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The Pre-Game commentary…
I was born in Worthington MN, on March 2, 1972…it was a cold, wintry Minnesota morning (or so I'm told)…too far back? I'll speed it along.
When I first got a chance to be on the Jeopardy stage, I had no concept that I would be back in a little over a year. If anyone saw my first game right up to the Final Jeopardy clue, chances were they'd have written me off. So the fact that I'm writing this AT ALL is one for Ripley.
Five games…it was amazing to see them play out on TV…more amazing that the actual taping took even less time. My ear had permanent indentations from the phone calls of family and friends who were amazed (and in the case of my parents, surprised) of the event.
There is a subtle combination of excitement and agony that comes with winning five games. The initial out-of-body experience, followed by the reward, then the realization that it isn't over yet. I can't even imagine how Alan, Mark Dawson, and Trevor dealt with the wait. Knowing myself, I probably over reacted, but if I were in their shoes, waiting over 18 months just to be thrown into the tournament mix like that, I would have spent some time with a cardiologist for all the chest pounding I would have done exclaiming "This is the big one!!!"
Before, I get too far…I kept the Jaguar…tends to be one of the more popular questions to be asked…and the way I see it, this may have been my only opportunity to get one.
I'd like to say that I spent the next twelve months furiously studying hard on all the typical Jeopardy fare that they throw at you for these tournaments. But college proved one thing to me: I hate to study. I'm a slacker. No 12-step program needed here, just admit the problem and force everyone else to submit to it. The last thing I truly studied for was the script for the Universal Studios Back Lot Tour…but that was something that had practical daily application. It's a little more difficult to insert Anti-Popes or Nobel Prize winning economists into daily conversation, unless we're talking about John Nash, then I can just go right back to "A Beautiful Mind" and use it for the back lot tour.
That's not to say that I didn't pick up an almanac every now and again…I finally got the full order of U.S. presidents down, and had the order of British royal succession figured out from the Tudors on. For me, that's huge.
In the month or so leading directly up to the actual taping of the tournament, friends and family were very encouraging…oh, you're going to win, you'll do great, nice haircut…the usual things that a potential Oscar winner may hear as well, but all certainly applicable to this experience. Furthermore, I was fairly familiar with a good number of the other competitors in that I saw their games, at least the ones that aired from January 2002 on. I wasn't familiar with Alan, Mark Dawson, Trevor, or Kathy, since I hadn't seen their games due to the fact that Jeopardy hadn't called yet to tell me I'd be playing. I hadn't seen Brian's games either, but in retrospect, I'm glad about that. It didn't color my perception about them, due to the fact that, to paraphrase a previous Jeopardy tournament contestant, I was going from being the "brainy" one, to being the "cute" one. I didn't deliberately downplay my own ability, rather I regarded myself as the scrappy one who was lucky to be there at all, given the humble beginnings.
It's an odd thing to gear up for a stay at Merv Griffin's Beverly Hilton when you live within five miles of the place. I had been hoping that Jeopardy would dole out some of Sony's cash and do one of those on-location tournaments like they did for the college tourney at Ohio State…Orlando was my choice actually. But the Beverly Hilton was nice too…especially as it was the week prior to the Oscars, so there was a bit of hubbub going on there in relation to that.
It was neat to pull in there with the Jaguar, I even did the valet option; again, when am I ever going to have the opportunity? For the next four days this would be "home". Not bad, thanks Merv.
After settling into the new digs, Bill (my partner) and I went exploring around the hotel and came across Eric Floyd and his mother, Kathi. Eric and I had exchanged e-mails roughly three or four months prior to this, but only for a short while. This was the first time we met face to face. Nicest guy I could've met so soon from my arrival. He and his mom were by the pool waiting for their dinner when Bill and I met them. What was originally a "hello, how are you" thing turned into a neat one hour conversation that covered everything from birth to Jeopardy. We even had set a time for Bill to meet up with Kathi on the first day of taping at the hotel, since Eric and I would be bussed over earlier.
After saying our goodbyes, Bill and I did some more exploring, grabbed some dinner, slept at the hotel, and woke up on Monday with the realization that we had to go home, just to take care of business (now you see why I wanted it to be in Orlando?). Monday was kind of get settled, deal with the countdown, nothing exciting…so we'll just skip over it.
