Saturday, October 9, 2010

I Was on Jeopardy, Part II: Strategy

I'd had Bob Harris's Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! on my bookshelf for a long time but hadn't read it. In what little spare time I had, I skimmed chapters that had to do with Jeopardy strategy. Here are some things I took from it that I planned to use.:

1) If I ever was in the lead going into Final Jeopardy against a much weaker opponent I would bet so that if I missed the question and they got it right, we would be tied so I could face them again. (I thought of this years ago but it was also in the book.)

2) I wanted to use the "Forrest Bounce" strategy (named after a contestant who used it very successfully) of jumping from category to category to keep my opponents off guard. I noted that it would be particularly effective to once in awhile throw in one of those categories where all the answers had to, for example, start with "gr," hoping my competitors would forget that aspect of the category. I combined this strategy with my strategy to choose the bottom three clues in each column in the hopes of hitting the Daily Doubles. (Note: The Jeopardy wranglers actually brought up the Forrest Bounce strategy before the taping. Inwardly I was like, "No! No! Don't tell the others!" but I found out while talking to some of my competitors that they already knew about it. The wranglers said we could of course play Forrest Bounce style, but suggested instead to clear out a category by going from top to bottom because sometimes the answers build on previous answers to make sense or be funny. Inwardly I thought, "That's fine and all but why would I do something that helps us all equally instead of helping me?")

I hope I'm not giving anything away, but this was not a category I encountered.

Neither was this.

3) When calling out a category and point value for your question, you're encouraged to shorten the category name ("Make the game go faster," say the wranglers), but it's best to shorten it to your advantage. For the category "3-Named Celebrities" it's best to shorten it to "Celebrities" and not remind your competitors that the answers have to have three names.

4) Keep thinking of what answers could possibly come up throughout the game - especially during the first commercial break.

5) And finally the most important thing of all. In Trebekistan, Harris talks how it's not about buzzer speed but buzzer timing. This was disappointing to hear because I've always been really fast on a buzzer. (Don't you all play "Identify the TV show from the theme song" with your friends?) When Alex finishes reading the question there's some lackey who flicks a switch. When that happens, lights that you can't see at home turn on, and the players can then ring in to answer. If you ring in before the switch is thrown you're locked out for something like a half second or so which is everything in Jeopardy. The wranglers tell you to keep pressing your buzzer when you ring in so if you do get locked out you'll be next to answer. (That's why you see people repeatedly mashing their thumbs against the buzzer when you watch.) Harris suggests the way to beat the other players is by ringing in before the lights come on. It involves getting a feel for lackey's timing and having to increase or decrease your buzzer speed by eighths of seconds as you get a feel for it. I thought it was a risky strategy - Mark told me not to try it - but I kept it in mind in case my plan of ringing in when the lights come on fell through.

I decided to mostly not tell anyone I was going to be on the show. (Jeopardy also said no talking about it on Facebook before it taped.) I was worried I might make a fool of myself and do something like finish with a negative score, and if that happened I might be safe from people seeing it. Also, I didn't really want to talk about being on Jeopardy and make myself nervous. In the meantime, even though I told my parents and Mark I wanted to keep it under wraps, my parents told all the relatives on their trip to the East Coast and Mark told all his co-workers. I kept telling myself that just getting on the show was an accomplishment since the online test is so hard that even though tens of thousands of people apply only 400 make it on the show each year. But of course people watching at home don't know that, and crashing and burning would still make me look like an idiot.

This is a real picture and was not doctored. I didn't want to Wolf Blitzer my way through Jeopardy. It did occur to me that going on Jeopardy and missing every question would be a cool performance art piece and get me famous. Someone should totally do that!

Apparently Wheel of Fortune caught wind of Wolf's Jeopardy appearance.

I did tell my hairdresser who was so excited for me he told the hairdresser next to him.

My Hairdresser: You know "Wheel of Fortune"?
Other Hairdresser: Yeah. Is she (pointing at me) going to be on it?!
My Hairdresser: No, she's going to be on the show that comes on before it.

So, in my hair salon, Jeopardy is known as the show that takes up space before the excitement of wheel spinning and letter turning with Pat Sajak and Vanna White.

I miss the ceramic dalmatian days of Wheel of Fortune...

