"Math and science were her favorite subjects in seventh grade. We're guessing they both come in handy when you're a physics major. Now a senior at MIT, meet..."
2008 Kids Week Reunion winner: $25,000.
1999 Back-to-School Week player (1999-09-09).
Name pronounced like "AN-jah-lee TRIH-puh-thee".
It always comes as a surprise. And, well, it always comes via FedEx. Yes it's true--FedEx has more to do with Jeopardy! than just being the incorrect response that kept Ken Jennings from winning 75 consecutive shows.
Hi! My name is Anjali, and I am currently a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Both nine years ago and several months ago, I was shocked to receive FedEx mailings informing me that I would be appearing on "America's Favorite Quiz Show."
To get a proper understanding of my whole Jeopardy! experience, let's go back to the fall of 1998. Pokemon had just been released in the States, the Yankees were on their way to sweeping the World Series in four games, and I was in sixth grade. On the suggestion of a family friend, my parents and I spent an afternoon taking a test for Kid-Parent Jeopardy!, as it was then advertised. Being from Southern California, the test was held on the actual Jeopardy! set. Surrounded by almost a hundred other people, I took the test, a 50 question trivia bonanza covering everything from 'Who sang the theme song to Dawson's Creek?' to a question whose answer was Yasser Arafat. I remember those questions only because I was certain I had gotten them wrong. After my test and my parents' test (they were similarly subjected to a test, but at a different level), we all reconvened in the studio to hear the list of names of people who had passed. Overall, about a dozen kids and their parents passed. Somewhere amongst the names, I heard my own. So now it was time for a mock game, replete with small buzzers, and an interview. I will say that it was a little disheartening to play with small buzzers when the Jeopardy podiums were just a few feet away. Nevertheless, the mock game went off uneventfully and my interview entailed something to the extent "So you're an honors student?" "Yes, I am." All of us were then thanked for our time and told we would be hearing from them in a few months if chosen for the show. And that was the end of that.
Months came and went unnoticed. The only reminder of the show was the navy blue Jeopardy! pen, given out at the test, sitting in the pencil jar on my desk. One day, even in May, my father and I were talking about how relieved he was not to have received a call for the show. While certainly exciting, being on the show might have had its fair share of embarrassment too.
Then one day in June, I was surprised to find out my sixth grade class would be spending that very day at Disneyland (a happy surprise cooked up by our teachers and parents). Well one surprise per day is usually enough for me. Apparently, not that day. When I arrived home from the trip, sometime nearing midnight, my parents handed me an envelope (you can guess the carrier) and said it was for me. Who would send me a big important-looking envelope? By now, you know the answer. It was from Jeopardy! I would be on the show. Just me, no parents. We would tape in about a month, July 20, 1999. Shock and awe ensued.
A favorite question people like to ask is 'Did you study for Jeopardy!? And if so, how?' Well, with a month of preparation, there isn't a lot of time. Also, given that I was notified about the show during the summer, summer activities themselves have been more interesting than sitting around trying to read the minds of Jeopardy! writers. That being said, I did find myself perusing almanacs a little more frequently than usual. So yes I did study a little for Jeopardy! In retrospect do I think I should have studied more, no I don't. For Jeopardy!, there are so many other factors besides pure knowledge. There's wagering, there's buzzer skills, and the list goes on.
July 20, 1999 - the thirtieth anniversary of mankind landing on the moon, or the day I first taped Jeopardy! Honestly, I don't remember many details about the day, so this account may be a little patchy. On a shuttle bus leaving the Beverly Hilton, I came to meet the 15 other participants (a total of 15 players + 1 alternate). After getting to know each other and exchanging anecdotes, we arrived at the studio ready to tape. At the studio, we all played a mock game of Jeopardy!, this time with the real buzzers and podiums. Buzzing in on Jeopardy! can be a real art, since you can't ring in until after Alex Trebek finishes reading the question. If you buzz in early, you will be locked out for something like a tenth of a second, an infinity by Jeopardy! standards. So practicing in the mock game was valuable. I did fine in the mock game, and was quickly rotated out for another contestant. Then there was the waiting.
While our morning included make-up and some paperwork, it mainly comprised of waiting for our turn on the show. All five shows get taped in one day, so a full day is spent at the studio. I didn't play until the second to last game of the week, leading to the entertaining air date of 09/09/99. I came out on stage, stood on a pedestal so that I would appear as tall as the other contestants, and got ready to play. Until then, I had never met Alex Trebek, save for a photo opportunity. Aside from my taping, I have never had any more interaction with him than that. So no, I don't know what Alex is really like. Anyhow, the game got under way. The questions were quite easy, but I kept getting beat to the buzzer by Max from Florida. This resulted in my being third after Jeopardy! and thus picking first in Double Jeopardy!, arguably one of the worst feelings in the world. Double Jeopardy! went better, with my finishing in second overall. I was able to find a Daily Double just before Final Jeopardy! in a category that was made for me, EAT YOUR VEGGIES (I'm vegetarian). Nonetheless, even though I got the question right, I didn't wager much, so I stayed in second going into Final Jeopardy!
The category for Final Jeopardy! was HISTORICAL DATES. At the commercial break, the producers came and told us that we would have to supply a month, day, and year for the clue. This instantly instilled fear into my heart, seeing as in school they seldom taught us historical years if any. I placed my bet, ran to the bathroom, and came back for the clue. I received the following: It is reported that on this day King George III wrote in his diary, "Nothing of importance happened today." I racked my brain to try and remember the year of the French revolution, since I could only think of Bastille day as a European day that might have concerned a British king. Of course, July 14 wasn't correct. And I didn't write that down. Unfortunately, all I wrote was "What was ?". Max in first had written "What is ?", and Joel in third had bet it all on "What was July 4, 1776?", the correct answer. The way the chips fell was that Joel won, Max came in second, and I came in third. At the end of the week Joel had also had the highest score, so he received a $5,000 bonus. Not bad, I'd say. While there was an initial surge of disappointment, it mostly went away. After all, a computer, trip to Florida, and various promotional prizes weren't too shabby.
