As promised, here is a little bit more about my Jeopardy! experience, modified from a letter I wrote just two days after taping! Now you’ll understand why I’m glad they kept my original howdy. (By the way, does anyone know if it was ever shown on TV?)
     The hotel provides a shuttle for contestants, but it was a good thing we decided at the last second to rent a car: There was no shuttle for contestant guests!! When the contestant coordinator called me, he was like, “You don’t even need to rent a car…” Turns out we did, or my sister wouldn’t have had a painless way to get to the studio to watch. Also, there was no shuttle back to the hotel, even for contestants! I’m under the impression they provide a cab, though, if you need it. Or at least they ask you if you need one, and I assume that means they pay for it!  [I left this part of the letter in but I’ve since learned from another contestant’s blog that the cab is on you.] The hotel hooked me up (but not my sister) with free breakfast each day, even after taping days, worth about $16 each! We also got free wifi and free parking at the hotel, and oh yeah, a free warm cookie upon checking in. (I was able to nail a February clue about this because of our stay there.)
     On the morning I arrived at the studio, contestant coordinators were circling around us each demanding our attention. One of them pretended to be Alex Trebek, basically, getting us to talk about our stories. He would start us off and expect us to talk. When I didn’t do that (I wasn’t the only one), he waved his hand like, “Come on, come on, come on, keep going!!” The coordinator then asked what we wanted to talk about with Mr. Trebek, but he (Trebek) would ultimately choose. We were also getting our makeup done two at a time while this was going on. That was a pleasure. I thought it would be minimal, but we each got the works. I had a different makeup person each day, and yet another for my touchup before my actual taping! I liked my first makeup better. The second day, the lady pinned my hair back, and the first lady had left my hair alone! They want you to arrive with your hair ready. Laura helped both mornings with my hair even though I had to be ready for the shuttle at 7:30 and she didn’t have to be at the studio til 10:30! She did my hair Mwah! both days.
     It was loud and crazy first thing in that green room. Another contestant coordinator asked us to practice our “hometown howdies.” Each contestant films two brief commercials for their local station, I guess intended to drum up interest. The second one is supposed to be tailored to you or your hometown. Well Mom had a genius idea: “Howdy, Nebraska! I’m a Buffalo gal from Buffalo County. Come out tonight and watch me win on Jeopardy!” When I rehearsed mine, I found out I am supposed to say where I’m from, and it must match how I’m being introduced (in my case, “originally from Lincoln, NE”). I was also told I cannot use the word “tonight” because the commercial may air on a night other than when I’m on. So my words didn’t match the famous song as well, but I still filmed the howdy that way.
     All day long, though, it was bothering me that I said I’m from Lincoln but also Buffalo County. (Lincoln’s in Lancaster County.) At the end of the day, I told a contestant coordinator he was gonna kill me, but…and I told him my concern. He was as thrilled as I expected him to be. He was like, “That’s why I called you and asked how far Kearney is from Lincoln!” (He called the Thursday before.) Anyway I wanted to come up with something else, and I did: “Hey, Nebraska, I’m Jeanie Kenkel from Lincoln. Bo knows football. Come find out what I know, on Jeopardy!” The next morning, first thing, the coordinator said, “We can redo your howdy if you want to,” and I said, “YES.” (The howdies of the fresh bunch of contestants were being filmed anyway.) But it was a mistake – In the unlikeliest of twists, the name of the contestant who beat me, course, was BEAU! He had won one game when he and I played, along with a woman named Catie, from Bozeman, MT.
     The green room was full of food and drinks (a fruit tray, donut tray, coffee, and pop on ice). Contestants could even bring a drink of their choice (it didn’t have to be water, I checked!) into the taping while we were watching in the audience. The green room had two bathrooms.  The green room also had a neat feature: a dressing room reserved for the “Jeopardy! champion,” identifying them as such and including a star on the door. How I would’ve loved to use that room to change into my next outfit!
     We saw some ill-advised wagers on the episodes before mine. I even heard one girl say to another contestant, “I don’t watch the show very often.”  How I wished at the time I could’ve played her!  Sure enough she lost and did not do that well. At the end of that first day, me and a guy originally from New Orleans named Mithun had not played. He and I had questions – Do we wear our same outfits tomorrow? (Whatever we wanted.) Can we leave our clothes here? (Ehhhh…it’s not very safe.)
