2010 Tournament of Champions 2nd runner-up (semifinalist by wildcard): $50,000.
Season 25 5-time champion: $84,870 + $2,000.
Son of Season 24 1-time champion John Goodreau.
Jeopardy! Message Board user name: seaborgium
September 15, 2009
When I wrote the bulk of this, it was about two weeks after my initial taping, and I was going entirely from memory. Because I had the rare advantage of having already watched my victories by the time I lost, I was able to realize what I had gotten wrong before the publication of this. So every now and again, I'm going to interject addenda, in brackets like you see here. (The bracketed bit in my Howdy quotation below was part of the original text.) I'll leave my admitted blanks as they are, but I'll call out my outright mistakes.]
"Hi, Los Angeles [and elsewhere]! I'm Stefan Goodreau," and I've been interested in learning things since before I understood the concept of learning. Whether it was learning how to make noises as an infant, starting to learn how to read before my second birthday, learning who was on each piece of modern U.S. paper currency, or the resulting learning of all the presidents' names before kindergarten, I've had a certain fanaticism when it comes to knowing for the sake of knowing. I suppose it follows that I would enjoy Jeopardy! because of that, and I have had plenty of opportunity to develop this enjoyment, since my dad is the same way and has enjoyed the show for that reason.
My early attempts to get on the show consisted of sending a single postcard while in high school (or perhaps in eighth grade), and taking one in-person test at the studio in 2005. Nothing came of either: I got no result from the former, and I was sleep-deprived for the latter and couldn't bring forth the capital of Bulgaria, the Caribbean country whose name meant "bearded", or several other items that I probably didn't know anyway.
Then the tests went online, and I was happy. The fun of tests, without the hassle of leaving home! In 2007, I decided my dad and I should both take the test. I signed him and myself up (him with my mom's e-mail address, since he lacks both e-mail and the inclination to check e-mail). I took a Wednesday test for the central time zones, so that I could take it earlier while home alone. Then for the Thursday test meant for our time zone, I was my father's conduit at the keyboard (I yelled the clues at him, then typed his responses).
That summer, we were both invited to an audition at the Radisson in Culver City. He left the post office early that day, picked me up from camp, and drove the both of us there. We had a fun afternoon of it, even though I felt my dad had made a better showing, personality-wise, than I had. (Glenn: "What would you do with the money you won?" Me: "I'd have to go the boring route and pay off my student loans." Ugh.) My dad got The Call that October, and I couldn't have been happier for him.
My dad was a local standby in February 2008, and I came to the taping. I got to see Drew Beechum, who had auditioned with us in August, win the first game. Then Chris Zane won three games, losing in the Friday game at the end. The following month, Dad got to be a contestant, and I came to that taping as well. He won the first game (and my head exploded). Then he lost to Darryl Tahirali. Darryl would also win three games and lose in the Friday game (to a certain Aaron Schroeder).
After the taping, my dad gave me a business card from contestant coordinator Robert, with the word that I should call within the next month if I was interested in getting on the show. At the time, I was beginning to comprehend that my Jeopardy! abilities were not at the caliber of some of the greats. Besides that, I wanted to ride the high of watching my dad become a Jeopardy! champion, and I wasn't ready to end my odyssey so soon afterwards. So I let that month go (although I still have the card somewhere).
When the 25th season began in September 2008, I was working nights, so I decided to set the VCR to record Jeopardy! five nights a week (yes, I am still pre-DVR). Because I would now be watching on my own, I started playing along in earnest. I drew up grids for each game, clicked a hefty pen after clue readings when I had a response, and kept score. This way, I could get a feel for ringing in and become more familiar with my own body of knowledge. I got better at distinguishing what I knew from what I thought I knew, and more comfortable at gauging when it was safe to ring in with something I thought I knew.
When the online test came back around this past January, I decided I'd go for it again. It hadn't been 18 months yet since my dad and I auditioned, but I convinced myself they had told us that although we would be on file for 18 months, we could do the online test again after 12 months. So I went for it, taking the Eastern Time test during some free time at work. I didn't do well enough, I believe, and I was resolved to another year of pen-clicking and scorekeeping.