So that's the story of my first experience on Jeopardy! There are more details I could describe, but really you've heard the highlights.
Kids Week Reunion
Nine years can't change the surprise of receiving "the letter" from Jeopardy! When staff from the show called me in March asking how I was, I didn't think there was any chance that I would appear on the show again. As months passed, the call seemed to be just a passing event. Then one day in early July, a letter came for me. I was going to be on Jeopardy! again.
Once you've been a contestant on Jeopardy!, you can only come back on the show if you're invited to do so. Seeing as my original Jeopardy! appearance wasn't Tournament of Champions worthy and Jeopardy! has only ever had one reunion show before, coming back on the show never seemed like a reality to me. Yet, there I was, reading a letter informing me that I would be part of a Kids Week Reunion, featuring others from the 1999 and 2000 Kids Weeks.
With a month to go before the taping, I tried to get ready for the show. In so doing, I realized that the world has changed a lot in the last nine years. Not only has Alex Trebek shaved his mustache, but the internet has become a staple in our lives. The first time I studied for Jeopardy!, I browsed almanacs and books full of lists. That I knew July 20, 1999 was the thirtieth anniversary of a man on the moon was just coincidence. This time, though, I could just search Google and Wikipedia to find out interesting things that happened on the tape and air dates of the show. (Note, nothing quite as notable as the moon landing happened on either date). With the internet and some high school outlines at my side, I tried to reacquaint myself with European history, the Presidents, and all manner of similar things. Yet, as I mentioned last time, this sort of Jeopardy! preparation is not all that useful. To quote one of the Jeopardy! staff, the show is based on "life experience", not textbook knowledge. As such, I took the opportunity to "study" by taking trips to the art museum and mall, Harvard Square and Newbury Street. To practice hand-eye coordination, ever important for buzzing in on the show, I clicked a ballpoint pen at my desk and played Mario Kart with the freshmen on my hall. All of this came to an end a few days before the tape date, when I was flown out to California.
By 7:30 AM on August 12, 2008, all of us contestants were gathered in the hotel lobby. We were met by the energetic Maggie Speak and Corina Nusu, from the Jeopardy! team. If you read any amount of Jeopardy! literature, you'll find the names of Maggie and countless other Jeopardy! folks. The reason for this is simple. All of them are so enthusiastic and hospitable that they make being on Jeopardy! more stress-free and fun than you'd think possible. If you ever meet them, you'll see what I mean.
From the hotel lobby, we hopped on a shuttle to the studio. On the ride over, Maggie regaled us with the rules of the game and anecdotes from her N years with the show (don't worry, N is small). To answer the question of the lengths to which they would go to check alternate answers, she mentioned the one time when judges called up the writer of the Toys R Us jingle to check the lyrics. Although Maggie did a great job of maintaining laughter and good spirits in the shuttle, I couldn't help but notice my palms getting a bit moist. As we drove past Project Angel Food, a place where I used to volunteer, I regained my calm. I remembered that I was here to have fun, and this was just a game. There are plenty of things to stress about in life; Jeopardy! is not one of them.
We arrived at the Sony lot a little after 8 AM. On our way to the Jeopardy! sound stage, we passed by the filming of the Da Vinci Code prequel, Angels and Demons. Much to our chagrin, neither Tom Hanks nor Ron Howard was in sight. Back inside the Jeopardy! sound stage, we caught a small glimpse of the set before being guided into the green room. Here we were instructed to fill out a slew of forms and waited to have our makeup done. After makeup, there were interviews to be done on stage and, later, a rehearsal game. Taping of the actual show didn't begin until almost noon. As you can probably guess, the interviews and rehearsal game were supplemented by a fair amount of waiting. Gathered around a table in the green room, we got to reacquaint ourselves with one another. The majority of our time was spent telling jokes and doing comedic skits. By the end of the day, we even had a few inside jokes. (Water!)
The interviews happened on an individual basis and the rehearsal game involved sets of three of us. Standing on the set and talking to many of the same people as before, including set manager John Lauderdale, hit me with a wave of deja vu. This feeling didn't make the experience any less exciting, though. I was particularly happy to have my interview at Alex's podium, something I had never seen before. In case you were curious, he has a paper copy of the show (with questions and answers) at his podium and a small screen where the current clue is displayed. Following a few publicity shots, we had our rehearsal game. It took me some time to get used to the buzzers. Before I could feel anything approaching mastery on the buzzers, I was switched out for another player. Shortly thereafter, the rehearsal ended, the audience came in, and we took our seats in the audience.
Since each game in the week of shows was independent of the others, we were allowed to watch all the shows with the audience. The first time we were on Jeopardy!, the high scorer of the week was awarded an extra $5000. Thus the show's staff sequestered us before our appearance on the show so that we wouldn't know how much was needed to earn the high scoring bonus. Getting to watch all the shows this time was a pleasant change. As with the previous time, we didn't know when we would be on the show until just minutes before that episode taped. This time around, I was part of the third show recorded.
While I could tell you all about the show I was on, it's probably best to watch it yourself. After all, primary sources are always the best. Hopefully you'll enjoy the electric guitar infused theme song, the clips of us nine years ago, and the game itself. I certainly enjoyed the experience of coming back, working with the staff, and meeting with the other contestants. It was quite a ride. Before I go, I wanted to thank you for reading this far and reliving the experience with me. So thanks, and if Jeopardy! is ever in your future, good luck!