Behind the Scenes of a Jeopardy! Audition

I played. I failed. Now share my pain.

I was sure I was going to be picked for the Grand Prize Game.

The centerpiece of The Bozo Show was the Grand Prize Game, where contestants threw ping-pong balls into a line of buckets in an attempt to win prizes. Getting the ball into the last bucket would win you a big jackpot.

I practiced for my trip to the local version of The Bozo Show with the arcade version at the 49th Street Galleria at Franklin Mills. I’m pretty sure I already had the grand prize, a Nintendo, but no matter. It was playing–and winning, of course, as I had practiced–that was important. Bozo was regular 7 a.m. viewing for second graders at St. Martha’s, and I was sure my classmates would greet me with adulation when I came in to school the morning my episode aired.

I did get picked for a game, a relay race where I had to hold a balloon between my legs. By the time my team got to me, we were hopelessly behind. My runner-up prize was not a Nintendo but a half-pint of ice cream from Friendly’s. My dreams were dashed.

The Bozo Show remains my only foray into competitive television shows, but it’s not without trying. Last April, I tried out for Jeopardy! I didn’t make it.

I’ve watched Jeopardy! my entire life. My parents are regular viewers. I discuss it with my uncle all the time. Now that I have a DVR, I never miss it. I am a Jeopardy! fanatic. I love Alex Trebek. I love the Clue Crew. I love the extraneous exclamation point. It’s my favorite TV show.

I yell at the TV when I watch, not just answers but at contestants’ stupid answers, dumb bets and lame stories. I am such a dork that watching it has been a pastime with every serious girlfriend I’ve ever had. My high school girlfriend and I used to get into fights when we played the PC version. This is Jeopardy! This is serious.

I’ve always thought about trying to get on, but I’m also lazy as hell. It’s hard for me to even get to quizzo hosted by one of my best friends anymore, and that’s a quiz that involves alcohol. How would I ever remember to plan to audition for Jeopardy!?

Things changed when the show started an online test a few years back. This was something I could remember to do! Lots of players have great audition tales. TV writer Bob Harris writes in Prisoner of Trebekistan that he took the test in person six or seven times. Ken Jennings got a 6-foot-9 genius friend to drive him to Los Angeles for the audition. Me? I got an email inviting me to audition a few weeks after I took the online test for a third time. I wasn’t seeing anyone at the time, so I celebrated by telling an ex-girlfriend.

I decided I wouldn’t do any preparation other than getting my suit dry cleaned. There would be time to study if I made it on the show. Staying calm and loose in my audition would be more important than being positive I knew all the European capitals.

I wasn’t all that calm and loose the day of the audition, of course; I couldn’t find my lucky tie, so I had to buy one at the unfortunately-named Tiecoon in Penn Station. That small setback turned me into a nervous wreck. I remember seeing thousands of Canadians protesting in Times Square for the Nordiques to return to Quebec. This had to be a hallucination brought on by nerves.

Still, I was pretty confident–visions of watching my many triumphs with my friends danced in my head–and the audition went pretty smoothly. The producers were friendly and entertaining, I was confident in how I did on the 100 additional questions we had to answer and I even got a Jeopardy! pen that I’ve since lost. I didn’t even stutter! (Or maybe I did, and I blocked it out of my head. Either way!) The mock interview–with a producer pretending to be Alex Trebek–even went well; he asked about my involvement in the Rock Paper Scissors league and I was able to tell the story of my one victory.

The producers only tell you if you make it. I don’t think about my audition much–and I didn’t tell too many people I auditioned, so I didn’t have to answer too many questions about it. But it has changed the way I watch my beloved Jeopardy! Every contestant is now an enemy. Every dude on the show elicits an “aw, come on, that guy?” reaction. There was even a contestant this year who was a fatter, more annoying version of myself.

Obviously, this is all in good fun. Trying out was a fantastic experience, and I’ll probably take the online test when I’m eligible for it again. Auditioning a few times before being selected is pretty common. But my view of the show–and of myself–has changed. I figured I’d try out for Jeopardy! and become a superstar, but it turned out I was just some bozo.