An administrative assistant from Kansas City, Missouri...

Alison Stone Roberg

I'm Alison Stone Roberg from Kansas City. Step away from the barbecue and see if I can bring home the bacon, on Jeopardy!

Season 26 3-time champion: $85,102 + $2,000.

Jeopardy! Message Board user name: Asphodel

Alison Stone Roberg
Kansas City, MO

July 29, 2010

An Administrative Assistant
From Kansas City, Missouri
...Alison Stone Roberg

A few days before my Jeopardy! taping day, I had a dream in which I appeared on the show. In the dream, I won one game with a final total of $16,000 and then lost the second. When I woke up, in the moments before I sorted out the difference between dream and reality, I was relieved. I had won a game; I had accumulated a tidy little sum of money; I could tell friends and family to watch the show knowing that my performance wouldn't be embarrassing. Then I fully came to my senses and realized I had not yet earned any such reassurance.

I taped my episodes in mid-March 2010, a little over four years after I took my first online test. Much to my amazement, I passed that first test and was invited for an audition, but had to decline because the date conflicted with preparations for my wedding. I took the test once again in either 2007 or 2008 but never heard back (it's OK, Jeopardy! I forgive you. Those were awkward years for me anyway.)

I took the January 2009 test under pretty bad circumstances. My 19-year-old brother had been in a life-altering car accident just a week before and was still in the hospital in a coma, 2000 miles away. I can't believe I managed to focus on the test for 15 minutes, let alone produce enough correct answers to pass it, but somehow I did. I guess the trivia provided a much-needed escape from reality as I answered questions about Beyonce, Esperanto, and the Divine Comedy.

The next several months were crazy. I finished up coursework for a master's degree but aggressively procrastinated writing my thesis. My husband and I moved from Provo, Utah to Kansas City, Missouri so he could start a PhD program. I spent several frustrating months job-hunting and worked for awhile in a clothing store before landing a job as an administrative assistant. I didn't spend much time thinking about Jeopardy!, but in the back of my mind I assumed that I wouldn't be hearing from them that year. By December, I was already planning on taking the next test, which I figured was coming up in January 2010. It was certainly much too late to expect an invitation from the 2009 test. And yet, one day there it was in my inbox. Because I had been living in Utah at the time I took the test, I had selected Los Angeles as my audition city. But even though I was now living much farther away, I was not about to let the opportunity go by. I finagled a day off work and made plane reservations that would allow me to fly out after work, arrive in LA that night, go to my audition the next morning, and hop on a plane back to Kansas City in the afternoon. (Of course, Jeopardy! doesn't recommend making a special flight out just to audition, because making the show is still quite a long shot. But I thought that my January audition would be a good way to start the year-maybe a way to set the tone for the months ahead.)

At my audition, I was the first to arrive, by about an hour (I had been worried about traffic). At the beginning of the audition, the Contestant Coordinators took a Polaroid of each of the contestants. I embarrassed myself by asking them if I needed to shake my photo to develop it (I was in college when "Hey Ya" was at its peak of popularity, so that phrase is forever etched into my brain). I felt confident during the written test, but I misunderstood one of the questions in the interview segment and botched my answer, basically making it sound like I had no hobbies. Everyone else had cool interests, obscure hobbies, or famous friends, so I was sure I appeared to be the most boring person in the bunch. I started making peace with the fact that I wouldn't be able to audition again for another couple of years. And then, at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon, less than a month later, I got a call on my phone from a number I didn't recognize. I get tons of wrong number calls, so I let it go to voice mail as usual. But then a thought came to me: check the area code. I Googled it and saw that it was a California number, just as the phone chimed to let me know I had a message. "Hi Alison, this is Robert from Jeopardy!" The rest is history. Three weeks and a whole lot of Jeopardy!-watching, score-keeping, and pen-clicking later, The Day arrived.