Then one Monday late in February, I was at work when I got the news from home that there was a message for me left by Maggie from Jeopardy! I knew that to mean exactly one thing, since audition notifications were by e-mail and the only Jeopardy! call was The Call. I was effectively useless (oxymoron alert!) at my job that night until after the 9:00 pm "lunch" break.
Because of the busy Tuesday and Wednesday schedules in Jeopardy!-land, I didn't get back to Maggie until Thursday. That day, I found out for a 100% fact that they wanted me as a contestant (likely unrelated to my test-taking weeks earlier). I was to be a local standby for March 25, which I liked, since it was the anniversary of my dad's taping. I realized that March 25 was near the season's end in the taping schedule, and with the knowledge that my dad's two tapings came 10 weeks of shows apart, I figured that I wouldn't be coming back as a contestant until season 26. An hour later, Maggie called back and asked me if I could be a contestant at the season's last taping on March 31! A five-week turnaround from The Call to The Taping--compare with my dad's five-month wait. My mind boggled.
I spent most of those weeks just wondering how my game would turn out. I thought of players who had all but sewn it up at the end of Double Jeopardy!, only for it to come apart at the seam when they missed a Final Jeopardy! that their tenacious competitors got. I thought of those competitors who eked out a victory in those situations. I thought of the others who weren't lucky enough to be in a position where victory was conceivable. I considered positive outcomes while avoiding hubris, and I considered negative outcomes while avoiding defeatism. (Stop me before I quote Dickens.)
March 25 rolled around, and I finally had the contestant's experience, without the pressure of an imminent competition. I got to play in a rehearsal game, long enough to get the hang of the silent buzzer. Ringing in came easily to me, and the only part I had to work on was not yelling out my response right away. Whether or not I interrupted my being called on, my voice came booming out of me, almost beyond my control, garnering a "Good energy!" from Maggie off stage. I felt more sure that I'd be okay once my time came.
I watched a week's worth of games go by. Joe unseated the champion Chris, and then Alyssa won. She won three games and lost at the end (sound familiar?). I made a point to remember the new champ Peter's name, because I knew I'd be seeing him again in less than a week. I also noted how ordinary the proceedings had come to feel; this was now the fourth time I had been in the studio, and the third taping I had attended. I enjoyed it, but I wasn't so caught up in the moment like I had been a year earlier.
That weekend, I decided to do some studying beyond watching the show and noticing little things I encountered in daily reading/listening/watching. I spent Saturday learning world capitals (I still haven't come up with a good mnemonic for connecting Palau to Melekeok). I took a cursory look at vice presidents on Sunday, but lost interest.
I took Monday off work so that I could rest up for my early Tuesday, but I ended up unable to sleep until about 2 am anyway. I felt okay Tuesday morning despite this, and was generally as comfortable as I had been six days earlier, albeit with considerable poundings of the heart. When rehearsal time came and I had my turn on stage, I ended up running a category of animal anagrams, completely unhindered by the contestants on each side of me. Ringing in was second nature, and I was able to take clues in at a glance, such that I had a response prepared before Glenn had finished reading them. After just a minute, I felt really good about my chances.
After everyone had practiced, we went back into the green room. The cards were pulled and Robert announced Peter's competitors for the first game: Ellyn and Stefan. It was happening.
"I'm a video game tester, but you can watch the game test me... on Jeopardy!"
I don't remember a lot about the early portion of the game, except being slightly mad at myself for not taking the chance to ring in with Omar Bradley on the $1,000 clue about five-star generals. That was only a moment though, and I moved on as the game did. I was in the lead at the first break, which was about as good as I could hope for at that moment. [Okay, okay, I was in a tie for the lead. But that's still pretty good!] We talked to Alex, and then we were back. I hit the Daily Double in the "HOT" category, I had $4,000, I liked the category, and I like when people on the show go big early, so I bet it all. I got it right! I don't remember much else in the round beyond that.
