Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How a Jeopardy! Audition Really Feels

As alluded to in my previous post, I went up to New York City yesterday. The purpose of my trip was [drumroll] to participate in a contestant search for the popular game show Paris Hilton's My New BFF Jeopardy! (the exclamation mark is the show's, not mine). I had sort of been through this before, having taken part in a tryout for the College Tournament nine years ago (holy crap, I just used the phrase "nine years ago" in conjunction with "college"). Those, however, were the days before the online test, so the first order of business was a 50-question written test that was then scored, prompting all but a handful of the highest-scoring hopefuls to be dismissed (in case you're wondering, I did make it past that step). Nowadays, though, the online test has supplanted that step, meaning that if you get an invite to audition, you won't be unceremoniously booted just after you begin.

The 50-question test still exists, though, presumably to weed out anybody who faked their way through the test using the help of other people in the room or incredibly fast Googling skills. The test itself was fairly easy (although I was forbidden to to divulge any of the questions under pain of death) and I think I only got maybe 4 or 5 questions wrong. The thing about being in a room with other Jeopardy! fanatics, though, is that everyone else got only 4 or 5 questions wrong as well.

On to the next step, which is a mock game. A mini-version of the familiar game board is projected on a screen, and three people at a time take hold of the buzzers and answer questions (or, uh, question answers to be more specific). They don't keep score, so the purpose is really to get a sense of what sort of contestant you would be. I was in the last trio to play, which was actually a relief, since it gave me a chance to observe what everyone else was like before I had to go myself. I think I acquitted myself fairly well in this segment; I managed to buzz in a few times, didn't get anything embarrassingly wrong (last time I tried out, I foolishly said that Prince was from Milwaukee) and, perhaps most importantly, the producer never had to remind me to speak up.

Next came the interview portion, which was my biggest worry. Some of the other people in the room were a lawyer who represented plaintiffs in Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits, a teaching artist who had taken part in a taping of Def Poetry Jam, and a children's TV writer who had just been nominated for a Daytime Emmy. Compared to that, my tales of juggling and my paltry record collection didn't seem that impressive (not that they ever really did). Fortunately, the interviews seemed to follow the same format: they would ask about your job, ask about what you do in your free time, ask about one of the personal facts or anecdotes that you listed ahead of time, and ask what you would do with the money if you won. From that I was able to plan a few sentences ahead of time for each prompt, and while I might not have said anything memorable, I at least avoided any awkward silences.

So that's basically the gist of it. I think I came across pretty well (though there were a few people in the room who seemed like they would certainly be invited to tape the show). I'm now in their contestant files, which is good for the next 18 months. If I haven't gotten a call by that point, I guess that's my cue to start all over again.

  • No, Alex does not show up at these things. He said hello to us in a short video, though.
  • I though I was impressive because I'd tried out once before, and then found out that one of the other people at the audition had tried out four times (some of the repeat auditioners almost sounded like they were old friends with the people from the show). Likewise, I thought it was notable that a co-worker of mine was almost a contestant, until I met people whose wives or grandmothers had actually appeared on the show.
  • The aforementioned TV writer used to work on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? which prompted a discussion of what current game shows are worth watching. Turns out the Jeopardy! people are fans of Cash Cab.
  • Of the five pieces of information that I submitted, the one I had to talk about was my Quizzo playing. Unfortunately, the question only concerned whether I was better or worse at trivia games when I've been drinking, so I didn't get to shout out to the Pre-Teen Pregnancy Pact or describe the larger-than-life personality of Irish John.
  • This is only tangentially related, but the contestant search ended at around 5:30, and I was looking to get a bite to eat and maybe a beer before my train ride home. This proved easier said than done, since it seemed like 75% of the drinking establishments in Midtown Manhattan are corporate touristy chains, and the rest looked like obnoxious sports bars or cookie-cutter Irish pubs. Eventually, I walked past one windowless generic-looking bar just off of 7th Avenue, less than a block away from Madison Square Garden. "Sure," I thought, "this place looks like a dive, but I'm sure when I open the door it'll be crawling with hipsters." Except on the inside . . . it still looked like a dive, or at least a quiet, unassuming shot-and-beer joint. There was a grandfatherly bartender, and maybe 5 other people sitting at the bar, mostly reading the paper or concentrating on a certain syndicated quiz show playing on the TV. I have no idea how a place like that stays in business, given that it's occupying some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
  • And while I'm critiquing New York: Times Square + summer + tourists = HOLY SHIT.

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