Tuesday morning…I'm not a morning person. 6:30 am, no matter how long I was in the Air Force, was still a foreign concept to me. Yet, I was up, in the shower, getting everything together to be downstairs looking somewhat respectable. I was one of the first to arrive downstairs in the lobby, so I had more time to worry as the group got larger whether or not we would gel together or if one or two people would put out the bad vibes right away.
I'd say the gelling started early. You'd never know from looking at our motley crew that we would be asking questions as if our lives depended on it. After the tournament was over, I'd hear over and over that people were amazed at how well we got along; that members of Jeopardy's crew had never seen a group like ours bond so well.
In as much as the three hours were slow as it was happening, in retrospect the time before the games started are a blur now. I recall something about Faith Love wanting to off any one of the fifteen of us so she could move up from alternate. I also remember the speech that Susanne Thurber has down to a science in explaining every detail necessary about the show and the nature of the tournament, both for our edification as well as to cover Jeopardy's butt in case any one of us were to say "We were never told about that". I recall asking about a particular with regards to the possibility of a tie at the end of a game, but that was REALLY putting the cart before the horse…in fact I think that's how I prefaced the question, too.
There was something familiar about the pre-game process…sitting in the chair for make up, filling out the paperwork all over again; yet, despite what should have been a cutthroat atmosphere, I think we were all relieved to be able to talk about our experiences with people who understood the details. In an experience like Jeopardy, when in a room with people who have a shared experience, to be able to relate to it is a great thing…and the pressure of trying not to look like an obnoxious prick is off, simply because no one was above anyone else…not even Brian Weikle (mostly because no one had seen his games).
I did spend quite a bit of time talking with Brian and Kyle Hale. Both of them were great to talk with. With Brian, there was a bit of the whirlwind demeanor going on. While everybody else had seen the shows air, and got to play king or queen for a day, Brian had yet to experience it. As the newest member of the club, he was still fresh off of becoming the Jeopardy king. So there was an interesting combination of being the newby, but also being very workman-like in his attitude. Besides, having a camera crew from the local affiliate in Minnesota follow you around had to be a bit stressful. I also should mention that I had actually met Brian, briefly, about ten years earlier when we both did College Bowl; he for the University of Minnesota, while I was at Washington University in St. Louis. There tends to be an obnoxious air about those who are successful in College Bowl whenever they deal with anything to do with "intelligence"…Brian doesn't linger there. He represents himself well, and deserves every bit of good tidings that Jeopardy brings him.
Kyle was the young pup of the tourney…the guy was barely over twenty for Pete's sake. With that was the excitement of getting to be a part of such an opportunity so early in life. I could sense from him a true measure of gratitude and appreciation in being a part of it.
Everybody had an appointment to be "interviewed" for the website that would accompany the tournament's airing. When I say interviewed, it was basically a rehash of questions that we were e-mailed…for me that was only on the previous Friday, and they were due back by that same afternoon, so careful thought was not an option in getting it done. As a result, my answers were a combination of dopey, sappy, and pain-in-the-ass. When we all had our turns in front of the green screen, the p.r. guy had chosen answers that were a little of each, so I may come off as somewhat funny on the website…and I'll apologize right now to anyone that meets me who will eventually be disappointed that I'm not really a comedic talent.
If you made it this far…congrats, only two more hours to go of pre-game recap.
When I had made it back to the green room, I think it was Alan who informed me that the L.A. trio (Alan, Jason, and myself) would be interviewed a second time.
The shocker was that it was the local L.A. network who sent the camera crew. They didn't really sniff when any of us did well the first time, so it's kind of a shock that they would drive all *10 MILES* out of their way to ask us questions on the Jeopardy stage. So be it though…it was fun that they wanted to pay a little attention. The final proof will come when they choose to air the footage or leave it in the archives collecting dust.
If I have failed to mention anybody by this time, and I know I have, it isn't for lack of a connection…I have a crappy time with details of things; as much as I have provided, it doesn't do justice to the entire group. As the shows air, I'll probably have more individually…but, my brain can only reprocess so much, before there's an automatic shutdown.
It makes sense to end a recap leading up to the games with the following: as our trio came back from the second interview, the group was collectively asked "who wants to know who's playing first?" to which there was an audible combination of groans and curiosity. Personally, I was thinking "please let me sit in the green room for the first game". I just wanted to sit and stretch, if only for a half-hour. Then the announcement…
"The first ones up are Brian, Ben, and Kathy"
To be continued…
To learn more about each contestant simply click on a name below.