Monday, March 8, 2010

Lost in Jeopardy

Question: "Tony Parker, Hugh Hefner, and Kevin Korpi all have this in common?"

Give up? . . . . . .

Answer: "What is 'We won't be playing for the Spurs anytime soon--nor have we been in Cliff Clavin's kitchen.'"

I DID, however, try out for Jeopardy recently.

Inspired by reading A.J. Jacobs "Know It All," in which he tried out for Jeopardy, interviewed Alex in his home (after mistaking him for a friendly gardener), but never got the call to be on the actual show (he did, however, get onto "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," only to lose before the $32,000 lock-in by mistaking "erythrocyte" as "plasma" and not the obvious (answer that wasn't there) "parasite that feasts on erythroes"), I put my name in the hat to audition for the premiere "how much do you not know" game show (even though the money-to-knowledge ratio is MUCH higher on the Millionaire show . . . who, in their right mind would want to win more money by expending less mental energy on an inferior show??)

For the first time ever, Jeopardy was allowing auditions online rather than forcing a bunch of nerds to show at a physical location to take a paper test, much to the rejoice of socially-awkward brainiacs who otherwise would never get a chance to be on the show because it meant getting dressed, leaving the house, and interacting with other people's shoes. I liked the idea because of the convenience and the prospect of putting my 110 wrds-pr-minutz to dud usse withgoooggle as my frend.

I knew that the test would be designed so that even the most-cunning person--who could employ an army of question-googlers at low cost, all hooked up to separate computers, who never thought about what he would do if he ever made air time, other than say "Hi" to his mom before he went into negative land by the end of Double Jeopardy, only to be absent during the Final Jeopardy--would not be able to obtain an advantage over the lesser-cunning but sufficiently-knowledgeable prospective contestant. What I didn't realize is how nerve-racking the show's remedy would be.

Registering online several weeks before the scheduled date (January 27th, 2010 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time--sure to automatically disqualify anyone west of Georgia unable to do the time conversion), I logged onto the website using my secure password ************************* 30 minutes prior to the test beginning. A countdown clock immediately appeared. I thought only to crack my knuckles and to use the bathroom. Now came the wait, what I thought would be the toughest part.

While I watched the clock slowly click down, I sat in front of the computer pretending to take interest in my kids' day ("Daddy, today we got to hold a rattlesnake at school without wearing gloves!" "Wow, that sounds great. Keep up the great work.") and acquiescing to my wife's every whim ("Honey, should we sell the house and move in with my parents to save money?" "Yeah, sure babe." "Honey, how many pints are there in a gallon?" "Yeah, sure babe." . . . etc). I went through my favorite trivia in my head, mainly sports and presidential. I tried hard to go through my knowledge of European kings and queens, but I kept coming back to . . . "did my kid's say 'rattle' snake??!! Did Cleopatra die of a snake??? well, she's not European . . . supposedly . . . or was it Catherine the Great that died from a snake?? or was it a horse . . . or seahorse . . . "

I had 10 seconds to read each new category, read and process the question from that category, then type in my answer (thank goodness we didn't have to type in each of our answers in the form of a question, but if so required, I had my "Ctrl-V" button ready to automatically insert "Is it " . . . Spelling was not penalized, unless obviously egregiously incorrect (i.e. when I type in 'Montseguer' instead of the correct answer of 'Manhattan,' I shouldn't expect the show to neither offer correct spellings nor infer that I'm from Southwestern Alabama (on the very border of the Eastern/Central time zone).

The countdown reached its finale: 3-2-1

I was in a groove for the first two questions. I even had the hubris to answer question two with 10 seconds to spare, so I clicked the "next question" button rather than using the remaining 10 seconds to relax.

