Season 25 2-time champion: $49,799 + $1,000.
Andy Davis - A Chyron Operator
South Boston, Massachusetts
May 28, 2009
At least once a day, I see someone I haven’t talked to since I returned from L.A. to be on Jeopardy! They always ask how it was, how I did, what was Alex Trebek like? I always say, it was good, I did well (about as much as I can legally tell them,) and that Alex Trebek was super-nice and really seems to be the smartest man in a room full of really smart people.
While all this is true, the whole situation was so surreal, so far outside the normal day-to-day of my life, that if my girlfriend hadn’t been there with me, there’s a good possibility I would just think that the whole thing was either a dream or hallucination.
Sometime last year in late winter/early spring as the snow began to melt, before opening day at Fenway Park signaled the true arrival of spring in Boston, you never would have noticed me. Maybe you came in to my restaurant, maybe I even made you a drink.
At first waiting/bartending was something to pay the bills while I was fresh out of college, and living in a new city. But eventually I was coasting through my mid-20s, waiting tables and tending bar, living off tips, waiting for… I don’t know what. I had been out of college for nearly four years. I knew that spring, that something had to change.
Right about the time I actually dusted off my resume, and started “real job” hunting, that new-found ambition must have led me to jeopardy.com.
Portrait Of A Jeopardy! Contestant As A Child
I grew up in an intellectual household. My mother is a librarian, my father, an office machine technician and musician. My childhood was somewhat unorthodox. I was born into a pseudo-hippie commune. My first house was a log cabin in the woods with no running water or electricity. A few years later, we had electricity, and a TV(!), but the only things we were allowed to watch were the Red Sox, Celtics, Sesame Street, or Jeopardy!
Our family dinners always managed to turn into a debate of some type. Politics, geography, music, movies, spelling. More often than not, an almanac, atlas, dictionary, or encyclopedia would be opened on the table before the potatoes got cold. That love of trivia always stuck with me.
15 Years Later
In 2000, I met a girl on vacation in Montreal. She was every bit the geek that I was (in a good way). We could talk for hours about everything from The Simpsons to Egyptian archaeology. After 4 years of long-distance dating, we got our first apartment together in South Boston. It was here that I first realized that my trivial brain could be lucrative. Our neighborhood pub, “The Junction” does trivia on Tuesday nights. She and I started playing regularly, doing well. Nearly every week we would be among the top 3 teams. One night, for 1st place, we won a $50 dollar gift certificate and a case of Sam Adams Light. I figured that was the pinnacle of my trivia career. 50 bucks and free beer! Could it get any better?!! Yes. But at the time, I had no ambition greater than this.
The First Email
By fate, luck, or something else, the night I surfed over to the Jeopardy! website, they happened to be offering a 50 question online test only a few hours later. I took the test, felt like I did pretty well, and then sort of forgot about it. Within days or weeks, my quest for a new job was fulfilled (sort of). I managed to get a minimum wage, part time job, working as a production assistant at a Boston TV station. It meant working 60 hour weeks between bartending and at the station. But for the first time in years, I felt like I was headed in the right direction. My foot was in the door, and I was confident in my abilities to parlay the new job into something better.
My first or second week at Channel 7, I got an email inviting me to an audition for Jeopardy! in early May at the Sheraton in Boston. When I originally took the test, I agreed that I would be willing to travel to NYC for a tryout. The fact that this would be 10 minutes from my house really took any sort of pressure off of me. I studied a few things, but for the most part, I went into it with a relaxed attitude. It only cost me a $2.00 subway ride to get there, so its not like I had anything to lose.
There were maybe 20 people in the room with me, and it was obvious that everyone there was smart enough to be on the TV show. It was a room full of Harvard grads, college professors, and all sorts of successful types. I felt a little out of place. I was splitting my time between bartending, and getting $8/hr to make Starbucks runs for anchors and producers at the TV station.
In college, I performed in an improv comedy troupe, so I figured if I wasn’t as smart as these people, I would use my personality and ease in front of a crowd to my advantage.
