I had just taken a generous bite of glazed doughnut when I was called up onto the Jeopardy! stage.
Along with 14 other scheduled contestants, I was in the studio green room anxiously awaiting my turn to compete in one of five episodes to be filmed that day. I had been too nervous to eat much breakfast at the hotel, and it caught up with me at that moment. I grabbed a doughnut, bit down and almost immediately heard my name called.
I was up first.
If you are a person with any knowledge of odd and obscure facts, it is inevitable that you will, at some point, consider whether you could hack it as a contestant on Jeopardy! For years, that was me.
So last February, for the fourth or fifth time, I took the online qualifying test for the show. Two months later I got an e-mail inviting me to come to Boston and audition for the show.
My instincts said I did well, but the thing about trying out for Jeopardy! is this: Once you audition, you are placed in the contestant pool for 18 months. You only find out whether you have made the cut when you get called to appear on the show (or when the 18 months expires without any such call).
My call came in August, about three months after my audition. I was to head to Los Angeles for a taping in mid-September.
That timeline meant I had just a month to brush up on the Bible (who was Isaac married to again?), learn some rudimentary facts about opera (what’s the difference between Puccini and Rossini?), and memorize the world capitals (fun fact: the capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou).
I reviewed online Jeopardy! archives, scrutinized international maps, and read the SparkNotes summaries of dozens of famous plays. One day, I even attempted to build my focus and stamina by donning my least comfortable pair of high heels and standing for hours as a helpful friend tossed out questions, scolding me when I tried to sit.
My makeshift buzzer: the promotional Jeopardy! click pen I got at my audition.
Once we got to L.A., my husband and I stayed in the hotel recommended by the Jeopardy! staff. Assuming that the other contestants — my rivals — would do the same, we spent both dinner and breakfast scanning the lobby and dining room for likely characters: people with study materials; few, if any, companions; and the anxious demeanor of someone about to have her intelligence tested on national television.
The next morning, I took the shuttle from the hotel along with most of my fellow contestants. Though we were about to compete, with thousands of dollars on the line, everyone was eager to compare notes (or perhaps just assess the enemy): When did you get your call? How many times did you try out? How did you study?
When we arrived at Sony Studios, we were steered into the Jeopardy! green room and handed piles of paperwork to complete. We each spent a few minutes in make-up, then headed to the stage.
Each of us recorded a greeting aimed at our hometown. I stumbled over my words several times before getting a usable take; I hoped it wasn’t a bad omen.
After some practice finding our rhythm on the buzzers we were ushered back to the green room.
And that’s when I picked up the doughnut.
The next 30 minutes are a blur. My two competitors and I filed into the studio. I caught sight of my husband and a friend in the audience and tried to give a small wave, but got no response (I later learned that contestants’ guests had been sternly warned not to communicate with us in any fashion.)
Before I knew it, I was onstage, poised at a podium, buzzer in hand. Moments later, lights swept across the stage and host Alex Trebek appeared as a deep voice intoned the familiar opening words of the show: “This … is … Jeopardy!”
At that moment, it finally sunk in. Oh my (expletive deleted) god. I’m on Jeopardy!
The questions seemed to fly faster than they ever do when I am watching at home. Each episode lasts 22 minutes, but I would have believed it was just 10. For some stretches, I struggled to keep up; other times, I found my groove and nothing seemed easier than calling out categories and buzzing in at the perfect moment. But before I knew it, the other contestants and I were standing in the middle of the stage, as the credits rolled, chatting with Trebek, who made small talk and cracked a couple of jokes about the game.
For legal reasons, I can divulge no further details of the game itself, nor whether my run on the show lasted more than those first 22 minutes.
But the taping did end, and I flew back to real life the next day. Since returning, I have been frequently asked to describe the experience.
My answer (in the form of a question, of course): What is incredibly fun?
This story originally appeared in the Cape Cod Times on December 28, 2012.