Category: "American Authors" Question: "She scored her first New York Times best-selling book 'The Lovely Bones' in 2002." CRAP! I just mentioned to my wife that I wanted to see the movie. CRAP! Ms. Blair was reading this just the other morning in my tutorials. I even commented to her that I wanted to see the movie. The author's name NEVER came up. Think carefully . . . you saw the cover from halfway across the room . . . what was the name on the bottom of the cover?? CRAP! why could the question not ask "What movie that's currently out in the theater are you most interested in seeing?" CRAP! With my wife and kids hanging over my shoulder, n a long shot, I type in "Danielle Steel" with 5 seconds to go, knowing that typing her tricky name in correctly would earn me partial credit with the Jeopardy judges (it's too bad that they don't accept "Danielle Steel" as an alternate spelling, alias, or pen name of the correct answer "Alice Sebold."

I hoped that the conviction with which I pressed the keyboard keys with what I knew was an incorrect answer, I would still by my family's hero. "Great answer!" said my son, who I think knew deep down it was "Sebold," but who I can't fault for being honest to a monetary and financially-free fault.

Only 47 to go.

And so the next 7 minutes and 50 seconds (I dare not hit "next question" ever again, instead using any extra time until the automatic advance kicked in to beseech my family to just "holler out on the next one if you know for sure!" I figured I'd try to cross the knowledge-gap on the actual show when I actually got there.)

When it was all over, I felt tremendously tense and stressed. Questions that I knew toward the end were made impossible by the ticking clock. Answers like "(Is it ) the lost symbol" to questions like "What is Dan Browns most recent best-seller that takes place in Washington D.C.?" (I had just read the book in two sittings not two months prior) eluded me. If it weren't for my calm, collected, acutely-ill, and selectively dishonest wife answering through her sudden cough, I would have missed an easy one! I feel like I answered at least thirty of the questions with certain accuracy (including spelling). I think I made great, educated guesses on another half of the other 20 ("Sanskrit" is ALWAYS a great answer to an "ancient language" question.) On the remaining ten, I was just typing in bogus answers at the remote chance of impressing my family and being correct.

As the test expired, and I was taken to my exit page, congratulating me for my nerdiness and willingness, I expected to see how I did. Instead, I was "greeted" with the disclaimer about how "scores will NEVER EVER EVER be revealed," and prospective candidates can be notified by phone or email within the next calendar year.

WT . . ?

How anticlimactic was THAT?!?!

And so I walked away from the computer on my 36th birthday to have a slice of birthday cake with my family at an hour way after my kids' bedtime, not knowing if I would turn 37 without a phone call from Alex Trebek.

My family still treated my like I was the smartest one in the family, even though my kids know better than to insult their mother so, perhaps because it was my birthday. I wouldn't trade my family for all the Jeopardy winnings in the world.

Two final notes:
1. My son's been watching recorded episodes of Jeopardy with me every night since. He knows who Alice Sebold is, and he definitely knows who Alex Trebek is. Fortunately, he and I get a chance to meet Mr. Trebek in person on April 12th, 2010 at Texas State University. I can only imagine the things my son will say to the "polite gardener."

2. A.J. Jacobs, the insightful, humorous, and great author (yes, great in the fantastic P.J. O'Rourke sense) who inspired me to finally try out (and whose "Year of Living Biblically" I'm currently reading and who's "Guinea Pig Diaries" sits on my desk to be read next) has an insatiable proclivity to "Google his own name," despite it being against the bible's teachings of vanity. I you, A.J., come across this blog, I invite you to email me at, subject line "The REAL A.J. Jacobs" (I get emails from those claiming to be you quite frequently). I've got some ideas to share with you, among them, Descartes penchant for cross-eyed women.


lc said...

I can't wait to hear when you will be on the show!! There cannot be anyone smarter than you (that took the on-line test).
Make sure you tell us so we can set our DVR.

bob s said...

I can't believe they won't tell you how you did! What a let down after prepping for it. I agree with Lauren though so let us know when you make your TV debut.

kwkorpi said...

I'm hoping to get the call. It's passing the next phase, the person-to-person interview, where they decide if I have enough personality to be on TV, I'm worried about! What if I come across as being too weird, or if it becomes known that I'm a math teacher!!

All I have to do to impress them is that I know Lauren and Bob, two personality GIANTS!

LC said...

Just be yourself. You are very impressive!!!

When are they supposed to do call backs?