[Other contestants have capably described in minute detail the events of a day in the life of a Jeopardy! contestant. So I'm just going to take the opportunity to wax rhapsodic about the random things that stand out most in my memory of one of the coolest experiences of my life.]

In the green room, I was one of the last contestants to get my makeup done. As I sat in the chair watching myself get glammed up, there was a little flurry of activity. A woman stuck her head through a door labeled "Do not enter" (or something similarly forbidding) and mentioned that the celebrities needed their makeup touched up. Oh yes, the celebrities...we had (gloriously, thankfully) been given a late call time because there was a celebrity game scheduled to be taped first. As my makeup artist excused herself to attend to the celebrities, the door opened wider, and. There. Was. Neil. Patrick. Harris. Now, I really like Neil Patrick Harris. I was too young at the time to have watched him on Doogie Howser, but I saw him on Broadway in Assassins, and what self-respecting internet-savvy young adult doesn't love Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog? So when Neil (yes, we're now on a first-name basis in my mind) and I made eye contact for that nanosecond before the door swung shut, I considered it a good omen. Either that, or, if things went badly, I could at least tell friends and family that I almost met Neil Patrick Harris...

Everyone reacts to game-day nervousness differently. Some contestants talk a little too loudly and laugh uproariously at their own jokes. Some take about twelve bathroom breaks over the course of the day. Some forget their own last name (repeatedly) when they go to record their Hometown Howdies. I, for some reason, spent way too much time worrying about food. The green room was well-stocked with snacks, and in this case, there was also lunch (we had to arrive at the studio around 11:15, and there would be no scheduled lunch break during the taping). I had eaten very little for breakfast and was already hungry when I arrived, but once I got there I couldn't decide what to eat. What if I ate too much and it made me sluggish? Would sticking to donuts deprive my brain of necessary vitamins? That sandwich would smear my lip gloss! I love Diet Coke, would too much of it on an empty stomach make me jittery? (These are the kind of critical issues that take over your mind when you really should be trying to remember the names of the Presidents and the capitals of Canadian provinces.) So I settled for a few bites of fruit and a bag of chips, each of which I broke in half before eating so as not to get any crumbs or grease on my face. Well into the afternoon (when I still had yet to play), I found myself getting light-headed. So during the next between-show break, I charged into the green room and headed straight for the snack table. I inhaled a plain cake donut in about three seconds (makeup be darned!) and felt much better.

There is a lot of "hurry up and wait" for the contestants, especially those who don't get to play first. My husband was sitting patiently in the "friends and family" section, but he had apparently forgotten about the pregame instructions that family members and contestants were not to make any contact, eye or otherwise. He kept trying to wave at me, and I kept having to whip my head around to look the other way. This went on for some time, as I didn't play until the fourth game of the day. I was relieved not to be selected for the first game, although I also figured that going first might have given me the best chance of winning: John was only a one-time champion at that point, and the other challenger would be brand new to the whole experience. But I got to watch as John became a two-time champion...and a three-time champion...and a four-time champion. During the third game of the day, my nerves finally started to get to me. Dan and I knew we would be playing next, as we were the only contestants left besides the local "standby" player. I had been sitting near Dan for much of the day, and we would occasionally chat about particular answers and about the Final Jeopardy! questions, so I already could tell that he knew his stuff (although, quite honestly, so did everyone-it was an impressive group). All during that third game, I got more and more restless, shifting in my seat every couple of minutes. After John locked in his fourth victory, the Contestant Coordinators hustled Dan and me backstage to get our makeup touched up and have our mikes put on (this is a very up-close-and-personal process, by the way).

Stepping onto the stage feels a little like walking into Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory (and the color scheme is about as wild). Everything seems big-the ceiling is high, the game board is far away-although thankfully, the clues are still readable. (Other contestants have commented that the stage actually seems smaller in person-maybe my perception is an indicator of my confidence level going into the game.) I had been practicing at home with a strictly one-handed grip on my pretend signaling device and planned on staying with that, so I only half-listened during the introductory lecture when Maggie described possible ways to ring in-as well as ways that weren't recommended, such as ringing in with one's head, or the strategy one contestant hinted at, a kind of "no hands" method, which I'll leave to your imagination. But when I first picked up my signaling device, I instinctively held it with both hands, and I stuck with that the rest of the day. It seemed to serve me well.

