Season 25 2-time champion: $27,802 + $2,000.
Ingrid Nelson - A Judicial Assistant
Lake Mill, Wisconsin
June 24, 2009
“You should be on Jeopardy!” I’d been hearing that for years—decades, in fact—but had never thought I’d actually get the chance to do it. When I saw an announcement for the online test in January 2008, I thought, what the heck. I took the online test and felt OK about it, but wouldn’t have been terribly surprised if nothing came of it. So I was thrilled when I got an e-mail several weeks later inviting me to Chicago for the in-person test and audition in June.
I had a great time at the audition and left feeling like I’d done pretty well, but I still wasn’t really counting on getting on the show. Flash forward to an evening in February 2009. My husband and I were just getting home from work when the phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and saw “Sony Pictures,” so I said, “Oh, that’s just some marketing thing. I’m not going to answer it.” But David picked it up, heard who it was, and frantically shoved the phone at me, whispering, “It’s Jeopardy!” I was glad when Glenn said they’d be sending a packet of information in the mail, because I was too excited to really absorb all of what he was telling me. The gist of it I got, though: I was to come to L.A. to tape the show on March 17-18.
I spent every evening over the next few weeks studying. I knew I wasn’t going to become an expert on Shakespeare or opera by the time of the taping, but I wanted to at least brush up on the subjects I knew and learn the basics of those I didn’t. I joked with my friends that if “’80s Music” or “John Hughes Movies” appeared on the board, I’d clean up!
David and I arrived in L.A. on the evening of March 16 and settled into our hotel room. I didn’t have as much trouble falling asleep as I thought I would, and was up bright and early the next morning to catch the shuttle to the studio along with other contestants who were staying at the hotel. Everyone seemed really nice and just as nervous as I was. At the studio we were ushered into the “green room” to fill out some paperwork, get our makeup done, and work on our “Hometown Howdies.” Maggie Speak (an aptly named woman if ever there was one!) gave us a thorough talk on the do’s and don’ts of the game, and then we were taken out onto the stage to practice with the buzzers. I found that it was kind of hard to buzz in on time if I watched for the signal lights to come on, but I did better by just listening for the last word of the clue and buzzing in a beat later. One of my fellow contestants complimented me on my timing, so I felt pretty confident and couldn’t wait to actually play.
Two people were chosen to play A.J., the returning champ, and the taping got underway. François from Montreal won that game, and the next, and I hoped someone would beat him before I had to face him. Marianne from Brooklyn won the next game, and then we broke for lunch. After lunch and more practice time with the buzzers, the taping resumed with the fourth game of the day. Marianne won again, and I hoped I wouldn’t get picked to play the last game of the day against a two-time champion. No such luck—along with Mark from Texas, I was sent to get my makeup touched up and get ready to play.
First we taped our Hometown Howdies, and I was relieved to find that I could keep my voice in its normal register instead of sounding squeaky, as I often do when nervous. And then the music started, Johnny Gilbert introduced us and Alex Trebek, and the game began.
Game 1. The game itself is kind of a blur. I felt like there weren’t many questions that I had absolutely no idea about, and I was able to ring in first on enough to make me feel pretty confident that I was doing all right. I had told myself to just ignore the scores and focus on the game, so it was kind of a surprise when the first commercial break came and I looked up to find myself doing very well. After the break we did our chat with Alex, which was probably the scariest part of the whole thing for me—I’m not good at small talk in a normal situation, much less on TV! Still, I managed not to stumble and stammer too much.
One clue in particular stands out in my memory, because apparently both Alex and I misread it. In the category “Are You Ready for Some Foosball?” the last clue asked for the name of the governing body of the game, abbreviated ITSF, “in which ‘TS’ stands for the game’s official name.” I rang in and said, “What is table soccer?” and Alex said, “Correct.” Then a judge offstage said, “More.” I froze and looked at Alex for direction. He’d already said I was correct, so what was the problem? During an uncomfortable silence that seemed to last forever, the clue disappeared from the board. Then Alex told me they needed the full name of the governing body. Oh, great—I remembered it was ITS-something but couldn’t recall the last letter! “What is International Table Soccer…League?” I guessed. It was wrong, of course, and Marianne buzzed in and got it right. So now I was going to be on TV looking like I thought “league” started with an “F.” I told myself to shake it off and try not to lose my momentum.