In Double Jeopardy!, Ellyn and Peter each uncovered a Daily Double, and I was content to plug along on the regular clues. As the last clue was revealed, I looked up at the scores. Whoa, I had $10,000 more than Peter in second place! More than double his score! I didn't know the correct response, so I waited for Peter to get in and put himself back within range. [The last clue was easier than I remembered. I think I just lost focus looking at the scores.] Then Ellyn rang in and got it right. Holy-- that's it. I'd sewn it up!
The Final Jeopardy category was revealed: Poets on Poets. I made a joke about the Brownings to Peter and Ellyn. Either they didn't hear me, or I was too stunned to be funny. Probably both. Peter's score was close enough that I couldn't wager a bundle. So I bet an amount to keep me uncatchable if I was wrong, and to get a total ending in 17 if I was right. (I like that number.) I got it right, and I was still stunned when Alex announced me as the winner. (Before playing this game, I had never had five digits in the bank, and in fact, my winnings exceeded my 2008 earnings.)
I was whisked off to the green room, where I put on the sweater I promised myself I'd wear if I got to be the returning champion. My opponents would be Sarah and Brent. It was happening again.
"Watch me test-er, play another game, on Jeopardy!"
Again, I don't remember much, but I got the Daily Double in the Jeopardy! round and tried to repeat the last game's events, except with $4,800. Despite sixteen years of Catholic education, I couldn't pull out ex cathedra. I've heard the phrase, but I just couldn't get from the English to the Latin. I started with "De," couldn't come up with anything, and dragged the word out so long I thought of Harry Belafonte, so I followed it with "Day-o." So I was at zero, but I moved along with the game.
I kept at it in the next round. This one's even more a blur than the last, such that I don't remember who got the Daily Doubles. Maybe I got both of them, but I'm not sure. Whatever the case, at the end of the round, I discovered I had another lock! I couldn't believe this. (I would have found it all the more amazing if I had thought to remember that failed True Daily Double earlier on. Wow.) I don't even remember the Final category this time around. I had some more wiggle room for wagering, so I decided to follow the 17 path again, and go for $17,017 on a correct response. When the clue was revealed, I got to the Big Dipper fairly quickly. I still had time after I wrote it, so I drew the constellation for fun. (If I had planned it out better, the dot in my question mark would have been one of the stars.) Sure enough, the Big Dipper was right, and I was a champ again. Winning wasn't something I had gotten used to, even with the extra few minutes to contemplate it that a lock afforded me.
"See if this trilogy will have a sad ending, or 'To be continued...' on Jeopardy!"
Now I would be playing against Marty and Nina. I remember less and less about each game. I can't recall a lick of the first round, except for Nina missing a Daily Double about vermillion. In Double Jeopardy!, after we'd gone through three categories (one of which played right into my mental math abilities), I decided to start hunting for Daily Doubles, and hit one. [We'd actually made it through four categories at this point.] I had the lead, and I decided I should widen it, so I wagered four grand (I think), and I got it right. [I forgot just how big a lead I'd had when I got the Daily Double; my wager was only $1,400.] I decided that I was comfortable enough to ease off searching for the remaining Daily Double, and then Marty picked up where I left off, seeking and finding it. He wagered big, $6,000, and got himself back into contention with his correct response. Then Nina got herself back into the game by getting out of the hole, and I was happy for her.
Although Final Jeopardy! saw me at over $20k for the first time, it also saw me within someone else's reach for the first time. I wasn't worried, though; the category was 19th Century Presidents (see the first paragraph [thanks to my new intro, it's the second paragraph!]), and I had a big enough lead that I could get it wrong and still win, if Marty got it wrong too. When the clue was revealed, it conveyed to me a post-Civil War timeframe. Could it be Andrew Johnson? No, he couldn't have been popular enough to be nominated. Grant? Was he a Republican? I wasn't sure, but the rest of the clue seemed to point to him, so I went with it. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have recognized victory the moment Marty's response was revealed to be Grant; right or wrong, if Marty and I wrote the same thing, I would win. As it was, Grant was right, and I had my biggest winning total.