We took a 50 question written test. I thought I did pretty well. We then played a few mock games with real Jeopardy! buzzers(!). I walked out of there feeling pretty good. I didn’t totally embarrass myself in front of a group of strangers, and I got a free pen!
My audition had been in May of ’08. That summer, without fail, at least once a week, somebody from one of my jobs would ask if I had heard from Jeopardy! yet. I would reply with a "quiet nothing yet."
As summer gave way to fall, and eventually to winter, the questions eventually stopped. Truthfully, I stopped thinking about it. I got a promotion at the TV station and was now making graphics for the news casts instead of being a lackey. The audition seemed like it had been years ago, my only reminder was the silver Jeopardy! pen that sat in a cup on my computer desk. The people in my new office didn’t even know that I had tried out.
In late January of ’09, I had just returned from a long-awaited and much-needed vacation to Puerto Rico. It was my first week back at work, and everyone was jealous of my tan, since it had been either snowing and/or below zero in Boston the whole time I was away.
I was just about finished doing the Thursday 5 P.M. newscast when my cell phone rang. I saw it was a (310) area code: I knew that was Los Angeles. I had really almost forgotten completely about Jeopardy! I figured that since ’08 had given way to ’09, they must have finished filming for the season already.
But somehow when I saw that 310 area code, I knew something. “I think this might be Jeopardy!” I said, as I answered the phone. The four other people in my office thought I was joking. I wasn’t. It was.
The next thing I knew, I had three and a half weeks to get to L.A. and be on national television.
The first person I called was my girlfriend. My mind was racing, and I tried very hard to sound calm and collected on the phone. I may have tried a little too hard, because by the tone of my voice, she thought I was calling to say that someone had died. I definitely sounded more chipper when I called my parents next, and then my little sister. By the next day, everyone knew. I was getting congratulatory text messages from friends I hadn’t told, and calls from aunts and uncles I only see at Christmas.
The Freak Out
Once everyone knew, it seemed like everyone I had ever met would be watching once my show aired. This self-consciousness caused me to have a major crisis of confidence. About 2 weeks before I left, I was convinced I had made a huge mistake.
What if I freeze up?
What if I don’t know any answers?
What if I’m not fast enough on the button?
What if I say something stupid and end up on “The Soup”
What if I accidentally insult Alex Trebek, and he pounces on me like a steel cage fighter?
(hey, I didn’t say they were all plausible….just possibilities.)
My girlfriend and my mother helped to talk me down off of the ledge. Independent of one another, they both used the same two arguments:
1.) Hey, you made it this far. That’s a hell of a lot better than most people in the world do. That on its own is something to be proud of.
2.) Other than Ken Jennings, can you really remember by face or name, anyone you ever saw on Jeopardy!? No matter what happens, six months down the road, you’ll be just another guy.
This advice really helped me. For the last two weeks before I left, I got my confidence back. I wasn’t freaking out about studying. I just kind of lived my life as I normally would, with a few exceptions:
A.) My girlfriend made me some capital city flash cards.
B.) I would read a World Almanac for about an hour before bed each night.
C.) I watched one or 2 Jeopardy episodes each day on my TIVO and try to play along using my pen as the “signaling device.”
D.) I played Guitar Hero on my PlayStation to improve my hand-eye coordination, hoping it would help me ring in faster.
At this point, I figured, “I either know it, or I don’t,” so there wasn’t much use in trying to learn everything that I know nothing about.
Monday, February 23rd, I left Boston for three nights in L.A. My “tape dates” were 2/24 and 2/25, and they film 5 shows per day. We arrived at about noon on Monday, and spent most of the day just getting acquainted with the city. We stayed at a hotel right by the airport which turned out to only be about a 15-20 minute drive to Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. I looked at this like a business trip. Though my girlfriend was with me, I wasn’t there to sight-see. We just did a simple dinner at In ‘n Out Burger and retired early, knowing that tomorrow could be a huge day, but not knowing how huge it would actually be.
I woke up before the alarm clock even went off, hopped in the shower, had a cup of bad hotel room coffee, and was on my way. As we drove up Sepulveda Blvd. on the way to the studio, I didn't say much at all, just listened to some AC/DC and Lil' Wayne to get me "pumped up."
