Who Is.... Jason McCune
I watched Jeopardy pretty regularly since my Junior or Senior year of high
school. I always thought, "Someday, I am going to try and get on this
show." It wasn't until I actually moved to Los Angeles as an actor that I
decided to take the plunge. It's convenient if you live here, because they
conduct contestant tests quite often at Sony. I finally sent my postcard in
(didn't have a computer at the time), got a test date, and went. Standing
around in the waiting area at Sony, looking at the other hopefuls, I
remembered all the times I said to myself "I could do that, I could be on
Jeopardy, I could actually have won that game, I knew almost every question that show", and now I was finally going to find out.
I should add at this point that the night before I went to take my test,
which was in late February, 2001, my wife had informed me that we were going to be parents for the first time. The exchange went something like this:
(Jason, after a long day working at Williams-Sonoma, then acting class,
sits on the couch, eating a sandwich.)
Sharon (the wife): How was class?
Jason (between bites): O.K. I sucked in my scene, but other than that...
Sharon: You staying up for a while?
Jason: Yea, for a while.
Sharon: Well, I'm going to bed, oh, by the way, we're going to be parents
in nine months. Goodnight.
Jason: (feeling the beginnings of vertigo) What?
Sharon: We're pregnant.
Jason: (vertigo definitely setting in) Huh? How do you know?
Sharon: I know.
Jason: (vertigo raging, dull numbing sound in ears) What?
Sharon: (realizing the futility in continuing this conversation)
Jason: (having lost interest in finishing his sandwich) Guess I better do
well on my Jeopardy test tomorrow.
Or something to that effect.
They say that the test is harder than the actual game, and they are right.
I was sitting in the studio, waiting to take the test, listening to some
of the others, talking about how many times they had taken the test, how
many times they had passed it, how many YEARS they had been trying to get on the show. Suddenly I got very nervous. I hadn't felt this way since I got married, I think. I didn't feel this nervous about the SAT's. They passed
out the test, and we began. Fifty questions on fifty separate categories,
one at a time, for eight seconds each. You have to score at least 35 out of
50 to pass, and halfway through, I had already left 4 or 5 blanks. I tried
to scratch out one-word notes about what the question was, so I could come back to it, a hopeless strategy. When we had finished, I thought my goose was cooked. I chatted up a few of the other dreamers; a Marine up from Twenty-Nine Palms whose fellow soldiers were going to let him have it if he didn't get on the show; a man from Berkeley with a PhD in Library Sciences (I honestly didn't know you could get such a degree, go figure); and a fellow who I'm quite certain lived on the beach. Those were just the people immediately around me, out of about fifty people. The scores came back and I was asked to stay and play the mock version of the actual game. I had this feeling, this surety that I was going to be called up for the show, and, seven months later, I was.
I came in the last week of November as a stand-by contestant, which was
actually quite beneficial, I think. Getting to watch a day's worth of taping,
hanging out, watching how the whole thing went down was very cool. When I came in the next week, I was relaxed, calm, cool, and collected. I wanted to get out there and play, play, play. I was going to play this game like I was playing Trivial Pursuit at my Uncle Billy's house at Christmas: play to win, play to have fun, play it like it's a game. Any nerves I felt were
simply excitement. As I walked out for my first game, a Tuesday game, I had
sort of a boxer's bounce, I wanted to run a couple of laps around the
studio, or just run out to the contestant podium's, I was so stoked, so juiced, so jazzed that I was going to be on Jeopardy, after so many years of
watching it, playing at home, playing against other actors in the green room of a theatre before a show, playing against friends at a bar over a beer, and
here I was.
I was getting my ass kicked the first round of my first game. It took me a
while to get my buzzer rhythm, but once I did, I made up ground in a
hurry, and pulled out a win by not betting much on a tough FJ that everyone got wrong. I was a Jeopardy hampion! I couldn't believe it!
Now I had vindication for all my Trivial Pursuit dominance and strutting at Christmas. Any wins after this would just be gravy. I got three more helping of gravy that day, including runaways for my last two wins, totaling $90,041 for my final score. I was a four-day champ, and had to come back the next day and try and win #5, and the Jag, and an automatic berth in the ToC.
I called my wife from the Green Room, and I told her she would have to
fill in at work for me again the next day, because I had to come back and
defend my title. She said, "Are you in a bar?" I told her no, and that I had
won $90,000 so far. She started laughing and crying all at the same time.
I had to grab Susanne Thurber and have her tell my wife that I wasn't kidding, and that I was sober.
That night, I got about three hours sleep, tossing and turning, thinking
about the Jag, the ToC, winning $100,000, and any other little thing that
came flitting through my mind that long, long night.
Needless to say, I was a bit of a wreck the next day, didn't feel the same
as I had the day before, just a bit slow, a bit out of it. Also, I didn't
get lucky the second day as I had numerous times the first day. No DD for
one thing, and getting shutout of categories I knew every answer to. Again,
just a little slow. Ah, well, easy come, easy go. I almost made it.
It was a great run. I did everything I ever imagined I would do on the
show, and when you stop and think about that, it's downright amazing. I went on runs of answering five, six questions in a row; I got six DDs and bet all that I had on four of them, doubling my money (the two I got wrong, I only bet a thousand or two); I was losing by $3,500 or so going into FJ, bet
the whole thing ($14,000), and won the game; and I had two runaways, which is probably the most amazing feeling I think apart from actually winning the game. I was a good gambler, not really that much smarter than my opponents. I think if everyone got to stand there and answer every question that they knew, everyone's scores would be about the same in the end.
When my shows aired, I didn't have a big party like some of the other
ToCers had, which, in retrospect, is a little disappointing. Being so far from
family, and relatively new to LA, I didn't have a big group to draw from.
Our son Curran was about four months old at the time, so having people over was not a great idea, anyway. It was just me, the wife, the baby, and the cat, sitting there, watching something that had happened four months
before. My wife did have a Guinness poured and waiting for me every night, which was great. Very low key, very normal, very cool.
I had very little expectation of getting into the ToC. I didn't watch much
Jeopardy after my episodes. It lost its allure for me. It was sort of a
'been there, done that' feeling, coupled with coming so close to being a
five-day champ and coming up short. I didn't care if I missed the show or not. So when I got the envelope, I was shocked, especially since I had no
concept of how many other four and five day champs there had been, and
when the ToC would actually be.
Since I hadn't seen most of the other players, I wasn't really intimidated
by anyone. In fact, I felt great about my chances. But the weekend before
we taped, I got a wicked chest infection. Two days before the taping, I
lost my voice. In all my years of acting, I had never lost my voice. The day
of the quarters, I spent hours drinking tea, gargling with salt water, and
trying not to talk.