Now it was lunchtime. Whereas the previous week I had eaten an entire half-pound angus burger, I could now only finish half of my tuna melt. I was shaken, in the best way one can be. I also ate a banana and drank plenty of liquid so that I wouldn't just have greasy food in my stomach. We headed back and had another rehearsal game. Zach and Rosanne were called as the next contestants, and I sang a little ditty about the two.
"Watch as I run out of clever things to say on Jeopardy!"
I can't remember the first thing about this game. Did I get all three Daily Doubles? Who knows? But I do remember that when Double Jeopardy! ended, I looked at the scoreboard and wanted to cry or get sick or something. $22,800 to $200 to $200!? It seemed unfair to me, and I felt almost guilty about the situation. The category was Food, and I thought back to the last food-related Final Jeopardy I could remember. The correct response had been Cherries Jubilee, and none of the contestants nor I had gotten it right. Nevertheless, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to capitalize on such a huge lead. In short, I got greedy.
I decided to wager $20,000, plus $65 to make my grand total end in 00 if I got it right. Cue the Final Jeopardy! clue from hell, about a cheese I've never heard of, that hasn't even existed for most of my life. I decided not to name a cheese, but a singing group. Whiffenpoof cheese. (If that existed, I'd buy $20,065 worth of it.) I whiffed on the response, and my score went poof. Maggie told me I was right to wager big. I think she was trying to talk me down, but the fact was that I had accepted that I was going to lose a huge amount before the Think music was done playing, and could laugh about it when everybody else found out. Besides that, I had won again. You take the bad with the good, and move on.
"See if I can stay alive
For the end of Season 25
I moved right on into the last game of the day, against John (nicknamed "Z" after some rehearsal round hijinks) and Emily. Emily managed to swallow up and capitalize on all three Daily Doubles [she got one wrong, but she still turned a net profit from them], and John was good and quick in a category about Bob Dylan. The two kept me from taking off, and I had a lead of only $400 when the last clue was revealed. It was obvious, and I knew I had to get to it first. Of course, Emily rang in and got it. For the first time, one of my opponents was leading me into Final Jeopardy! Second place often presents dilemmas in wagering, but my situation looked pretty cut-and-dry: I had exactly double John's total. I could wager to catch up with Emily's total and then some, but I didn't want to risk falling behind John if he got it right and I got it wrong. Zero is the only bet to eliminate the risk of being beaten by John (I did hope he'd tie me, though).
Then I got the sick feeling that Emily would recognize my situation, guess that I would wager nothing, and wager accordingly. (This line of thought, which is the mental equivalent of microphone feedback, has been termed by some as "passing the iocaine," after Wallace Shawn's famous scene in The Princess Bride.) Then I reassured myself that I would never assume a zero wager by a second place player, regardless of his or her situation, figured Emily probably wouldn't either, and locked my wager of no big ones.
When the clue was revealed, my wheels started turning, even though my wager put my fate entirely into Emily's hands. Female performer, 69 and active today, #1 song in the eighties? My mind first went to Madonna and Cher, but I dismissed them as not being old enough. What other women have been around that long? Dolly Parton, but it took Whitney Houston to get a song of hers to the top of the pop chart. Maybe it took the thought of Whitney Houston to do it, but however it happened, Tina Turner popped into my mind. [I also now recall calculating the birth date and age in 1984, but I can't say whether that helped.] Then I remembered my baby book, where my mom had written that "What's Love Got to Do with It" was a popular song during my early years (1983-84), and that was good enough for me. The goofy synthesized harmonica solo played back in my head as the Think music wound down.