The game continued, and by the end of the Double Jeopardy! round I had a slim lead over Marianne going into Final Jeopardy, with Mark not far behind. The category was revealed: Words in Physics. Now came the part I’d been dreading most: the wager. Math is not my strong suit, and I’m prone to making really stupid errors. What if I wagered just enough to lose by a dollar, instead of winning by a dollar? We were told we could take “a reasonable amount of time” to figure out our wagers, but it’s hard to feel like you’re being reasonable when the other contestants have finished and a staff person is standing over you, arms folded, waiting for you to enter a number. I finally double-checked my math, wagered just enough to come out a dollar ahead of Mark if we both gave the correct response and he doubled his score, clicked to enter my wager, and hoped for the best.
Had the category been simply “Physics,” I probably would have wagered more conservatively, but since it was “Words in Physics” I figured there would be something in the clue that would help me figure it out, like the Latin root of the word or something. It turned out I was correct—if the clue had simply asked for the term that describes the increase in volume of a gas as temperature increases, I would have thought, “Well, it expands, but there’s got to be a more technical term for it.” But the correct response was a word that often precedes “pack” and “team,” and since I’d heard of “expansion teams” in sports, I knew it right away. Marianne got it right too, but she hadn’t wagered enough. I couldn’t believe it—I’d won! It was absolutely surreal. I was going to play again the next day as the returning champion!
The next morning I waited again in the lobby for the shuttle, with a new group of contestants plus two who had been at the studio with me the day before but hadn’t played yet. Back to the studio, the green room, the make-up chair, and a practice round. Two and a half hours flew by, and then I was onstage again to play against Mike from South Carolina and Jennifer from Florida.
Game 2. I don’t remember many details of this game either, except that I waited in vain for a category to come up that I felt really confident about. A whole category on Czechoslovakia?! Jackie Robinson?! (Actually, I surprised myself by doing pretty well in that one!) The Final Jeopardy! category was “Presidents on Film,” so I thought it would be a clue about an actor who played a president in a movie. Instead, the clue asked for the president who became the first to appear on film in 1895. I thought, well, this is it for me. Certainly I’m the only one here who doesn’t know who was president in 1895. I guessed Taft and resigned myself to being a one-time champion. But wait—Mike’s answer was wrong, and so was Jennifer’s! I felt a bit hopeful as Alex came to me and revealed my incorrect answer. It was going to come down to my wager, and I hadn’t bet enough to drop into second place! I couldn’t believe I’d won again! But there was no time to even think about it much; I had to change clothes and get my makeup touched up for the next game.
Game 3. My opponents were James from Iowa and Rae from Colorado. I knew I had my work cut out for me: Rae had been there the day before and had been frighteningly quick on the buzzer in practice, and James was an author of encyclopedias. The first clue pretty much set the tone for my entire game. I chose “Seafood” for $100, heard the clue asking for a French seafood stew, buzzed in first, and said, “What is vichyssoise?” Even as it was coming out of my mouth I knew it was wrong. After Rae gave the correct answer, Alex turned to me and informed me that vichyssoise is “something different.” Oh, fabulous; I’d just given one of those responses that’s so wrong that Alex feels the need to point it out. A couple more incorrect responses and I was thoroughly shaken. I started playing very conservatively, holding back on the buzzer even when I was pretty sure of the answer, completely blanking out on a Daily Double (the only one I’d gotten in three games), and just generally falling apart. And as in the last game, there weren’t any categories that I felt really confident about. I even babbled incoherently through my chat with Alex, never actually answering his question and giving the impression that I don’t know very much about my own job! I managed to get my score up enough to be in a competitive position going into Final Jeopardy!, so I had a glimmer of hope. In the end, none of us gave the correct response, but I had wagered enough to drop me into second place, $999 behind James. Thus endeth my Jeopardy! run.
It amazes me to realize that I’ve actually been on Jeopardy! I still find myself noting bits of trivia, thinking, “I should remember that in case I ever go on Jeopardy! Oh, wait….” Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to try to get on the show (note to Ellen: You can’t call me “The Fountain of Useless Knowledge” anymore now that I’ve put it to good use!); to Maggie, Robert, Corina, Glenn, John, Mitch, Sandy, Barbie, and everyone else involved with the show whose names I didn’t catch but who contributed to making the experience so much fun; and to James, Jennifer, Bryan, and Cyn—hanging out with you and your families and friends was definitely a highlight of the experience for me! Finally, a huge thank-you to David for coming with me to Chicago for the audition and to L.A. for the taping, and for just being so enthusiastic and encouraging. I couldn’t have done it without you!