That is indeed a fact.

I also told the woman who helped me find an outfit at Banana Republic. She was very excited that "her outfit" would be on TV, and as I perused the tables of merchandise I would hear her whisper to other salespeople about me.

One other interesting thing that happened before the show was taped: Alex Trebek visited Google! (And apparently surprised everyone with a couple swear words.) He moderated a geography trivia competition where the winning team won a choice of three international trips (Galapagos, Arctic, or Antarctic). Anyway, Alex also visited Google Maps where Mark works. As one of my pre-submitted Jeopardy anecdotes I wrote, "My husband will be meeting Alex Trebek at Google in two days. I may have something to report from this - I don't know." The day after I sent in my anecdotes I got a call from Jeopardy. Alex was not to be told that I would be appearing on the show-- not by Mark nor by any of his co-workers. Because of that Twenty-One scandal in the 50s there are very strict game show rules. Alex was interested in Google Earth and gave his home address so they could zoom in. Mark jotted it down in case we ever decide to stalk Trebek.

I found this interesting past category on an actual episode of Jeopardy. The best is the second to last recording.


  1. Hey Kathleen! I am your mom's cousin's grandaughter. Shirley's grandaughter. I saw the show and I was shocked! I was going to comment before the show, but I had to log in, so i made a blog called Healthy Humans. I'm in 8th grade and who knew that you would come from $1,000 to being the winner! You should write better on Final Jeopardy tonight, :D You should talk about the twins! Don't just say your a stay at home mom, because the twins are really important in your life. U were the only person that got the correst answer for Final Jeopardy! We are so proud of you and say hi to everyone for me, Lori (my mom) and my little sister Aly! Good luck tonight!

  2. Mari, it's wonderful to hear from you!!! I remember when you were born and I thought you had the prettiest name. I'm sad that I've never met you and I also feel old that you're already in the 8th grade! That's so sweet that you were all excited for me!

    I've wanted to be on Jeopardy since well... grade school, but when I was old enough to be on I was too self-conscious. It wasn't until last year that I decided to finally try out. I realized that there are much more important things to worry about than what people thought of me on a game show! I thought I would be super nervous but I had such a great time - I was hardly nervous at all. I wish I'd done this 10 years ago when my memory was better. (I was 35 when I was on Jeopardy. Your recall is best at 22.)

    That's so sweet that you made a blog in order to comment. For the record there's an option to comment with your name/url - that's how my mom ("Pam") comments on my blog.

    I usually write more legibly. Here's what happened: I was confused by the question (I thought it was asking me to name the two people depicted in the painting) and I couldn't see the painting very well, so I kept squinting at it, thinking the sunflowers were actually a woman! It wasn't until the last 5 seconds that I figured out what was being asked, so I scribbled my answer as fast as I could. The light pen that we use actually stopped writing when the time was up. I was worried that the judges wouldn't accept my answer so I said "Gauguin" aloud before Alex said the answer so they'd know that's what I was trying to write.

    I would have loved to talk about the twins and being a mom. In fact, that's what I thought Alex would ask me about. I knew he'd pick one thing to ask me about from my form (you provide Jeopardy with stories about yourself).

    Tell Aly, Lori, and your grandma Shirley thank you so much for watching and making my day!

  3. I actually have a different blog. I deleted Healthy Humans. I have something called Kidz Bop Corner. You know the kids that sing songs on CDs and stuff? Yeah, I go on their website and you can make webshows, contests, and post pictures. I have lots of everything! I have almost 1000 friends. I can't go on facebook, twitter, or youtube. Everyone else at school has a facebook. is better, safer, and more fun! I talk about kidz bop and my username is ftbllgrl on On my blog, I talk about everything! You might know me a little better and I posted some pics on my blog. You will know what I look like! I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for commenting back!

  4. Mari, I went to Kidz Bop Corner and found some of your videos, which I enjoyed watching - particularly the dance one and the brain buster ones. I don't think I can access your blog unless I have an account, and I can't get an account if I'm an adult. Is there a direct link to your blog? It would be fun to see some pictures.


  5. Hi, I'm glad that you two have made a nice...I never knew.....I'm still proud of my Jeopardy winner. Mom