Who Is.... Alan Bailey
I first tested for Jeopardy during Alex Trebek's first season --- I was
living in New York and I flew out to L.A. just to take the test. I failed it.
I finally got the nerve to take it again in January, 2000. And out of all
the memorable moments from my little Jeopardy career, passing that test may have been the most satisfying. Still, I didn't get called to be on the show. I passed the test again in January, 2001, and this time I lied a lot in
my interview to make myself sound fascinating. I got The Call two weeks later.
I had six weeks to prepare, and I studied obsessively. I'm a writer and director, which means that I'm, ahem, frequently between jobs.
It's amazing what a leg up you can get on your competition when you have no job and no kids.
I memorized lists about the Olympics, the planets, and chemical elements;
I knew what the years the Presidents served, who they defeated, and who their Vice-Presidents and First Ladies were (including maiden names);
I learned mixed-drink ingredients; I acquainted myself with opera for the first time. My head was swimming with facts when I got to the Sony Green Room. And thank God I knew stuff, because I was lousy on the buzzer. I flailed and lunged, I got mad at the thing, and I probably managed
to win just by getting questions nobody else rang in on.
The moment of winning my fifth game was a roller-coaster:
"Congratulations, Alan, you've won a new Chevrolet Tahoe (yay!) and you've qualified for the Tournament of Champions (oh, no!). As soon as it sank in that I was going to be in the ToC, I knew that I would continue to obsess, that I would ignore friends and family, that I would be impossible to live with. But then again, I'm that way every time I write a script, and the
odds of selling a script are even worse than winning the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions. In short, I viewed the ToC as a job --- I do plenty of work on spec, hoping to get paid for it on the back end, and I make a pretty good living at it. So when I was "between jobs", the ToC would be my job.
I'm envious when I read about contestants who prepared for the ToC by
reading the newspaper and watching some movies. I created a slide-show program for my PC --- a program that rapidly cycled through a series of electronic flashcards that I could randomize and view from across the room. I would answer a question about the British monarchy followed by one about the Battle of Shiloh followed by one about noble gases. The thing was --- I had to enter all those questions and answers. Entering that information --- and learning it --- became my occupation and my fixation. I'm sure I shouldn't reveal my an obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but here goes --- between March of 2001 and January of 2003, I created a database of 36,000 electronic flashcards. And in the couple of months leading up to the ToC, I cycled through 2,500 of them a day, every day.
"But Alan," you must be asking, "didn't you have ANY fun for two whole
years?" Well, yes. I played games. I taped Password and Pyramid; my girlfriend and I muted the TV and played along every day. I played bar trivia and Catchphrase with anybody I could buy a beer for. And, most importantly, I assembled a Jeopardy posse. The first unwitting member was Jeopardy message-board regular Tommy Segi --- we played the online game several times a day.
I got in touch with him because he seemed articulate on the board, he was half my age (meaning he has all those video-game muscles in his hands that I don't have), and he's a student at my alma mater, Ohio University.
I can't tell you how excited I was when I won that first game --- the multiplayer Jeopardy game was a game of speed, and I had beaten a 20-year-old! Tommy gave me a run for my money as long as the multi-player game lasted, and he became my cheerleader and my friend.
Armed with my success at snaring Tommy Segi, I became a serial stalker.
I began rehearsals for a show in Minnesota shortly after Myron Meyer set his $50,000 one-day record --- naturally, I tracked him down and said, "You
don't know me, but could I come over to your house and play CD-Rom Jeopardy?" For some reason he trusted me not to be an axe-murderer, and I managed to win a good percentage of games against him --- I held my own against somebody in the Jeopardy pantheon! Thus emboldened, I asked Andrew Garen, ToC Class of 2001, if he would write some Jeopardy games for me --- and he wrote a series of excellent games over the next few months --- paging Harry Friedman! I persuaded Mark Barrett, the man who knows all things Jeopardy, to give me tips on strategy --- and he even kept me up-to-date on current events with a series of e-mails on likely Jeopardy topics.
Still, I needed somebody nearby to play against, particularly after the multi-player online game was so heartlessly annihilated. I gathered my courage and approached one of the best players to wield a light pen --- Michael Rooney, a philosophy professor from Pasadena. I used my same old come-on line ("Hey, wanna play some CD-Rom Jeopardy?") and he agreed to meet me in the faculty lounge where he teaches. Well, I guess those 36,000 flashcards were paying off, because I managed to win my fair share of games. We started meeting and playing on a weekly basis, and Michael generously began offering advice on Tournament play --- everything from when it's wise to skip around the board to how to get a good night's sleep before the second tape day --- if I made it that far. In short, Michael became my coach, and a very valuable one.
The night before the ToC was a great night --- Andrew Garen flew in for
the Tournament, and I whisked him off to Pasadena where he, Michael, and I spent the evening playing Jeopardy. Besides being a heated battle between contestants from three different ToCs, hell, it was fun just to not have that incredibly slow computer woman at the third podium!
Oh --- I just thought of one last insane behavior I manifested during my
preparations. In the last weeks before both my original games and the ToC,
I tried to give myself obstacles and weigh myself down like a runner
preparing for a marathon --- when I played the real game, I wanted it to feel
easier than playing along at home. Every night when Jeopardy came on, I put on dress shoes that were too short, I wore a shirt that buttoned around my neck too tight, and I wore a sportcoat two sizes too small. My girlfriend
said I looked like a filling-station attendant. I blared every CD player
and radio until I could barely hear Alex; I rigged up blinking Christmas
lights around the TV screen; I aimed interrogation-intensity lamps at my
eyes. When I finally walked onto the Sony soundstage, believe me, I was ready to play.
So that's my story. And after all that obsessing, studying, and stalking,
I have just one thing to say --- if I win this thing, it will all be worth
it; if I don't, I'm an idiot.