Jonathan Competes on Jeopardy: At the Studio

November 7, 2004

Sunday afternoon, John and Natasha and I drive down to Los Angeles. We’re staying at the Culver City Radisson. I study a little bit in the car and try to nap a bit.

November 8, 2004

I take the shuttle from the hotel to the studio with the eight other contestants who are staying there, and we arrive at the studio at 8:30am. There are 12 contestants there – the returning champion from the previous week, plus enough for the ten challenger slots (two per day) and one “spare”.

They film five shows per day (a week’s worth), and they usually tape two days per week when they’re taping. Interestingly, the same crew that produces Jeopardy! also produces Wheel of Fortune. The set and hosts are different, of course, but they use the same camera people, audio people, make-up artists, etc. Usually Jeopardy! tapes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Wheel of Fortune tapes on Thursdays and Fridays.

We take some time to sign paperwork and go over the rules. They ask you not to reveal the outcome of the shows to the public (or the press), but say it’s OK to tell your friends and family. But i’m not! You’ll have to watch it yourself!

Everybody has to prepare a “Homwtown Howdy” – a short video blurb to be broadcast on your own local station, inviting people to watch you on the show – something like,”Hello, [insert city name here], I’m [name] – be sure to watch me on Jeopardy!” The catch is that almost no television stations actually use the clips. Channel 7 in the Bay Area certainly doesn’t! But they are usually available online.

I’m just Mister Boring, I guess, because I couldn’t come up with any clever little one-liners to use. Maggie and the other contestant staff helped me brainstorm, and I had to reject the more ridiculous options. Rejects include: “I’m Jonathan Henke, and I’m not wearing any pants! Watch me tonight on Jeopardy!”

They have a staff makeup person who puts makeup on all the contestants. She’s really good! The makeup makes you look a little better, but isn’t really noticable. And she’s there during the taping to touch up your makeup during all the breaks.

Then we went into the studio and got a quick tour of where everything is and how everything works, including the buzzers, the electronic writing pad thingee on each podium (where you sign your name and answer Final Jeopardy), which cameras are for what, the lights around the board (that signal when your buzzers are live), the lights on your podium that signal when you’ve buzzed in successfully, the timer countdown lights, the large screen used for video clues, the scoreboard visible to the players, etc. Then we play a couple of mock games, and everybody has a chance to play for ten or twenty questions, to get used to the buzzer, the lights, the timing, the microphones, etc.

A lot of their procedures are designed to be eliminate the possibility of cheating. The contestants are never left unaccompanied, and you have no contact with the writers or anyone who knows the questions and answers (including Alex Trebek), so that there’s no way you could get the questions in advance.

During the filming, the contestants who have not yet appeared sit together in their own section of the audience. The contestants are accompanied at all times, so there’s no way to slip out and interrogate the writers in the hallway. Even if you need a bathroom break, you can’t head back to the green room unaccompanied.

They also try to make sure that all of the contestants are treated equally, so rather than tell you at the beginning of the day who will appear on each show, they randomly select the names of the two challengers ten minutes before the next show tapes. That way the challengers get the same ten minutes of preparation time as the returning champion, and the people at the end of the day don’t have any extra warning about when they’ll be on.

Between shows, the returning champion has just ten minutes to go back to the green room and change outfits, so that it looks like a different day.

They start filming at about noon and take a one-hour lunch break after the third episode (about 2 or 2:30). Then they return and film the final two episodes after lunch. After your episode films, the losers sign a form verfying how much money they’ll send you, and can sit with their friends or family (in the other section of the audience), or are free to go.

They say they’ll mail you a check with your winnings after the episodes air. As a parting gift, they also give you a Jeopardy! tote bag and a framed photo of you with Alex Trebek. They always used to mail the framed photo later (when your episodes air), but they had a lot of trouble with the glass frames breaking in the mail; now, they give you an empty frame when you’re there and later mail photo alone.

Next: Playing the Game

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