A writer from Des Moines, Iowa...

James Erwin

Hi Central Iowa, I'm James Erwin from Des Moines. I don't mean to sound "corny", but keep a "hawkeye" out for me on Jeopardy!

Season 25 2-time champion: $22,598 + $1,000.

Jeopardy! Message Board user name: Prufrock451

James Erwin - a Writer
Des Moines, Iowa
June 25, 2009

Game 1:

Over a year ago, I tried out for Jeopardy! in Minneapolis. I was surprised to find most of the contestant hopefuls hanging out at the back of the room. “If I want to go on television,” I said to myself, “I should look confident and assured, so I’ll sit in the front row.” It appears to have worked.

What appears less wily, in retrospect, was the month I spent with piles of reference books, gulping down every scrap of information I could get my hands on. As it turns out, not one bit of that came in handy. I could have spent the month between getting the call to go on Jeopardy! and the moment I showed up at the studio whittling or watching television or talking to people. Instead, I spent the month religiously poring through reference books. My wife Jessica poured a lot of time into the preparation process too; she kept score for about 50 episodes of Jeopardy!, and she quizzed me whenever I started feeling unsure of my grasp on state capitals or Gilded Age presidents. Of course, if we’d tried to relax for that month, we would have just ended up gibbering wrecks by game day.

I also spent that month practicing a two-handed technique with the signaling device. I buzzed in faster that way. I was therefore crushed to discover that a two-handed technique is strictly forbidden. I discovered this a half-hour before the taping began.

Between that and the fact that I was playing hurt (Bruised ribs! Injured left shoulder! Paper cut!), I was honestly shocked to find myself still in the running for Final Jeopardy! I do not remember a lot of this game, thanks to my adrenaline-fired tunnel vision: I’ll be excited to watch this on television, because most of it will be new to me as well. One of the things I don’t remember was how I calculated my wager for Final Jeopardy! There must have been a good reason for my decision, because I won.

It was surreal to hear myself declared the Jeopardy! champion. It’s a moment I daydreamed about for the last 25 years. I’m still not entirely certain it happened. This may all be an exceptionally vivid daydream.

Jessica, my mother-in-law Georgia, and my friend Mike were in the audience. I’m pretty sure the tension of the game was harder on them than it was on me.

Game 2:

If I thought my first game shot by in a haze, the second game appears in my memory to have taken up about two seconds. I can say very little about this game, except that buzzing in on questions is a lot easier when you’re practicing in your living room and no one’s competing with you.

I don’t think I landed on a single Daily Double in this game. I could be wrong. What I do know for sure is that when Final Jeopardy! came up, I had three sort-of-plausible names in my head – Peary, Amundsen, Scott – and no power on Earth could dredge up any fact that would make one of those names more plausible than another. So, I picked one at random. Turns out that was wrong. Turns out I won again anyway. There’s a complex formula that tells you how much to bet on Final Jeopardy! If you plan to get on the show, you can find it online. Drill yourself on the math until you can do it after doing ten shots of espresso and running a marathon, because that’s the kind of mental fog you’ll need to push through at the podium. Once again, I guess I got the math right. Once again, I have no idea how.

After this taping, we marched off to lunch. Everyone but me got carried away on the free food. Burgers! Fries! Soda! I had a water, a chicken salad, and a banana. “Brilliant move, you,” I told myself. “Everyone will be sluggish and drowning in carbs while you’re humming along on a sensible amount of nutrition.”

Game 3:

So did you catch the ironic foreshadowing? With just a few seconds left of my third game, I blow it on an exuberantly bad Final Jeopardy! wager. “Boy, I’ve missed two Final Jeopardy! questions in a row now,” I think to myself. “I’ve never missed three in a row. I’ll bet this one will be easy. I’ll wager everything. I’ve never missed three in a row, after all!”

First time for everything. Like I said before, there are elaborate rules for betting when you’re in second place in Final Jeopardy! I’m pretty sure that “put it on black” is not one of them.

Still, I could not be happier with the experience. I made a couple of blunders (yeah, I said “Cleary” when I meant “Eldridge Cleaver,” but I’m pretty sure Beverly Cleary was also a black nationalist), but I think I played well and I’m proud that I tried to be a good sport as much as a good player. I enjoyed meeting all of the other players, and the staff at Jeopardy! was outstanding at making us feel welcome and relaxed. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I will always treasure it.

James appeared in the following 3 archived games:
#5724, aired 2009-06-25 James Erwin vs. Emily Heaney vs. Srikanth Sivashankaran
#5723, aired 2009-06-24 James Erwin vs. Alex Fineman vs. Cyn Mayo Ask Alex #22: Book.
#5722, aired 2009-06-23 Ingrid Nelson vs. Rae Sailor vs. James Erwin

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