Game One Recap...  Brian Weikle

My ToC experience began with the flight out to LA. The show had paid for a full-fare coach ticket, so I was able to upgrade myself to first class for a nominal charge (I think it was $100). I had just settled into seat 3D when I saw the occupant of 2D come out of the restroom. "I'll take overweight Minnesotans with game-show connections for $200 please, Alex." Yes, I was sitting behind Louie Anderson, erstwhile host of Family Feud. I thought I travelled casually, but he looked like hell. Big ol' velvet jogging suit, no shave, looked like he hadn't even showered. Not exactly your glamorous celebrity image.

A friend picked me up at LAX and whisked me over to the Beverly Hilton.
I did some exploring in Century City and got some dinner, but otherwise just relaxed Sunday evening.

The producers, in their infinite wisdom, fly everyone out on Sunday for a Tuesday taping. While this is great insurance against travel delays (March IS the snowiest month, as we all know, after all) it means that you are stuck with a Monday with nothing to do but sit around the hotel getting nervous. My solution to this was to turn Monday into a workday. I actually spent most of the day visiting with some logistics providers that we use.
This (a) saved me a day of vacation and (b) kept my mind off the task at hand. Monday evening I got a massage in the hotel salon (note to Merv: this part of the hotel operation needs serious upgrading) and spent the rest of the night watching war coverage on TV and ironing.

Tuesday morning, the big day! I wandered out to the lobby and only a few folks were there already. As the rest of the people straggled in Maggie was going over her notes for the Alex cards. At first she mistook me for Mark Brown ... thanks a lot, Maggie! Oh well. Even as a champion I'm fairly anonymous I guess. It was interesting watching the dynamics. As I've mentioned, I didn't really know anyone. Some people knew each other only via email (and seeing each other on TV, of course) so there was some "great to finally meet you" going on. Others (Travis and Max for example) had already been through tapings together so they knew each other very well. And there was me just watching everyone.

When we got to the studio, I seem to remember some of the usual routine of filling out paperwork and Susanne talking to everyone. Then we went over to the Wheel studio in groups to do our interviews in front of the green screen. Mine didn't come off as well as I would have hoped. Those of us who had local TV news crews there got to do interviews with them as well. They also filmed the rehearsal and us just hanging out in the green room. Why anyone would want to see that is beyond me, but I'm not a telejournalist.

Finally they announced the players for the first game: Brian, Ben and Kathy. I was glad to be in the first game. I've read some of Ben's comments and he was not. Kathy was very much not happy to be playing against me. Going into the ToC my thought had been that I wanted to get it over with early, so as not to have to stew in the Green Room all day wondering what's going on. It also gives you the advantage (if you win) of seeing your competition play. There are two downsides to going first. One is that you don't get a chance to observe and get back into the rhythm of the shows. For me this was not an issue (I had just been there six weeks before) but Ben and Kathy had gone a long time since their tapings and I think this may have hurt them. The other downside is that if you don't win, but have posted a reasonable score, you have to watch all the other games at the edge of your seat hoping nobody passes you. That would have given me an ulcer for sure.

On reflection, there was another advantage for me. Nobody had seen me play before, and because I was in the first quarterfinal, when I got to the semifinals they STILL hadn't seen me play. Not that it helped that much; the semifinal game was extremely tough. But I'm getting ahead of myself :)

When they announced that first group, I remarked to Ben that we'd had a tough draw. Based on my somewhat limited knowledge of the field, I had pencilled him in as one of the favorites. I also figured I had to be in that group. I didn't know anything about Kathy, but she turned out to be a strong player as well.

I was pleased that I got the first podium. Not so much because going first is an advantage, but I just felt more comfortable there. I had just gotten my bearings when the game began...

My first reaction after the categories were revealed was "Man, I hate these categories". Turns out that initial impression was accurate, as I got off to my typical slow start. Actually it was not so much me starting slow as Ben starting fast. He went right for that TV Guide category and I was introduced to a whole new experience: Answers that I mostly did not know. You don't get to the ToC by not knowing stuff, and there was stuff up there that I honestly had no idea about. I think that was more discouraging than getting beat by Ben and Kathy on the stuff that I did know.

As we went to the first commercial break I was thinking "Well, that was it, thanks for coming, here's your parting gifts." I had this huge sense of anti-climax; I had done all this great stuff during the regular shows but here in the TOC I was going to leave quietly. Oh well. I figured things HAD to turn around a little bit, but I also figured the two people standing to my left weren't going to make it easy.

