#ToC2015 Report From The Sidelines – Semifinals


Hello, Jeopardy! fans! We’re fortunate to have had Kaya Chua in the audience for the semifinals and finals at #ToC2015! While we wait (very patiently) for second game of the finals, here are her thoughts of the semifinals from the audience!

Now, here’s Kaya:

Hey y’all! Kaya here, your sideline reporter for this year’s ToC, bringing you all the no-longer-fresh takes that I’ve been sitting on and forgetting about over the past month. I was in the audience for the second day of taping, which is pretty amazing considering I received the following voicemail from the third-party ticket office the night before:

“We’re sorry to announce that….all tickets to Jeopardy! have been canceled due to a production issue.”

PANIC. So I stubbornly made the rush hour drive up to the studio the next morning anyway, hoping that there would still be some Jeopardy! happening and the priority ticket that I forgot to confirm on time would get me in. No need to worry! The staff recognized me as a former contestant, so not only was everything fine, they treated me extra special.

Waiting outside to get into the studio, I ran into fellow local alternate Michael Bilow for the first time since January. The conversation went something like this:

Michael: Hey!

Me: Hey there, how’s it going! ……….Oh.

The staff sat me down in the front row next to some very lovely folks: Brad Rutter, Pam Mueller, and Jerome Vered, all of whom need no introduction, as well as fellow Season 31 contestant Brian Fodera. Clearly, I was in some rarefied company, and Alex Trebek found a wonderful opportunity to remind me of my mortality. During one of the breaks, Alex Trebek walked over and introduced all of the stars to the audience, asking each of them in turn to tell everyone about their total winnings on the show. Pam won such-and-such plus a car, Jerome won several dollars, Brad won a very large number….

Then Alex gets to me. He has a very confused look on his face, then just tilts his head and points to me and says:

“I don’t think you won very much money on our program.” No, I did not, Alex.

Anyway, enough about me. On to the matches!

SEMIFINAL 1 (Kerry vs. John vs. Dan)

The consensus in the front row was that these semifinal boards were a bit lighter than the typical ToC fare of years past. The J! round of this game seemed like one from a regular season game, maybe even trending on the easy side. Then again, I drink way more soda that I’d care to admit, so this might have just been a really good set of categories for me.

The 7-Up clue reminded me of a bit of useless soda knowledge. One of the many theories about the origin of the name “7-Up” speculates that the 7 comes from the atomic mass of lithium. A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but that’s how I remember that.

Also, should you ever need another soda origin story, Fanta was created in Nazi Germany during World War II. There was a wartime shortage of ingredients, so the local Coca-Cola branch decided to create a new drink using what was available in Germany at the time.

John’s DD was a tough miss. Minnehaha is one of those things I remember partially because it’s been on the show before. One of the contestants was mispronounced it, and Alex gave them a chance to correct themselves. I’m sure the boards blew up at the time, and if there’s anything that helps things stick in my memory, it’s an argument on the internet.

One of us (Jerome, I think) mentioned that the “Real Madrid → soccer” clue was overpriced at $600. I agree, especially when you’re also being spotted “European” in a team sports category. (Yes, I know that Real Madrid has a strong basketball club as well, but soccer.)

The DJ! board seemed in line with regular season difficulty. I was pretty pleased with myself when I picked up “bootcut” from the stands. All that time loitering in Old Navy, I guess? I also got Australopithecus, mostly because it’s become a running joke whenever they ask about hominid fossils.

This may have been the only time in my life I knew the pop music questions.

Dan’s “Guernsey” DD was tough as well. It was essentially a straight geography clue in a category about animals, and it’s really easy to miss the key tease-out when it’s out of category. (Also, random fact: Australian football players where guernseys as opposed to jerseys, one of the reasons the two Channel Island words are connected in my head.)

Kerry’s “Benedict” DD was one of those moments where the recorded audio didn’t do justice to the reaction in the audience. When she said “the 26th,” there were lots of sighs and gasps from our direction. I felt really bad, because I am firmly on #TeamKerry and she *knew* the answer.

