Friday, September 16, 2011

Kathy's Thursday Jeopardy Episode

Now that it’s been a year since I taped my Jeopardy! episodes (8/10/10), and after writing about the try out, my preparation, my strategy, the trip there, the Green Room (in two different posts), and random Jeopardy! arcana, I figured it was FINALLY time to finally write about my actual episodes.

See the Thursday, 10/21/10 episode here and (if you want) follow along below (several paragraphs down) as I talk about various questions. For all game questions, go to the Jeopardy! Archives for my game. If you watch nothing else watch the (big spoiler alert) part where I win. It’s a good ending. And I’m not just saying that because I (even bigger spoiler alert) won a crapful of money. It was definitely the most exciting game of the week. (Here is someone else's blog entry about the game.) 

Jeopardy! tapes a week worth of episodes in one day. So after a morning of watching the Monday-Wednesday games and eating lunch, we had another practice round. My friends in the audience were surprised that I skipped the Geography category in favor of Skiing (something I’ve never done before in my life). It’s probably stupid but I didn’t want my competitors to know my strengths.

Right afterwards, they drew our names out of a hat to see who would be in the Thursday episode and to determine our podium positions. Finally my name! I really didn’t want to be in Friday’s game lest I actually win, since then I’d have to come back. My make-up was re-touched and then we were back out again.

I was strangely not nervous all day long. Standing up at the podium just seemed surreal, and the 100 or so member studio audience made it feel more intimate - as though there wouldn’t be millions watching at home. There were many other piddly things in life I've been much more nervous about, and despite my fears lifelong of being on Jeopardy!, surprisingly this wasn’t one of them. I think it had something to do with having babies and realizing there are much more important things in life besides crashing and burning on Jeopardy!.

First they recorded our Hometown Howdies (here’s the video of mine).

Hey Bay Area, I'm Kathleen Mikulis from Mountain View. Watch me on Jeopardy! to see if I make enough money to actually afford living here.

Then everything happened pretty much in real time. The music started, and on cue I looked into the camera with a smile I had to hold and hold...

And it Begins...

Let's meet today’s contestants. Personally I like the hot stay-at-home mom from Mountain View, California.

:50 At the time I don’t get Alex’s joke about “casual Thursday” since I'm not one of the two male contestants who skipped wearing a suit jacket but I laugh anyway.

So the game starts. I realize immediately that my strategy of waiting until the light comes on to ring in is not working. (Contrary to what you might think, ringing in first on Jeopardy! isn’t about buzzer speed but buzzer timing. Just to recap how buzzing in works, there’s a stagehand that flips a switch when Alex finishes reading the question. If you buzz in before the light (not visible to the viewers at home), you are locked out from answering for a whole half second. It doesn’t seem like much but a half second is everything on Jeopardy!.) I’m up against a three day champion who is definitely at an advantage having been able to practice his buzzer timing.

I have to change to the riskier strategy described in Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! of trying to anticipate when the stagehand will turn on the light to buzz in. It’s maddening because you waste several questions buzzing in too early or too late trying to get the timing right.

3:46 My stoner next door neighbor still teases me about my semi-soft ice cream guess. (The answer was fudge. As in the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival offers sauerkraut-flavored fudge.)

4:42 You can see me looking at the scores (3800-2000-200) right before commercial break and thinking maybe this going on Jeopardy! thing wasn’t such a great idea...

What is "Crap. Look at my score..."?

What is "Crap. Look at my score..." close-up?

How I felt going into the first commercial.


5:00 Interview with Alex! I thought I’d be really nervous at this part, but I sort of forgot about the interview during the commercial break. In case you’re wondering, every break consists of you testing your buzzer and getting pumped up
by the Jeopardy! wranglers to play again. And in the meantime I tried to follow another Trebekistan strategy of using the break to look at the category names and try to predict what questions might come up. The first break is especially distracting because that's when each challenger gets a picture taken with Alex.

Beeeeep! Contact with Alex! Beeeeep!