     One big plus of having to wait until the next day was the extra rehearsal time. There was even a rehearsal after lunch! I needed it, because I was having trouble ringing in first. At home, before I had my little laptop stand, I held the buzzer behind my back, sort of over my butt, because it felt the best. Well, their buzzer is different from a clicky pen. For one thing, it didn’t feel secure in my hand. It almost felt slippery. And the part you press down was high enough that I couldn’t really rest my thumb and just use the end of my thumb to press it. No way was I going to ring in first like that. Also, I spread my feet a little bit at home, but I did not want to do that there because they raise the ground for shorter people, and I’d rather have died than fallen off. And I’ve seen it happen. So I put my hand on top of the lectern and shoved it way up into the corner because I thought I could anchor my hand there. It wasn’t working either. Then I held the buzzer in the center of the podium, straight up and down. That was what worked, at least in rehearsal. I was buzzing in first. Every. Time. In fact, by the time of my third rehearsal (total), I didn’t practice long – A contestant coordinator said she pulls us out of rehearsal when they feel like we have the buzzer down. So I really couldn’t tell you why I couldn’t get it during the real game.
     In rehearsal, there is a board set up just like there will be when you play. A contestant coordinator reads you clues as if he was Mr. Trebek, and you choose them. A contestant named Chuck (a plastic surgeon!), who played just before I did, described those clues as “confidence-building” (easy), and I agree!
     Another fun thing about lots of rehearsal is I got to write my name each time for it to be seen on the front of the podium. I never did see what that looks like, by the way. The returning champ from the previous day, a nice guy from Kansas who reads my blog [Dennis Wright], jumped around to look because he hadn’t seen it either, but I never did.
     It was an amazing feeling to see the contestant friends and family file into the studio during rehearsal. What a rush! 
     The first segment of my game went well. Up til March 28th, I thought I’d been in the lead going into the first break, but I wasn’t. I think before that first break, there had been a pause in the taping. Sometimes that happens if there is some kind of issue. I think in this case Catie had selected a Daily Double but they were going to overturn a previous call and they wanted the scores to be right before she wagered. They had us all turn around so that we would not see any clues that may be exposed unintentionally. At that time, Catie joshed with a contestant coordinator about how silly she thought one of her responses was. [Looking at the archive, I see it was “profit-loss statement.”] Well when they started the taping again, Mr. Trebek told her that her response was acceptable! Catie missed the Daily Double, though. Weird thing – a contestant coordinator gives an example (I heard her spiel twice since I was there at the beginning of both days) of a contestant figuring out a response “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” based on the category. Well Catie’s Daily Double seemed to be that answer, and in fact that’s what she said! It was wrong, though. I think I would’ve said what she did, though!
     Soon came my interview. Mr. Trebek had ruptured his Achilles tendon last summer chasing a burglar out of his hotel room. For the interviews that were airing when I taped, he was still sitting behind his lectern for the contestant interviews.  When we taped, he was doing interviews again right next to the contestant, so that was a pleasant surprise for us. I was in the third lectern, so he was gonna do my interview first. By the way, lectern position is chosen immediately before your game by the contestant coordinators holding pieces of paper in their hands and having us draw. You find out who your other opponent will be (besides the champion) several minutes before that, as soon as the previous game has ended. As I saw Mr. Trebek approach, he was perusing the index cards with information about each of us. He looked amused, and I was dying to know which of my three stories he was going to choose. When they started taping again, he goes, “Are they fans, or fanatics?” and started talking about the blog. He asked how long I’ve been doing it, and I botched that by saying 2 ½ years, when it hadn’t even been two yet. I told him it has recaps of episodes, interviews with former champs, and a summary of the unofficial J! reunion.
     During a later break, Trebek walks over to each contestant and gets his picture taken with them. He doesn’t say anything to you, but he puts his arm around the waists of the females.
     The first category in Double Jeopardy was “Federal Agencies”! I thought of my sister in the audience because she works for the federal government, and I went over to that category when I could!