But FJ….that was a really special moment. Kerry pulled off a few come-from-behind wins on tough FJ clues during her initial run, and there was something fitting about booking a ticket to the finals the same way she got to the tournament. (I might have teared up just a little at this point.)


SEMIFINAL 2 (Alex vs. Brennan vs. Vaughn)

This was a loaded matchup. Brennan and Vaughn are both really strong players, but I knew firsthand from my taping that Alex is an absolute beast on the buzzer.

I felt so bad for Vaughn on the “lofty positions” Bible DD. This was one that I figured out from the stands, but I am pretty sure I would have fallen for the cryptic wording at the lectern.

I am contractually obligated to publicly dismiss the notion that Cal beat Stanford in the 1982 Big Game. (Go Cardinal.) Also, if you want to be entertained, Google “Stanford Band.” You will not be disappointed.

“National Park Service” was a trap that I totally fell for.

The best mac ‘n’ cheese I ever had was made with bechamel sauce and truffle oil. Tasty eats might be the only thing that rivals internet arguments in jogging my memory.

Care Bears on the bottom row??

So this DJ round was one of my favorites heavy on hard knowledge categories. “Tach tack” was a great rhyme time get by Brennan. The Plutarch clue was also underpriced.

There was something I feel compelled to call attention to. Alex had a big lead and was dominating in Coryat and number of correct responses, but the game was still within reach up until the last moments of the round with a Daily Double still outstanding. I’m a big advocate of hunting, especially when you’re behind against a player like Alex. After rightly hunting and finding the first DD, Brennan stuck with the same category. This is something that’s easy to forget in the heat of the match, but future contestants, remember that they never put both Daily Doubles in the same category.

For FJ, I also came up with Uganda and Rwanda. These types of wordplay/rhyming geography clues have always been a weak point for me. But I should note that not only was Alex’s “What is Aleve?” inspired, it was smart. Cycling through a list of countries takes a bit of mental effort, and there’s a whole lot to be said for conserving your energy when it doesn’t come immediately and there’s nothing on the line.

SEMIFINAL 3 (Matt vs. Andrew vs. Catherine)

This was an exciting game! When the tournament taped, Matt Jackson’s regular season run was still airing, so it was very fresh in everyone’s mind how strong a player he is. But it was a pretty tight contest for most of the match.

Somebody mentioned that “redeye” was a tough clue for the top row. I agree, but then again, it’s coffee gravy! It really should be common knowledge.

Alex’s pronunciation of GLaDOS the first time around was hilarious, and they had to redo it. Stress on the second syllable and a long O…something like gluh-DOSE.

Carmen Sandiego. It certainly helps that I’m from the land of fish tacos and carne asada fries, but I also spent my childhood in perpetual envy of those awesome gumshoe jackets. I think it was Brad who suggested that the players might have been too young to know this, and I’ve never felt so old in my entire life. I also picture an alternate reality where somebody got this right, and Alex Trebek, without missing a beat, says, “Do it, Rockapella!”

The Shakespeare and Broadway categories seemed quite straightforward for a ToC DJ board. Mercutio for $1600?

Vaclav Havel was a great get, which I know because I had to do a project about the Czech Republic in the fifth grade.

The turning point of the game was when the players finally started finding the DDs. Catherine’s “Heidelberg” DD clue was pretty tough. When Matt found his DD in the show tunes category, that excited “YES!” you all heard was super loud when the mic picked it up. They must have turned the volume down in post-production. And the celebratory “YES!” was even louder! It’s great when folks play for the love of the game. It wasn’t quite over at that point, but the tenor certainly shifted, and Matt found his groove on the signaling device.


It was a fabulous set of semifinals. Now that two of the three finalists were contestants from my taping day, am I allowed to make the claim that our batch was one of the greatest ever?

follow up later with my thoughts on the final. Enjoy the rest of the two-day total point affair!