There is one sound I noticed early on which is unique to the Jeopardy! experience: the squeaky symphony of the signaling device buttons as the contestants frantically attempt to ring in. It's surprising how loud it is from the audience, and how frustrating it is to hear from the podiums next to you.

Up at the podiums, we recorded our Hometown Howdies. I had had plenty of time to go over mine in my head, so it went pretty smoothly. I tried to keep a perky smile on my face the whole time, but as soon as I finished speaking, my lower lip started trembling. This was probably the apex of my nervousness, because once the game starts, there really isn't much time to worry about anything.

My first game, ah, yes, I remember it well...I was a bit dismayed by the categories in the Jeopardy! round, which seemed much more difficult than anything in the games I had watched that day. I was frustrated when the "City Songs" were mostly unfamiliar, disheartened when I missed the Daily Double, and embarrassed when I answered "Play-Doh" for a clue whose correct response was "kitty litter" (I'm pretty sure Alex laughed at me for that one). At the break between the Jeopardy! and Double Jeopardy! rounds, Maggie gave me the 3rd-place pep talk. I gave myself my own pep talk too: "This was a good experience. How lucky am I to even have made it here? John and Dan are really good-you never know who you'll be up against..."

The one perk of being in 3rd place going into the DJ! round is getting to pick the first category. And what did I see when the first category was revealed? "The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry." Thank you, Jeopardy! gods. (I was an English major in college.) I didn't run the category or anything, but the ones I did get were enough to build my confidence. The other real turning point was, shockingly, Presidential Math. I won't tell you how late in my studying I finally managed to get around to learning the order of the Presidents (let's just say I'm glad I brought some study materials on the plane with me), and math (specifically mental math when large sums of money are on the line) is not my strong suit. I was happy to get the Daily Double because I knew I could rock it, but I took so long getting to the answer that my husband later told me he was sure I was going to miss it. (I took so long because, in my scattered attempt at linear thought, I couldn't accurately count back from Obama to Reagan, settled on 39, realized there was no way in heck I could multiply 39 x 5 in my head, and settled on the easier 40 x 5.)

I didn't look at the scores at all except for when I needed to wager, but at some point I realized I would be ending the Final Jeopardy! round in first place. In first, if you bet correctly and get the correct response, you are guaranteed a win, but if you get it wrong, you are very likely to lose. So no pressure there. "Science History" wasn't my forte, but I knew I had to wager big to lock out John. On my first attempt at doing the math, I actually didn't wager big enough, but I caught my mistake and figured out the correct number eventually.

You would guess that the Jeopardy! think music would be extremely distracting and annoying for the contestants who are trying to figure out their responses. But in all my four games, I barely heard it. In game one, I focused on the clue, which to me was mostly gibberish, and basically looked like this: "Blah blah, some scientist, sun, blah, mass, blah, blah, density, blah." The astronomy class I took in college was at 9 am and met in a planetarium with really comfortable seats. Need I say more? The phrase "red giant" actually crossed my mind at one point (maybe it floated across the psychic plane from John's podium), but it didn't stick. "Black hole" was the only possibility that really made sense to me, although I was far from certain. I'm not sure how well I did at keeping my poker face, despite the pre-game suggestion that we do so, but I do remember how I felt when I heard myself announced as the new Jeopardy! champion: giddy. Giddy and shaky and unable to walk in a straight line (I would definitely have failed a field sobriety test). It took two people, one on each side, to make sure I didn't do a face-plant coming down the steps from the stage.