Once I got to the studio lot, and was led to the green room, we filled out some paperwork, and then it was time to go check out the studio. Even though I work in a TV studio every day, I was shocked by how big and impressive the Jeopardy! set was. Everything is brighter and bigger, and probably more expensive than it looks on TV. Everyone on the staff and crew was unbelievably nice. They really tried to keep the mood light, and make sure we were all there to have fun. After a few hours of practice and prep, and getting us all into makeup, they were ready to tape the first show.
I had no idea how long I would have to wait before my name was called. We sat in the studio audience for the first taping of the day. My mind raced as I tried to play along silently form my seat. Before I knew it, the 1st show was over, and they were calling my name to be on the next show!
It sounds crazy, but once the tape started rolling, and I heard Johnny Gilbert say "This Is......JEOPARDY!," everything after that became sort of a blur. I remember in my first game, before the first ad-break, I was on fire with the signaling button. I was out to a commanding lead, and as the lights faded to go to commercial, I suddenly got really light-headed. I never let myself believe that I could actually win this thing! I honestly only remember about 5% of the clues from my 3 games. Every once in a while, I will see something in my day-to-day life, and I will remember, "Oh yeah, "Boy's Don't Cry," I think that was one of my answers!"
The most memorable moment of my entire experience had nothing to do with the questions, the money, or anything else related to the game. After the first two games, we took a break for lunch (I was too nervous to eat anything more than a fruit cup). We came back to the set from the cafeteria, and all sat in the audience seats to regroup.
Right as I stood up to go back into the green room and change my sweater, i heard a big "RRRIIIIIIIIPPPPPPP." I looked down to see about a 4 inch tear going right down my left thigh. My pants had caught on the metal arm of the seat. We were instructed to bring 3 different outfits with us, in case we won, or the one outfit didn't look good on camera. Of course in my infinite wisdom, I brought 3 sweaters, 3 shirts, and only 1 pair of pants! I figured we would be behind a podium the whole time. So here I was, 5 minutes away from taping the next show, with ripped pants. I asked for some black electrical tape to make an emergency fix, but the contestant coordinators were two steps ahead of me. They called in a pro. Phil, from the wardrobe department at Sony was there in what seemed like 30 seconds to sew up my pants in the dressing room. I took them off, and was walking around the dressing room in my underpants, making small talk with the two people who I was about to compete against. Everybody got a good laugh out of that! Johnny Gilbert had to stall the audience by telling them there had been a "wardrobe malfunction!"
I ended up losing that game (5/21), though it was very close. Maybe I lost my edge when my competitors saw me in my boxer briefs! Even though I finished 3rd, that last game was one of my favorites. I was up against two AMAZING contestants, and we all finished with over $20,000 and within $1000 of each other. Alex Trebek even mentioned how exciting it was. I didn't stick around to see how the winner did in his next game, but I hope he kept on winning. I felt like the three of us in that last game really brought out the best in one-another.
I got my Jeopardy! tote bag, signed a few papers, and was done by about 4 in the afternoon. My girlfriend and I walked to the parking garage, I called my parents, and we drove off into the sunset (so to speak). I wanted to go out to a nice dinner that night to celebrate. We went back to the hotel, so I could shower off all the stage makeup. I laid down for a quick "nap" and before I knew it I was waking up the next morning. Jeopardy had completely drained me. I really had nothing left in the tank. It really made me appreciate how impressive Ken Jennings really is. It took almost all my adrenaline just to compete in 3 episodes! I can't even imagine 74!
So, now I am back in Boston, and my life is a lot like it was before. I get up and take the subway to work every day, just like I did before. But, I think a lot will change in a few weeks when my shows air.
Jeopardy! has given me new confidence, not just in my intelligence, but in being on stage. I haven't done any improv since college, but now I sort of have the itch to perform. I know it'll be scary to try stand-up comedy, or even acting, but I have been on Jeopardy! and succeeded! That will probably be the most intimidating and hardest thing I ever do in my life. Thank you Jeopardy!