     As I indicated, I had a great deal of trouble ringing in, despite knowing the answer to seemingly everything. Well there had been a category in Double Jeopardy called Big Words, with correct responses like “mammoth.” After we’d gotten through the category, Beau found a Daily Double and time was running out. Mr. Trebek said to Beau something like, “You have a lead that could be described by those words in the Big Words category.” His lead was in fact mammoth.  I dove for the higher-dollar-value clues as soon as I could. I only found a Daily Double in rehearsal, not in the real game. (I wagered it all in rehearsal, right as a contestant coordinator yelled, “GO FOR IT!” and fellow contestants were encouraging the same!) When the round was over (time had run out), Beau had 10500, Catie had 6000, and I had 4400. [For some reason when I wrote this letter, I remembered neither whether Beau had gotten his Daily Double right, nor whether time had run out with clues remaining!] I’ve done enough wagering practice that it didn’t take me long to realize I was dead in the water: Beau’s wager would be 1501, almost certainly, in order to cover Catie if she doubled. So, if Beau lost 1501, he’d still have more than 8800 (my total even if I could’ve doubled). The Final Jeopy category was Latin Phrases.  The contestant coordinators hover around you while you calculate with a marker and paper your wager. You obviously should not say anything out loud, and they instruct you not to write anything at all until they’ve put dividers between each contestant. The contestant coordinator said to me as I was getting ready to wager, “Okay, draw a dollar sign nice and big, there you go…” even though I knew I would wager nothing, under the (correct) assumption that Catie would wager everything she had. Anyway, then I drew a big ol’ zero, but of course the contestant coordinator did not let on! It was kind of amusing, actually. By the way, the coordinators also tell you whether to write “Who” or “What,” minus the verb.
     I did not know the correct response to the Final: “The end justifies the means”! I had nothing at all, so I wrote a verb and drew a giant question mark. Mr. Trebek came to me first since I was in third. When he saw I’d wagered nothing, he goes, “Good strategy!” When he saw that Catie lost everything, he said, “See, Jeanie, now you’re in second place!” Beau got it right. We are instructed to stay put (don’t shake hands with each other) until told to move. Mr. Trebek came to me first and said, “Gosh, you were back and forth, you got some right, then you missed some….” Eventually we all went in front of the lecterns, and stage people pushed us to right where they wanted us.  Mr. Trebek and I talked about the cold weather. He also said at least we don’t have to wait, and I said I had waited all day already the day before. Jay Ben, who played the fourth game of the day, said as he and I were sitting in the audience for a previous game, he made me smile when he said, “This is excruciating.” (the wait) He wouldn’t have liked to wait all day like I did, or a whole ‘nother week or more like some have to! Believe me, I didn’t mind having that whole day at the studio. In fact that day went better for me than taping day.
     I don’t remember Trebek talking to the other two contestants at all, but the tape may have proven me wrong. Mr. Trebek said to me, “Well, I hope you’ll still blog about this experience.” I said of course, and he said, “And I hope you’ll say nice things about us.” I said of course. And like that he was gone. As I left the stage, a contestant coordinator hugged me and said she was going to adopt me.  Then we contestants have to sign something and provide our SSNs and e-mail addresses.  We keep a copy of it and as a contestant coordinator says, “Make sure we pay you!” That’ll happen 120 days or so after our episode airs.
    My episode was taped third of the day, and the lunch break is after that third game. Once I’d lost, I could not go to lunch with them in the Sony Studios cafeteria, which really disappointed me. I left my clothes in the green room while my sister and I watched the last two games of the day.
     Beau won one more, then lost the last one of the day. I grabbed a contestant coordinator to let me in and get my clothes. This was the same coordinator who asked which celebrity we wanted to see in the cafeteria. I had to know: “You guys didn’t see any celebrities today at lunch, did you?” I could tell by the way he had to stop and think that they did not. I was like, “Oh, good, I would’ve been so bummed if you guys had seen somebody!” And he joshed, “We saw Justin Timberlake today!”
    There is still one more (at least) unsolved mystery – my sister and I had been wondering what a person does if he/she wins more than two on a given day, since we are asked to bring three outfits.  She and I half-joked that I could swap with her – she’d take one of my dresses and I’d take the shirt off her back. As it happens, Beau won three in one day, so was around for a fourth game.  My sister noticed he was wearing a blazer for his fourth game, so she was wondering if maybe Jeopardy! had extra clothes for people in case they do win more than twice. I didn’t ever ask the coordinators because I didn’t want to seem presumptuous.
    At the end of the day, my sister and I went to Whole Foods for dinner. (We went there two nights ago, too! We need one in Lincoln, and we’re supposed to be getting one soon. Yum yum yum!) After that, of course, the O’Brien’s pub quiz. Then home, with a heavy heart that’s getting lighter all the time.