You have to submit five facts about yourself to Jeopardy! as well as answers to some other questions (“What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever visited,” etc.) to fulfill the wranglers’ hopes of your uttering something somewhat interesting while on TV. Based on my faux interview with a wrangler that morning, I was under the impression that Alex would either ask about the twins or my background in geography/cartography. “Since Alex hosts the Geography Bee he likes to talk about geography,” I was told. Nope, Alex caught me off-guard by asking about my 1300 Yelp restaurant reviews. They cut out the part where I said I’d been to 60 Thai, 10 Ethiopian, and 16 Persian restaurants, and 21 Indian lunch buffets just in the Bay Area, I guess in order to spend more time talking about middle guy’s quest for a giant hamburger.

Then Alex asks “Are you not a good cook?” which sort of paints me into a box. Do I tell the truth and say, “Well, I’m an okay cook but don’t really enjoy it, and definitely don’t have time lately with the babies, and really the ethnic food I can buy in a restaurant is never as good what I can make at home"? or do I just provide a good end to the conversation? And thus I set women’s lib back 50 years by saying “Don’t ask my husband that question.”

"So, home audience, let's see if I can come up with an uncomfortable question to ask."

In case you’re wondering about the other stories I submitted besides Yelp reviews, being a twin mom (they wanted me to mention the babies' birth as a "Day that Will Live in Twinfamy"), and being a cartographer, they are:
-Getting fired from a Polish travel agency for not speaking Polish
-Visiting 66 different Chevys restaurants (and winning a contest to fly to NYC and New Orleans to go to more, and going to 10 Chevys in one weekend)
-Moving to my first house literally the day I return from Jeopardy!

And I answered the bare minimum of their leading questions. (Why did I choose my major? I love maps and memorize capitals for fun. Unfortunately not part of the curriculum. Do you have a dream job? Yes, writing questions for Jeopardy!. Hook me up, Alex. Funniest travel memory? Puking my guts out in a plane over the Pacific and having to sneak into business class to puke in their bathrooms after my puke clogged the ones in coach. I can’t imagine why they didn’t use that story.) If I’d become a 74 game winner like Ken Jennings you could have expected to hear about all these (non-)adventures.

The Game Gets Worse Before Getting Better

6:53 I actually know most of the NFL questions (that shows how easy they were), though admittedly my football is so rusty (was it ever NOT rusty?) that I would have said Aiken (as in Clay) instead of Aikman (as in Troy).

7:42 The score is 5600-3000-200 - my worst deficit of the whole game.

Worst. Score. Ever.

7:58 Benne wafers are apparently from Charleston. Who knew? Apparently a woman from my church did and she gifted me some after my appearance.

9:37 Too bad I didn’t get this Daily Double (answer: Manuel Noriega) since I knew the answer. (In retrospect I'm glad the scores were exactly as they were at the end because being forced to bet so much meant I walked away with a lot of money. But almost as good as me not getting this question, Matt didn’t know it and lost $2000. (Sorry, Matt. Nothing against you and you're a nice guy. I just have to think about the ultimate outcome here.)

When I went to take a screenshot of Matt's expression, my video pixelated and I got the image at the top. I would have opted for the clearer image at the bottom, but I kind of prefer the top one where he looks like one of the melting Nazis from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

10:18 Go to commercial break. The score is 5800-3000-2000. And Mark and Brendan are visible in the studio audience! (You can barely see Lila's black and white top but she's mostly hidden.)

Mark is the guy on the farthest right, three rows down, and Brendan is the curly-headed fellow near the middle, with Lila in between, per the red arrows.

Double Jeopardy

10:51 I land on a Daily Double. The wranglers told us not to add excess words to the game (such as shortening category names), but I throw my cares to the wind. I mean how often do I get to say, “Alex, I’ve always wanted to say `Make it a true daily double...’”? I’m thinking the answer to my question is “dress” when suddenly “sari” comes to me since the category is "Welcome to India." Now I’m in second place: 5800-3000-4000.

I sound and look unsure when I answer but I know I’m right and say a small “Yay!” when Alex confirms it.

