Who Is.... Mark Brown
Jeopardy! started the year I was born, 1964. I remember my mother watching it when I was a kid. Art Fleming was host, the dollar values were a lot lower, the board was run manually, and I didn't ever know any of the answers. (Does anybody else also remember each contestant having a glass of water on his or her podium, or am I just making that part up?)
I didn't begin watching Jeopardy with any regularity until moving to the Phoenix area in 1997. It comes on at 7 pm here, which means that it usually was on right after I had gotten home from work and finished dinner.
I didn't seriously think about trying out until at least three years later. By
then I was starting to realize that I was often able to answer at least as many of the questions as the contestants on the show. I was doing better and better just by watching because of the way material tends to get recycled on the show (our in-joke: opera+Egypt = Aida)
By February 2001, my mind was pretty much made up to try out. With our first baby on the way, it was the prospect of winning a lot of money that drove me to it. I looked for advice on the Internet and found Karl Coryat's site. I kept my scores for a few nights, and according to Karl's scoring system, I was ready for a tryout. I also took his advice about trying out in the spring, before the beginning of the taping season
Because Phoenix is a short, cheap flight away from LA, I decided to go on a
one-day trip to try out, contrary to the advice on the Jeopardy! website.
Scheduling a tryout turned out to be as simple as calling the phone number on website. I had a date for early April.
The tryout was held in the Jeopardy! studio; the prospective contestants sat in the audience chairs. Our group was small and filled less than half the seats. Halfway into the test, based on the material, I was very confident of passing. Our scores, of course, were not revealed, but I think I got at least 45 of 50. When it was all over, six people, including me, had passed.
I was not called back that season, although after seeing the dollar values
doubled that November, I was actually glad.
The next April (2002), I tried out again. My wife Diana and 10-month-old son
Zachary were visiting a friend of hers near San Francisco. Again, I caught a
flight right after work to LA for a one-day trip. The tryout was held at the
Culver City Radisson. This time, the test seemed harder to me. I was worried that I hadn't passed. But again, when the results were announced,
I was one of six in the group that had. This time I tried to be a little perkier during the mock game.
Leaving the Radisson afterwards, one of the other guys claimed that he had passed the test fourteen years in a row and had never been called back. There was nothing overtly untelegenic about him, so I didn't find this very encouraging. I vowed that I would quit trying after five years, or if I failed the test, whichever came first.
Six weeks later, a day before my son's first birthday, Glenn called me at work one afternoon. It was a short call --- he gave me the taping date (June 18 --- exactly four weeks away) and I said thanks. In trying to stay calm, I
feared that I had come across as somewhat underwhelmed. I was almost tempted to call him right back just to assure him that I was excited. I spend the next month studying, although not nearly as much as I'd hoped to.
Just to sum up the rest quickly --- I won two games my first day and returned the following week on June 25. I won the first three games of the day, finishing with a total of $68,094 and the Jag. My wife, a friend, and I took a cab to The Warehouse restaurant in Marina del Rey. I gave the cab driver a 100% tip and the three of us had a harborside lunch that included oysters and a $50 bottle of champagne, followed by $10 glasses of single-malt Scotch. Aside from spending $25 on a couple of Cohiba cigars back home, this was the only extravagant thing that I've done with the money.
As for my games themselves, it took, as I suspected, a healthy measure of luck to win five in a row. I never had a lock at the end of the game, and in fact I trailed twice going into Final Jeopardy. I was also wrong in FJ twice, but fortunately both times it was a triple-stumper and the other contestants didn't try strategic low bets that would've left them in first place. On the other hand, as I never tire of pointing out, if I had been correct on the very difficult FJ in my second game, my winnings would have been $34,500 that day instead of just $1,500. My total winnings would have topped $101,000 and I would have vaulted into second place on the all-time list, although as we now know, I would have dropped to third after Brian's historic
games in April.
The coolest part of it all, of course, was knowing that I would come back some day for the Tournament of Champions and a chance at more cash. I was even more glad of this when, in November, my wife came to me holding a little pregnancy-test stick, showed me the two lines, and said "Well, Zachary is going to have a little brother or sister --- "