Hey friends! It’s David. You know, from Keep It Up, David. It’s been a few months since I’ve posted, but I’m back with BIG NEWS. I’m going to be a contestant on Jeopardy!, this Wednesday, October 6th!
I filmed it in Los Angeles in August, and I’m about to share the story of how I got on the show. But first, some more details: You’ll need access to local broadcast networks in order to watch. It won’t be streaming, it won’t be available online. The channel and time will differ, depending on what city you’re in. In metro Detroit, where I live, it’s on at 7:30pm on NBC/WDIV channel 4. To find out when it airs in your town, click here. Tune in to watch me on Wednesday, 10/6, and save all your questions for after, because I can’t give any spoilers before!
This is all tremendously exciting for me, since going on Jeopardy! has been a longtime dream.
The process to become a contestant begins with taking a test, and I took my first test in 2002. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve taken it since then… I think 7 or 8 times in total? (They now offer tests all year long on the show’s website, so you don’t have to wait for a special day or time.)
The test is 50 questions that appear one at a time. You have 15 seconds to read it, process what they’re asking for, and type your answer. You can’t go back if the answer comes to you after the fact. The whole thing takes about 12 minutes. They don’t tell you how well you did, how well you need to do to move on, or which you got right or wrong. When it’s over, a message pops up that basically thanks you, and says the show may reach out if you passed. I never heard from the show… until I took the online test in January 2020 – and even then I didn’t hear back until approximately five months later.
In June 2020, I was notified via email that I had passed the test, and was invited to participate in an actual audition. They were doing these in various cities around the county pre-COVID, but thanks to the pandemic, they were now all done on Zoom. So I signed into a Zoom call, and took another 50-question online test, this time with a webcam on, so they could verify that I wasn’t cheating, and there weren’t others feeding me answers.
A week or two went by, and then I was invited to another Zoom audition – this one where I was interviewed and played a mock game with other candidates. This audition was more about personality and energy. The testing confirmed I had the smarts, and here they were seeing if I could hold a conversation with the host, move the game along, and was someone the audience could root for – all important things a game show contestant would need to do.
After that, I received an email saying I had passed all the auditions and was officially in the contestant pool – woohoo! This meant that the show could call me at any time within the next 18 months, inviting me to be a contestant on the show. Or, they may not call at all. No guarantees! It was July 2020 at this point. Time to play the waiting game.
Once the new season premiered in September 2020, I knew they wouldn’t be calling me any time soon. At first, all their contestants were from Southern California, and after a couple months, they started featuring contestants from areas within a reasonable drive to Los Angeles (like San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Francisco). This made sense, since the pandemic was in high gear, and booking air travel was risky, for health reasons, and since airlines were cancelling flights left and right.
I more or less put Jeopardy! out of mind.
And then I got the call.
It was over a year later, in August 2021. Lauri from the contestant team called and texted me, and I immediately called her back. It was a Saturday, and they wanted me to be a contestant on a show that was shooting six days later, on Friday. Holy cow!
It was super short notice. Lauri acknowledged that the show had to add a new tape date at the last minute, “due to production changes,” – and I didn’t have to ask why. Mike Richards, who had been named the new permanent host of Jeopardy! a few weeks prior, had resigned the day prior. It was all over the news.
Lauri had to confirm a bunch of information that I had given them during the audition process, to see if anything had changed since my audition. While doing that, I got the distinct impression that, given the last minute nature of this new tape date, they had filtered their contestant pool database by area code so they could book local contestants. I still had a Los Angeles phone number (despite moving to Michigan 2.5 years earlier), so I ended up on that list. I’m not 100% certain that this is true, but I definitely a strong hunch.
Lauri told me she would understand if I couldn’t pull of a trip to Los Angeles with this little notice. She also told me that if I said couldn’t do it, there was no guarantee I’d get another call, even though the show was ethical and always tried to do the right thing in these sorts of situations. I told Lauri I needed an hour to think things through, and an hour later, I called her and said I was in. If this was my shot, I was going to take it!
The next few days were a blur. There was a lot to do.
- I needed to bring five show-appropriate outfits, which meant I had to go shopping, due to pandemic weight gain. My sister happened to be in town, and she was a godsend, helping with this process. My parents happily agreed to care for my dog while I was gone, which I was very grateful for.
- There were tons of forms, contracts, questionnaires, and other paperwork that the Jeopardy! team sent over, for me to read, fill out, and sign. I read every clause and stipulation in those contracts.
- I had to book a flight and plan my trip. Even though I have plenty of friends in LA, I chose to get a hotel room the night before, about a half-mile from where the show tapes, just for convenience. (All on my own dime, by the way.) I told very few people that I was coming to town, and only told one LA friend the reason for the trip. Because of COVID, there was no studio audience, so I couldn’t bring anyone with me to the studio.
- I had to get a COVID PCR test 48 hours prior to my flight, and send the show my negative test results before getting on the plane. (I had to also arrive a day early and go to Sony to get a second COVID test.)
- I wanted to study! I had a plethora of episodes on my DVR, so I started catching up on ones I missed. I bought the newest edition of Trivial Pursuit – which is basically 2,400 pre-made flashcards. I read a book about Jeopardy! buzzer strategy that a former champion had written, and read up on other contestants’ appearances online.
- I also had to get ahead at work, setting up my team to be in a good place so I could leave for a few days. Work was very understanding and gracious, but I didn’t really ask for permission. I had PTO that I used, and only told two of my leaders the reason for my absence, and they were both elated for me. Others were worried about what was going on. I ended up missing a big work event that I had helped strategize and plan, and the other people on that project were worried, due to my refusal to talk about it, that it might be health-related or a family emergency. One leader and friend was worried I was interviewing for a new job!
The reason for my silence was two-fold. I had signed contracts saying I’d keep it quiet until the show allowed me to talk about it, and while I knew that friends and colleagues would be happy and excited for me, I didn’t want to be peppered with questions that I couldn’t answer, about how I did, if I won, and stuff like that. I could not share any spoilers, and it’s easier to not tell people at all, than it is to dodge and weave around everyone trying to trick you into revealing secrets. I technically couldn’t tell anyone or share anything on social media until I received notification from the show’s publicity team that I was cleared to share my air date, which happened nine days before my episode aired. Then, the answer to all those questions was easy to answer: “Tune in and find out!”
I arrived in Los Angeles, went and received my second COVID test, and then… well… You’re going to have to wait until Thursday to read the exciting conclusion, since there’s not much else I can share right now. But you won’t want to miss what I’m sharing on Thursday!
Until then… enjoy the show on Wednesday. I’m excited for it to be on TV!
Keep it up, David!
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