After the chat break with Alex I started to get into a bit more of a rhythm, and got my confidence back. Obviously the categories didn't get any better, but at least there was stuff that I knew. Then there was stuff that I knew but I didn't ring in on; Grace Coolidge comes to mind. I'm not a great student of American history, but one thing I know is that whenever you hear "President" (or in this case First Lady) and "Vermont" in the same question, you ring in and say Coolidge. So why didn't I do it? I think I was thrown off by Kathy's DD question the clue before???I would never have come up with Mary Todd Lincoln (although it was one of those "D'oh!" answers once it was revealed) and since that was the $800 clue I convinced myself I wasn't going to know the $1000. Maybe I subconsciously felt bad for vulturing Kathy's previous answer; until she said it I'd had no idea that Mrs. Coolidge's first name was Grace. Now I know.

We finished off the round with Hard Candy. This was the only time in my J! experience where I gave an answer that was not accepted, but I thought it should have been. Crystallized sugar on a stick is cotton candy! Ok, so cotton candy isn't "hard", but at that point I still hadn't decided if the category was "Difficult Candy" or "Not-soft Candy". In fact I still don't know. Anyway, rock candy comes on a string, not a stick! Whoever heard of rock candy on a stick? Watching this again today reminded me how miffed I was at the time. At that point in the game I was still quite a bit behind. At least I got the $1000 answer ("What is Brach's?") to get some momentum going into DJ.

My DJ experience can be summed up in 3 words: Holy Roman Emperors. As soon as I saw that category I knew I was going to win. I just got a feeling. I knew with certainty that there was nothing they could ask in that category that I wouldn't know. Turns out I was right; I still can't believe Ben (or anyone!) beat me to Charlemagne. Why didn't I bet it all in the DD? I was confident, not crazy :)

Anyway, once I got into the lead the game started to play like my earlier games had gone: slowly but surely building up a lead during DJ. At some point it became apparent that Ben moved into "playing for wild card" mode instead of "playing to win" mode (which is exactly what he should have done). Kathy just really struggled during the round. I think she just got a little flustered being in the red for so long. She did pull out some great answers ("Kiss of the Spider Woman") but never really got back into it. I really wanted her to make it into FJ, because anything could happen with those wild-card slots.

Strategy digression: During regular Jeopardy! games, there is some debate about whether you should play for a tie (if you are in the lead). Some say you should, because you'll get a player you know you can beat. Some say you shouldn't, because you'll get an experienced opponent. I found myself in an analogous situation near the end of DJ. There was enough money left on the board to let Kathy get back into the plus, but there was also enough to let Ben move to within half my score (putting my lock win in danger). I decided that winning the game was more important (even though I figured my score would guarantee me a wild card even if Ben did catch me) so I had to continue to play aggressively. This in spite of the fact that I really wanted both Ben and Kathy to make the semi-finals.

You might think I had a selfish motive for this ("I beat them here, so I should be able to beat them again"), but not so. For one thing, I knew it was very unlikely that they would put two players from the same quarterfinal into the same semifinal. More than that, I just wanted them to do well because I like them. Moreso than any of the other players, I "connected" with those two on that first morning. It was just cruel coincidence that put us all into the same game. This element of playing against people you know and like was new for me in the TOC, and took some adjusting to.

One other note from the game: I missed my first DD question. In retrospect, I wish I'd come up with a smart-aleck answer. The clue asked for a three-word title, so I should have said something like "No Idea Alex" or "Brian Doesn't Know" or "I Hate Nuns". I decided to save my mental energy for the game rather than thinking up clever wrong answers. I'm just glad I only bet $200. Somewhat ironic, since one of my most-talked-about answers from my original run was "Who is Sister Kenny?".

After the big comeback in DJ, FJ was very anti-climactic. I knew I'd won, I didn't need to bet anything, so I didn't. Again, in retrospect I wish I'd bet $1.73 or some weird amount, but I was very happy and relieved to get the win. I was disappointed that Ben didn't come up with the right answer in time. He would have been very competitive as a semi-finalist.

After winning the first game, I was VERY glad that I'd gone first. For the rest of the day I got to sit back and watch 4 of the best-played, hardest-fought games of Jeopardy! I or anyone will ever see. I speak for all 15 of us when I say, "Damn, we're good". I think everyone will agree after watching the games this week.