This is a bit of a weird niche to blog about, and doubtless some of my Facebook friends are tired of hearing about it. That said, it is pretty cool to have a Jeopardy! champion in the family, and anyway, David asked for a blog post about it.
Alex Trebek and my brother John
When you accost people with “Do you watch Jeopardy!? Well…you should, because my brother’s playing on there,” they inevitably ask questions about how the show works. How did he get on the show? Is it taped in advance? Oh, okay, do you know how long he’ll be on, then? What does Alex talk about with them as the credits roll? How much did he win? Is there a five-day limit, or can he go on indefinitely? Is it true that they give the contestants a list of the categories the night before? Can I watch it online?
Well. I can answer some of that for you.
A few days a year, Jeopardy has an online test for prospective contestants to take. John registered and took it (every year since he graduated college, actually), and did well enough (35+/50 questions, I believe) to qualify for the regional auditions.* The regional interviews involve further questions, this time with a buzzer involved, to narrow down the field of contestants further. Finally, he was invited to come out for taping, and went through a final selection process (I forget how this part works) to determine which game he’d be in. And then he just plays until he can’t play anymore!
*John has qualified for regionals twice now. One round took him down to Kentucky; the second time he went from Columbus, OH up to Detroit. Unsurprisingly, he says it’s easier the second time around.
John has NO idea what a beryl is.
They tape 5 shows in a day, each corresponding to the days of a work week. John’s games were taped back in November, I believe, but he is sworn to secrecy. He and his wife know how he did – she was in the audience, after all – but have preserved the mystery so the viewers can be surprised (especially when he gets Daily Double clues he doesn’t know, or Final Jeopardy clues he really doesn’t know)!
After the credits roll, Alex talks about whatever subject captured his imagination during the game. After John’s first game, where he beat the reigning champion J. Elliott, Alex discussed Elliott’s plots for a Truman Capote opera (?!).
Thus far, John has won 5 games and a total of $104,500. He continues playing until someone else beats him, though I believe that winning 5 times with that high a sum qualifies him to return for the Tournament of Champions (which will happen later this year, I believe; not sure when).
Studying up the night before taping
They don’t give the contestants question lists, but John did use his computer programming skills to great effect: he created an app which utilizes data from j-archive.com to see how well he’d do with questions from former seasons. This has helped him in at least two questions, including a “Real Mystery” Daily Double that netted him $4,200!
Annnd while I don’t believe it’s possible to stream the show, it’s possible to watch recent games on youTube the day after – with all the ads removed for quick and easy viewing.
So with all that answered…what has it been like, having a Jeopardy! winning-brother?
Toasting after the first win!
Answer: it’s been a pretty good time! Our whole family has gotten into it: my mum, our cousins, our aunts and uncles, and I have been exhorting the mailmen, the FedEx guys, bank workers, random folks at the shop to tune in.
John and his wife Elizabeth, Tuesday night watch party at our parents’ house.
Day 1: J. Elliott dethroned
John has spent the week going to viewing party after viewing party. Some of his friends have driven across Michigan and Ohio to watch and celebrate with him. There’s a flurry of texts and tweets and phone calls every night, as we photograph the shot of his total winnings, and discussions of sartorial considerations. A whole bunch of J. Elliot fans lamented as their fearless leader was beaten out last Thursday, and some of them still aren’t over it.
John gets a certain amount of ribbing if he misses things – Billings, Montana and The Music Man come to mind – but there’s also a lot of impressed faces when he runs through a category like “Out –Let” or “Anagrams,” and I relish the facts which I know on account of sharing with him and which, I fancy, he knows because of sharing with me: Brideshead Revisited, Beedle the Bard, Baba O’Riley, and others that start with something other than B.
We’ve gotten a little bit of background detail about the other contestants, John’s thought processes during the questions, and the stories he’s shared during the Getting-to-Know-You segments: how he proposed to his wife, the commencement of the Pink Shirt Friday, the puppy cam he and Elizabeth use to keep an eye on their dog Hektor, etc.
All these stories and details have prompted a lot of rumination on facts, trivial and otherwise; game strategy in a fast-paced environment; and stories which are worth the telling even when condensed to <30 seconds. Some of which I might share in a later post. But for now…we’re going to watch John on Jeopardy! tonight. Join us!