Alex revealed John's response first. Not only did he get it wrong, but he didn't wager everything (which turned out to be the better choice for him). [I forgot Emily's wager, which made John's wager moot by guaranteeing him third place on an incorrect response.] My response came second, and I was right! Not that it mattered for my score, but it satisfied me, and it was funny to hear the audience gasp when they discovered my correct response didn't earn me a cent. I was empty of expectations when Emily's response was revealed. It was wrong, and then we found out that she had wagered to beat my doubled score (as I would have done in her position). [Like I said, I forgot about her wager. She bet about half of what I would have risked in her position, but it was still enough to drop her behind my score.] I had won again! I was a five time champion! I'd won all the games in the taping! I'm the last champion of the season! I'll be the first returning champion in the next season with the new set! It was an overwhelming moment, to say the least, and now I had all the time in the world to be overwhelmed.
I had a blast, and spent the day with eleven intelligent, kind, funny people (I'm not forgetting architect Dave, the local standby for the taping; keep your eyes open for him in Season 26!). [I ought to have mentioned the twelve others with whom I spent the previous Wednesday.] And let's not leave out contestant coordinators Maggie, Glenn, Robert, and Corina; the lovely women who made us look good for the cameras; Mitch the microphone guy; and the man himself, Alex Trebek. I'm extremely lucky that I get to go through this a third time (and still more beyond that...?).
[This takes us to the present. Back to writing from memory. This needs no brackets of its own.]
I taped again, finally, the last Tuesday in July, the week after my shows aired. I showed up in the Sony parking lot, and all the other contestants were there already. I told them I felt like the elephant in the room, but I was quickly at home among them. In the rehearsal, I got a little worried. The contestant coordinators didn't let me go on any confidence-boosting (not to mention potentially intimidating!) runs; they called me off the stage before I really felt in the rhythm, and I wondered if my buzzer mojo had left me. When the time came, they called for Enrique and Elisabeth, and they would be my challengers.
"New season. New set. New haircut. New champion? Find out on Jeopardy!"
Luckily, my fears proved unfounded, and I was able to ring in as well as before. I chickened out on a Daily Double in the first round, wagering "only" $3,000 of my $5,200, and I got it right. I had over $10,000 by the end of the round. As in my first game, my challengers got the two Daily Doubles in the Double Jeopardy! round, and I plugged along. I had a strong lead at the end, but not a runaway.
I noticed that my lead was small enough this time around (unlike against Marty) that I could fall behind Enrique with the standard, "win by a dollar" wager if I got it wrong. I hoped that if that did happen, Enrique would wager big and also be wrong. The category, Word Origins, was inscrutable, and I couldn't draw any confidence from that. When the clue was revealed, I immediately thought of the word "sharpshooter," knew that wasn't what they were looking for, and zoomed in on the bird portion of the clue. I went nowhere fast, and wrote down "eagle eye," knowing full well it was also wrong, and gave myself a little "x" underneath to mark it as such. I was stuck relying on that hope that Enrique had risked a lot and gotten it wrong. Well, half my prayers were answered! The moment I saw the word "sniper" on the monitor across the stage, I knew I was beaten. Enrique had made the large, strategically unsound wager, but it really paid off.
Let me tell you, I hated losing. I knew I'd lose eventually, but on something so simple that I know I could have gotten? (It doesn't help that at my game testing gig, I've worked on first-person shooters that feature sniper rifles. Not to mention that my coworkers play such games online with each other after going home from work. I must have overheard the word "sniper" five times in conversation at my job the next day.) I believe I just wasn't in a "Final Jeopardy!" frame of mind that day. I could go on and on about the likely psychological effects of having waited four months between tapings, or of trying to live up to my five victories that had aired days earlier. The sum of it is that I feel my loss was a fluke. (This isn't to say that Enrique's victory was a fluke; he struck me during the rehearsal as being the strongest on ringing in, and I consider him to have been my most formidable challenger besides Emily.)
In the end, though, if I must lose in a flukish way, I have to say I'm glad it took that long to happen. Plus, it gives me all the more respect for those players who have kept it going after a hiatus (Ken Jennings, David Madden, and Dan Pawson come to mind). And it was a big consolation (even more so than the $2,000 second place prize) to hear Alex Trebek himself (and later, Corina) broach the subject of the Tournament of Champions to me. As my second-ever correct response said, "I shall return." Until then, I've got some studying to do.