Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Can a Histocrat make it to Jeopardy?

By Jeff Burns

Do you play along with Jeopardy every night? Do you dream of appearing as a contestant one day? Have you ever wondered what the contestant selection process is like?

Well, I haven’t made it to the show yet, but I am currently in the contestant pool for the next eighteen months and could conceivably be called to fly to Los Angeles at any time within that eighteen months.  Of course, this is the sixth or seventh time I’ve been in the pool, so who knows? Because of my twenty-five years of experience in quiz bowl academic competition, I also know about a dozen people who have appeared on the show, including a couple of big money winners. So, I know it’s possible to get the call, but my bags aren’t packed yet.

Here’s how the process works.  Every year, Jeopardy conducts an online test.  The test consists of 50 high dollar value questions in various categories.  The clues appear on your screen one at a time, and you have a few seconds to type an answer. Passing is about ¾ correct.  According to the chief contestant coordinator, about 75,000 took this year’s test, and about 3,500 pass it.  From that 3,500, about 600 are chosen and invited to audition at about 8 sites around the country.    Making it to an audition means you’ve made the pool.  Each year, Jeopardy uses about 300 to 350 contestants from that 600 or so.

My audition site was Charleston South Carolina, so I took a couple of days off school and my wife and I had a great long weekend in the city before the audition on Tuesday.  On the day of the audition, the coordinators see 3 or 4 groups of 20-30 per group.  Once seated, the coordinators introduce themselves and run through a brief warmup, displaying clues on the screen and calling on contestants who raise their hands.  Then, you take another test, this time written.  It works the same as the online test, except that contestants write the answers.

The coordinators then take the answer sheets and the completed questionnaires that contestants brought with them to another room to look over.  At this audition, there was a special guest, Jimmy of the Clue Crew, who talked about his job and experiences with the show while the coordinators were gone.  Once the coordinators are back, the real fun begins:  buzzer play! Contestants are called to the front in threes, and each one gets a buzzer, just like the show.  A game board with categories and amounts appears on the screen, and each trio plays for a few minutes, buzzing in, answering when called on, and choosing the next clue. Sure, the coordinators are looking for right answers, but they are also looking, they tell the contestants, for people who project, handle the buzzer well, and move the game along without delay.  After a few minutes, the trio puts down their buzzers, and the coordinators talk to them.  First, there’s the dreaded “Tell us about yourself” question, and then the coordinators engage the contestants in conversation about what they say or what they have written on their questionnaires.

Finally, after a couple of hours, it’s over, and contestants wait for the next 18 months to see if they made the cut. Cross your fingers to see a Histocrat on Jeopardy bantering with Alex one day!

(Jimmy of the Clue Crew on the right)