Andy Bockelman: The anxious moments of my ‘Jeopardy’ tryout
June 15, 2011
What is a dream?
For some people that may be a question, but for me it's the answer, or at least the way it has to be phrased.
Allow me to elaborate. For as long as I can remember, I have had a knack for retaining trivia tidbits, layer upon layer of informational items that are useful to some depending on how just how much you need to know about a given subject.
Growing up, much of my knowledge wasn't something that was likely to turn a profit, as I had yet to see a booth at career day for people who specialized in lyrics to "Weird Al" Yankovic songs, vintage Nintendo games or "Seinfeld" catchphrases. But, once I hit my sophomore year at Moffat County High School, one thing led to another, yadda-yadda-yadda, and then I was part of the school's Knowledge Bowl team.
As part of the team, eventually serving as captain in my senior year, I thought I had hit my peak in the question-and-answer world when my fellow eggheads and I finally qualified for the state tournament in 2004 only to be quickly shot down in a blaze of glory, to borrow a phrase from Jon Bon Jovi.
Most serendipitously, I was proved wrong last month when a fateful email entered my inbox. I learned that I had qualified for an official audition for "Jeopardy!"
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Yes, that "Jeopardy!"
It all began in February, when I logged onto the show's website for the annual online test, the yearly ritual to prove whose IQ measures up in the eyes of Sony Pictures Television. Having taken the adult version of the quiz every year since it was first offered in digital form, I was ready for a grueling trek lasting 50 questions guaranteed to make me feel like a nitwit.
Truth be told, after this engagement, I didn't have the highest hopes to move on to the next level of the tryout process, constantly questioning my responses for the rest of the week.
Was it Monet, Manet or another artist entirely?
Was Jordan the correct country beginning with "J" or was I even in the right part of the globe when I typed that answer?
Why haven't I read more works by Charles Dickens so that I could remember which characters are from "Oliver Twist," which are from "David Copperfield" and which are from "Great Expectations?"
But, as life wore on, I forgot that such an assault on my smarts had ever taken place, content to getting back into the swing of things watching the show and its "Wheel of Fortune" follow-up day after day and never daring to dream that I would ever stand at one of those neon podiums.
I quickly settled into the mind frame that maybe, if I applied myself, Pat Sajak and Vanna White would take pity on me someday since Alex Trebek must have deemed me unfit.
But, the chance to spin the wheel will have to wait, as the auspicious email proves something that Yogi Berra and game show fans alike have known for years: It ain't over till the theme music hits its last two drum beats.
Actually, this was the second time I had qualified for an audition, having nabbed a slot for "College Jeopardy!" in 2006. You'd think that a show for a younger crowd would have been easier to nail down an appearance.
And, you'd think wrong.
Besides having a limited number of contestant openings, the college version of the show featured applicants who made me look as exciting and outgoing as a snail. Mining the recesses of my brain — the great glob of mostly empty gray matter that unintentionally learned about Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the Coriolis effect from too many reruns of "The Simpsons" — for ways to look more charismatic turned completely futile.
Maybe I was just boring, maybe I just thought I could coast on my trivia talent alone, I don't know. It probably also didn't help that unlike other kids at the audition, I was without a personal plane to take me to and from Los Angeles.
Not that I'm bitter or anything.
But, bad experiences aren't nearly as bad if you learn something from them. Instead of heading for the West Coast this time, I chose to audition Saturday in Kansas City, since Denver wasn't one of the options. The change of location paid off immediately as I won the door prize for being the person who had traveled the farthest distance to attend.
Yessiree, you're looking at the proud owner of video game version of "Jeopardy!" on the Nintendo Wii.
If only I didn't own an Xbox 360… Oh, well. At least I still have the souvenir pen.
The latest audition started much the same way my last one was, except this time I appeared to be the youngest one in the room — once the adults were separated from the entrants of the teen tournament, that is.
And, despite being the baby of the group, I uncharacteristically felt heads above the rest. Normally, I'm not exactly brimming with self-confidence, but something was working that day in the Shawnee Mission Room at Kansas City's Westin Crown Center. Maybe it was the rare good night's sleep I had just experienced, maybe it was having gone through the whole process before, or maybe it was the new tie, shirt and trousers my brother-in-law had handpicked for me, the poster child for fashion incompetence.
I like to think it was all these things with the clincher being the few pieces of the wardrobe that I had chosen myself, none of which were immediately visible: my socks, my Justice League T-shirt and my lucky pair of underwear.
I know what you're thinking about that last list item, but in all honesty, those boxers have been present at some of the luckiest days of my recent life, helping me win more than $400 in lottery scratch tickets and ace more exams than I deserved to during my days in college.
My final grade in meteorology is proof enough of what happens when I don't wear those powerful undergarments.
With superstition on my side, I was more than ready to take on the audition anew, consisting of a written test, a mock game of "Jeopardy!" complete with buzzers and a person-by-person interview.
I powered through the written test with gusto and fought valiantly until my thumb was about to fall off during the trial game, but much as I'd like to brag about my prowess in both formats, alas, I cannot. Organizers requested that all questions and categories within the audition remain confidential so that anybody else who tries out has no advantage.
That's right. You'll get no tips or clues here, you pack of cheaters, so just move along.
It was the interview portion that I was dreading. It was my downfall five years ago and seemed just as likely to be my Achilles heel this time around too.
Nothing about me has ever really screamed "This guy should be on TV!" other than a few quirks, like my exhaustively catalogued collection of DVDs and VHS tapes or my impression of John Ratzenberger. Nonetheless, for whatever reason, I had self-assuredness to spare as the panel asked me to chat up myself.
And, what else could I talk about but my line of work?
You wouldn't think a group of people who work in California would be impressed by a small-town boy discussing his thoughts on the latest in summer flicks, but perhaps I'm more articulate than I give myself credit for because somehow I came off just as intelligent as anyone in that room.
And that includes the man sitting next to me who was on his third audition and the guy whose claim to fame was writing an entire science fiction novel in a month.
Your first question is probably the same as everyone in my family: When will you be on the show? At this point, I know as much as you do.
As part of the "Jeopardy!" audition, representatives from the show make a point of telling all the hopefuls that the next stage, depending on how well their tryout was, is for them to be entered into a contestant pool for the next 18 months. The first wave of contestants, of which they cycle through about 400 during the year, will be contacted in July, with the first episodes of the show's new season taping in August.
So, as I've told everyone from my best friends to my grandmother, not only will I be going crazy for the next month, but I'll always have something in the back of my mind until the end of 2012.
Still, I have much more of a zen feel than I did the last time I went through all this rigmarole. I certainly don't want to have my shot at joining the "Jeopardy!" greats like Ken Jennings and Watson the computer any less, but less seems to hinge on it at this point in my life.
Now that I'm older and a little bit wiser, appreciating the journey leading up to and following an opportunity like this is so much easier than it was five years ago when rejection felt like a switchblade to the gut. The world didn't explode the first time I failed and it likely won't this time, unless the Mayan calendar is accurate and the two incidents just happen to go hand in hand.
After my college audition, I refused to think of anything else for months and promptly sulked when I realized the call to fly back to California wasn't coming. For now, I'm planning to take all of this potential unease in stride, hoping for the best and preparing for the best and being ready for the worst, something I practiced within minutes of walking out of the audition room to stroll around the Crown Center — which, if you haven't been, seems to be KC's answer to the Mall of America — getting a caricature of myself drawn before I headed out on the road.
Alright, I requested that the artist draw me as a game show contestant, but that doesn't mean it's the only thing on my mind.
It's just a little thing called wishful thinking.
Sorry, I meant to say, "What is wishful thinking?"