The India category goes well for me. I’m in the lead after my Bay of Bengal answer, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t notice: 5800-5000-6400. In my Winner’s Circle interview after the show (but cut from the version that aired online), I was asked about whether I'd traveled to India as though India was my strength, but really I only got the three middle clues in the category and missed the first one...

11:57 Yes, I guessed you could take a tour of an Indian state by elephant. Get your laughing over with.

"What is ruining my momentum on the India category by guessing something stupid?"

12:06 Science category with The Clue Crew. Crap. I play Jeopardy! by scanning clues for dates and facts so I am no good at these clues where I have to actually listen.

12:45 The Clue Crew is releasing aerosol into the environment for no reason.

13:41 The score is 10600-5800-6000. Not looking good.

I (barely) get a question right that's delivered by Wolf Blitzer. I’m sorry for ever making fun of you, Wolf. No, not really.

Judging by your abysmal Celebrity Jeopardy! appearance I’m not too surprised your favorite movie is about playing hooky from school...

"Oh, Wolf..."

Even Wolf Blitzer can’t bear to see his score.

13:51 I get a question about the zodiac sign Gemini. You can see me smile when Alex says, “The twins.”

What is something you should have asked me about in the interview instead of whether or not I'm a good cook?

14:01 We get a question about Virgo that no one rings in on.

Triple stumper faces! Mine's the only embarrassing one.
14:09 I get the Daily Double about Sagittarius. I expected this sign to come up the whole category, so I was ready for it.

"Ppppppff... what to bet, what to bet..."
Waiting for the question...
"Hells yeah!"

I’m in the lead! 10600-5800-11200.


It only lasts until the next question. But still, for now, in the lead!

14:43 Crap. A whole category devoted to French. Looks like I chose the wrong language to take in high school.

16:36 And the last question about Great Expectations gets me into the lead! Thank goodness for 9th grade English!

16:47 You can see me look at the scores and see that I’m totally surprised and excited to be in the lead. 12600-8600-12800. I'm not exactly subtle about looking at my score either.

"That sound means it's the end of the round, and Kathleen looks like she's a deer stuck in headlights."

My series of "I'm in the lead!" faces. Kind of like the stages of denial, except not. The first stage: surprise. The second stage: relief. And the third: gloating.

Meanwhile, here's Matt.

Final Jeopardy

Although I haven’t really been thrilled by the categories all day, the Final Jeopardy! one is right in my wheelhouse: Art and Artists. I may have taken the wrong language in high school, but thank goodness for AP Art History! (I got a five on the exam and it’s the only subject I ever got an award in at the end-of-the-year assembly in high school, so yay!) Plus this is a category that’s hard to study when preparing for Jeopardy! so that’s to my advantage.

During the commercial break, I do my Final Jeopardy! math and make my wager. I check my math three times while everyone waits on me. I definitely don’t want to lose at Jeopardy! because of a calculation error.

17:09 It’s a Video Final Jeopardy!

I need glasses for driving and seeing distance, and got contacts just for Jeopardy! (And may I just say, they were a nightmare to take in and out. The first time, I finally got ONE in after an hour and a half!) Anyway, despite my contacts I still can’t see the picture clearly. (In fact I also thought the category clues to be a little small.) When I squint it looks like there's a woman on the left side of the painting instead of the sunflowers (so did Mark, watching from the audience, and he has 20-20 vision so maybe Jeopardy! should look into not making clues so small). I think the question is asking for the two people pictured and I’m starting to panic. This is my category! I’m in the lead! Don’t blow it!

I know the guy pictured is Van Gogh. Who’s a famous lady painter from that time period? Cassatt? I know it’s wrong. And then suddenly I realize what’s being asked and in the last second I furiously scribble “Gauguin.” (Actually when I first saw the painting I immediately thought it was in the style of Gauguin but I didn’t think that was what was being asked.) My light pen actually stopped working as I wrote the last letter of “Gauguin” since it times out at 30 seconds. (I didn't actually realize I had misspelled Gauguin - where did that "h" come from? - until I was writing this post.)

Here's me squinting while everyone else writes down their answers.

And here's me furiously misspelling "Gauguin."