After our end-of-show chat with Alex (awkward and funny) and my Winner's Circle interview (awkward and probably incoherent), I signed a paper with a ridiculous dollar figure on it and started thinking about the necessary travel arrangements for extending my stay by four days. I was scheduled to fly home the next day (Sunday), but the day's taping was over and the next one was on Tuesday. Darn, a few extra days in sunny California!

After you win Jeopardy!, you don't sleep well. At least, I sure didn't. For several days afterward I lay in bed awake, for hours maybe, reliving it in my mind, explaining things, describing the experience, for the benefit of some imaginary listener. I think maybe I was telling it to myself, reminding myself that yes, this really happened.

So it was with a little less than a full night's sleep that I arrived at the studio on Tuesday at the (ungodly but standard for Jeopardy!) hour of 8 a.m. Let me just be upfront about this: coming back to the studio as a returning champion, you feel a little bit cool (or cooler than cool...dare I say, "ice cold"?). I was still nervous, but much less so. I knew the routine, knew Maggie's jokes, and knew I was scheduled to play in the first game. Just knowing that I could still call myself a Jeopardy! champion, no matter what happened that day, took a lot of the pressure off. But I had my moments. At one point while we were killing time in the green room, I had this sudden twinge of panic that I hadn't recently reviewed my list of Best Picture Oscar winners, 1970-2008. I grabbed my Hometown Howdy practice sheet and scribbled an abbreviated list on the back. Of course, none of them showed up in my games, but at least I felt a little more secure.

Don't ask me about the games I played that day-they're all a blur and getting blurrier by the day (watching them will be suspenseful because I probably won't remember what's coming next). There's so little time in between to think about and process the experience; after the Winner's Circle interview, you dash backstage to change clothes (which took me forever because my hands were shaking and I was having a hard time buttoning my shirt-even when you've won a couple of games, it's still a rush). I got to wear each of the outfits I had brought from home and didn't have to dip into the too-small shirts I borrowed at the last minute from a friend of my brother-in-law.

I'm grateful that when I did lose, it didn't come down to one single thing. I was in 2nd place going into FJ!, so I knew that for me to have any chance of winning, Nora would have to get it wrong. And I think that I wagered such that my answer didn't matter-if Nora missed, I would win either way. My answer of Austria was completely dumb, and actually Luxembourg briefly crossed my mind at one point-I even knew it was a Grand Duchy, but somehow when the clue said "monarchy," I got stuck trying to think of kings and couldn't move past that. But Nora was correct, which made it all moot anyway. It was a pretty painless way to go, and it was fun to see her have the same oh-my-gosh-I-just-won-Jeopardy! moment I had experienced a few days before.

Almost immediately, I started wishing that I had been able to play one...or two...or three more games. Money aside, fame (ha!) aside, it really is just fun to be able to play a high-stakes trivia game with some very nice, very funny, very smart people. And I think I got to experience a lot of cool Jeopardy! moments: coming from behind to win, beating a multi-game champion, finding LOTS (probably more than my fair share) of Daily Doubles, coming back for a new day of filming as the returning champion, winning a lock game, having to do the "quick change" of clothes in between games, having a couple of really strange exchanges with Alex during the interview segments and the post-show chat, getting the best introduction ever: "She may look sweet, but she's tough." Yeah, it was great.

A couple of days after my shows finished taping, I had another Jeopardy! dream. In this dream, I received a call from Jeopardy! staffers saying that there had been some mistake with the scoring, and that I would be able to return to play another game. It was a very, very good dream.

Alison appeared in the following 4 archived games:
#5972, aired 2010-07-27 Alison Stone Roberg vs. Vince Femenella vs. Nora Corrigan
#5971, aired 2010-07-26 Alison Stone Roberg vs. John Cunningham vs. Pamela Nelson
#5970, aired 2010-07-23 Alison Stone Roberg vs. Joe Gallagher vs. Rich Baker
#5969, aired 2010-07-22 John Krizel vs. Dan Highlands vs. Alison Stone Roberg John Krizel game 5.

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