onto it because information fascinates you.
Happy to be the nerd tribe with you, my friend.
Jeopardy Audition Survival Strategies: The Test
The audition process is pretty straightforward and well-documented. First time, I felt like I aced the online test, and I heard back very soon after I took it.
Second time….oh dear. Fast forward 2 years ahead. We were in Medellen, Colombia and I ALMOST FORGOT IT WAS MY DATE TO TAKE THE TEST because, you know, Medellen! It’s a cool place. I think I remembered maybe…3 minutes?…before? So I was not in ideal Jeopardy-test-taking mode. I finished and said to Steve, well, that was horrendous.
And I didn’t hear from Jeopardy until 5 months later, which was June, and at that point I couldn’t get to the audition in Detroit. So I said, any way you could keep me posted on other auditions? And they did, and in October 2016, they slotted me in to an audition in New York, which was super awesome because I love New York and I got to go to the ballet and walk around the city, which are 2 of my favorite things to do.
Jeopardy Audition Survival Strategies: The Process
As for the audition itself, you take another written test. But first you meet MAGGIE. Maggie is the most awesome force of nature to ever not be documented by the national Weather Service. As the producer on the show who finds contestants, she immediately revs you up with hilarious patter and energy like a quintuple shot of espresso. My face hurts after a day with Maggie. She is a total crack-up.
Maggie’s kinder, gentler twin is Laurie; she’s the yin to Maggie’s yang. If you were in a jungle, Laurie would be making sure you were well-hydrated as Maggie would be putting a machete in your hand so you can chop shit down while she yells “Banzai!” (BTW, I of course can’t guarantee that you’ll meet Maggie and Laurie at the audition, but I hope that you do, because they are two big keys to the crazy and wonderful experience that is being on the show.) There’s also a chill camera guy, and honestly the whole audition is geared to making you comfortable in what is admittedly a nervy process.
Following the written test, you get your turn actually playing the game with two other contestants on a smaller board; I think it has 3 categories but maybe more, and 3 questions. You have a real buzzer, not just a pen. You play, you do an interview on camera….and then you wait.
Jeopardy Audition Survival Strategies: Aftermath
OK, so I had an excellent first audition. I aced the basketball questions, which is the only sport I know. (That audition’s written test had some question about Super Bowl teams and I wrote “The Troglodytes.” I know Peyton Manning is, like, a guy, but I seriously do not understand anything about football, baseball, etc. Wait, I am all over figure skating, but that’s NEVER a category.) I left, positive I was going to be on the show THE VERY NEXT WEEK.
I started studying in earnest when I walked out the door, and that lasted about 3 months. You know, trying to memorize a million facts about Nobel prizes and the chemical table. (Neither came up in any of my shows, btw.)
And I waited…and waited…and waited. Radio silence. Well, phone and email silence, to be precise.
You’re told that you’ll be on file up to 18 months. A year passed. No 2015 audition in Detroit. So I thought, OK, maybe in the next six months. And I chilled out and put thoughts of the show WAY on a back burner (though I didn’t take them off the stove).
Jeopardy Audition Survival Strategies: Reboot
Two years later, I thought, what the hell, and had the Medellen experience. The following October at the audition, one woman told me it was her 6th! (I later saw her on the show.) Another guy said, “Yeah, they see about a thousand people and they only take 300.” And these numbers are completely unofficial and may not even be anywhere near the truth. But if they’re even kind of true and you do some math—well, heck. You could do awesome and STiLL not get on with those odds.
In its casting, the Jeopardy producers are careful to cover the waterfront. The questions cover a big old range, so you get freaking dragons, which is totally a young whippersnapper like Erica Irving’s wheelhouse, and you get robots on which Rod Swain KILLED, and then you get plays that no one but an old duffer like me has ever heard of. I venture that no one but a theater major would EVER know “Man and Superman.”
So if a lot of post-50 folks audition for a particular season, a post-50 such as moi has an even slimmer chance. I actually love that Jeopardy keeps the decades mixed like this. I didn’t love it at the time, because I really wanted to be on the show, and I thought my audition had gone great.
Well, it had. There just was no room at the inn.
It worked out fine.
Moral: Go back.
Jeopardy Audition Survival Strategies: Post-Audition, Pre-Call
Look, you have NO IDEA if you’re gonna get called. Some folks in my group had auditioned just a few months prior, and I of course had been waiting since June of 2014. And you’d think, in that time, I would have reviewed that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a Protestant and not, as I told myself in those ghastly moments trying to come up with an answer, a Catholic. Because Henry VIII was, like, a thing. Stupid history.
What I WISH I had done post-audition is happen on this very excellent strategy recommended by Jeopardy champ Kari Coryat: to track how I did for every show. Kari’s post probably helped me more than anything else I found online. I’ll be developing a handy sheet for you should you desire it, and you won’t even have to sign up for my mailing list to get it (But if you cook it all, I’d love it if you sign up for my mailing list here.) Here ya go.
The idea is you want to average 24K a night, and you can include your daily doubles. Definitely take a shot at them. But seriously, unless you’re Jeopardy Zeus like Austin (and yes, you’re out there), I recommend you be careful. One thing the sheet helped me see was that no matter how well I might know a category, there could be a daily double I didn’t know. I’ve seen it with opera and ballet, 2 categories I know REALLY well. I blanked on the superb Margo Martindale’s last name and on who wrote Seven Guitars (August Wilson) and I’m a theater major.
But tracking also helped me see that I was surprisingly good at science (hello, Linnaeus), and that I needed to get my American history game on BIG TIME.
Jeopardy Audition Survival Strategies: Learn. Don’t Study.
The truly great thing about not being chosen: increased learning time. Everything I knew up there, I knew from reading or living and NOT from cramming. “Studying for Jeopardy” didn’t help me win. Living my life, which includes a ton of reading, did. That included Reza Aslan’s Zealot, a superb book that introduced me to a superb writer. I read it because the book fascinated me; I would be delighted to have read it under any circumstances. Mr. Aslan just happened to end up being on a Jeopardy board when I needed him. Dude, I totally want to buy you a drink. I mean, I wanted to anyway, but now I can afford more than the bar brand.
Look, this is the Nerd Olympics. But unlike the regular Olympics, you don’t get to go back in four years. You get one shot, and you have a one in three chance of winning. The longer you prep, the longer the info can cook into your head, and that’s the stuff that makes it out of your mouth when you’re looking at giant freaking purple screen and America Is Watching. I’m not gonna say anything lame like “no pressure” because it’s like being in a damn instant pot up there.
So take time to cook. Whoa, I just realized I literally did that with this site. Clever!
That’s what I got for Jeopardy audition survival strategies. Next post, playtime! And not an obscure play like Man and Superman, which is like 4 hours long and honestly kind of an annoying play that we all had to read back in theater history at the University of Utah. Go, Dr. Scharine!