18:25 I decide I better tell Alex my answer before he can say it so there’s no doubt of my intent to the judges. (In fact, my friends said they saw Alex look toward the judges, as though for confirmation, when my answer was revealed.) My answer is shown on the screen and I keep saying “Gauguin” like I’m Rain Man, and in the process step all over Alex’s joke, “What is Van Gogh and Laugh In?"

Waiting to find out the answer...
The moment I find out I won.
I think the Jeopardy! wranglers would approve of my happy win face.

And that's the way it's done: barely squeaking by with a win playing awesomely.

I will never wash this hand again.

18:07 Yay! I’m a Jeopardy! champion!

During the commercial break I see Mark, Lila, and Brendan in the audience looking super excited for me. When the game ends I realize two things. 1) Jeopardy! goes by really fast, and 2) It’s a LOT harder than it looks!

This chart shows the game dynamics. I was very lucky

Winner's Circle

18:54 Winner’s Circle interview with Alex as the credits roll. (The winner, second place, and third place contestants are always lined up left to right facing the audience.) People often ask me what Alex was like, but because of game show rules you have no interaction with him other than what you see on TV (and the picture taken with Alex during the first commercial). I remember that Alex was proud of his “Laugh In” joke in the Winner’s Circle (“I thought that was funny,” he said), and then the rest of the time I was so excited I ignored Alex to mostly talk to Matt about the game and Final Jeopardy!.

Giant maniacal laughter on the video screen

I was created by Merv Griffin? Who knew.

Poor ignored Alex. And to add insult to injury he's covered by an ad for Gold Bond.

After the Winner’s Circle, I’m immediately put in front of a camera onstage for the Winner’s Circle interview that goes on the Jeopardy! website. Here's the embarrassing transcript, pasted verbatim from The J-Archive. Thanks so much, J-Archive, for including every "um" and false start:

How does it feel to be the new Jeopardy! champion?
Oh, to win Jeopardy! is the world to me. I am... [laughs] beyond belief, ecstatic. I never expected this to happen. I still feel like I'm dreaming; I need to pinch myself. Um, I--I'm sti--I'm just in shock, I never thought anyone was going to bring--beat Matt, let alone me. [Laughs] So...

How did you prepare for your appearance on Jeopardy!?
Um, when I had time... [laughs] which is very little... Uh, I-I read a little bit online. Uh, I'm moving in two days, so, I had very little time, since I'm packing, also. Um, but, mostly, read some books and hoped for the best. Made some spreadsheets; my husband made some flashcards from them for me.

How did you feel about your competition today?
Yeah, he was really intense to beat. It was hard--the first round I had to f-f--kind of recalibrate what I was doing to start beating him on the buzzer. And, uh, and... and also, the--the football category did not help me. [Laughs] Um, but, uh, tried to f-f-get that all solved out for Final Jeopardy!--for, uh, Double Jeopardy!, and thankfully things went my way, and I eked out just above him at the end, so, that was--that was very lucky.

Mark did make me flashcards for Shakespeare play summaries but I only used them for 5 minutes. (I mostly just looked at spreadsheets that I made.) The only thing I studied that ever came up was Liszt, and unfortunately I didn't understand the clue in time.

Kathy in the Winner's Circle: Worst. Interview. Ever.
I totally didn’t prepare for the interview. The interview was pretty lame and I really just wanted to be done with it because I couldn't think of anything interesting to say. Later I wish I talked about how I'd wanted to be on Jeopardy! since grade school, but once I got old enough I was too afraid. When Adam Carolla was eliminated from Dancing with the Stars he gave a speech that it’s good to do something you’re afraid of - like dance on television, and that was one of my inspirations to try out for Jeopardy! (I actually told this to Adam Carolla in person when he signed my book after a comedy show. He said something nice like he was just approached for Dancing with the Stars
, whereas I had the guts to go out and be on Jeopardy!.) But to be honest it wasn’t just Adam Carolla, it was the aggregate of every time I’d hear something along the lines of “Is there something you’ve always wanted to do?” And I'd immediately think "Jeopardy!"

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