Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Last Chapter

In the comments to my last post, Benjamin wrote the following:
I've been trying for years to get on the show. (Have you seen "White Men Can't Jump"? That's me. Rosie Perez, not the dudes.) So, your posts are fascinating to me: So much I always wondered about - like how long between shows and figuring out the wagering, etc.
That made my day, honestly, because it's a major part of why I wrote these posts in the way that I did. Out of the number of people who go on Jeopardy, the percentage who write about it is small, and the percentage who write more than a couple of paragraphs is infinitesimal. I know that before I did this, I would have been interested to read how it all happened and how it felt. But I'll get back to that at the end of the post.

When I ended yesterday's post, I was sitting in the audience ready to watch Joel try to become a 5-day champion, and Jim and Jennifer try to prevent that from happening. So I'll start off with thoughts about the show. Spoilers starting ... now.

Jim was so nervous! I felt terrible for him - until he really came on strong in Double Jeopardy and got out in front of Joel. I thought he might be the one to knock Joel out going into Final.

A funny note about one of the early clues on the show - the clue had to do with the TV show Alcatraz. It made me laugh because during the end-of-show standing around and talking with Alex, he mentioned that he had DVRed Alcatraz the night before and was looking forward to seeing it. This is essentially why Alex isn't allowed to talk to the contestants most of the time, haha. I mean, it was harmless and Joel didn't even get the answer in the next game, but the fact that Alex has read all the shows already does mean that it's possible it came up in conversation because it was at the forefront of his mind.

I'll be honest - although I overall have something like a 65% rate of getting Final Jeopardy answers correct, this week was absolutely terrible for me. The sole one I knew this week was the Tasmanian devil, and even that was a last-second get for me.

Regarding the end of the game, I can only say, "Oh, Jennifer." I talked in my wagering post about how hard it was for me to really get my head around the idea of playing to win, and understanding that for the purposes of wagering, second and third place are both losing and therefore equal. It's simple; binary - "1"= 1st place, "0"= 2nd or 3rd. It was absolutely brutal to see that in the end, Jennifer just didn't play to win.

But hey, that's part of the game. If you're a tennis fan, you know that Brad Gilbert is well-known for talking about "winning ugly." No matter how you do it, a win is a win. So there you go - ugly win or not, Joel wrapped up the day/week as a 5-time winner. Two more people who were part of our pool would come back for taping on Wednesday, and be joined by another group.

And now for the aftermath, and my personal take on the whole experience. I'll tell the truth - I was gutted to lose, both in the sense of not winning and in the sense of falling to third place. This is maybe where the "what if"s can get you. But looking at the scores going into Final, I had no choice in what to do. I had to get the answer right to have a chance, and I didn't. I bet to be over Julie's double and Joel's wrong answer, and that's the very best I could do under the circumstances. The only "regret" I can have is that the gaps in my knowledge (and we all have them, don't kid yourself) were positioned precisely where an Opera Daily Double and a scientist Final could fall right into them. There were a couple of times I thought I knew the answer and didn't ring in (I was reasonably sure that the guy in Nickelback was named Chad, and I had "October" bouncing around my head for the Cuban missile crisis), but those times wouldn't have made the difference. Knowing that it was all building to a Final where I didn't know the answer, the only possible way I could have won was by making the game a runaway. And I just couldn't get in ahead of Joel on enough questions to make that happen.

Which is all very zen-sounding, and I truly do feel that way now. But in the moment, it was a little different. As I said, I was gutted. And there's no time or space to really process how you feel. You do quite literally step off the stage when the show ends, sign your paperwork, get escorted to the green room to get your stuff, and then get asked if you're going to stay to watch the other shows or if they should call you a cab right now. Right when you may want just a couple of moments to yourself, the champ is being rushed past you to change for the next show and all of the hubbub is starting again. And they're waiting on your answer about the cab.

The coordinator made some comment about me not being very talkative while collecting my things, and I said, "Well, some people are here just to play I guess and some of us are worried about covering our plane tickets home." The coordinator responded in a very cold tone of voice, "People like that rarely win. The ones who just want to have fun, those are the ones who win."

I felt like I'd been slapped in the face, and I brooded over it for quite a while. It seemed like he was saying you need to be independently wealthy and pure of heart to win at Jeopardy. In retrospect, though, I think it was just a simple misunderstanding.  I didn't mean that I was going on Jeopardy as a career plan, just that the opportunity had arisen at a bad time financially and making it happen had meant going into debt to someone I'd rather not owe anything to (not a loan shark, my kneecaps are safe!). In the wake of the loss, I was feeling very much like a failure, and like this whole thing had been nothing but a waste.

I chose to stay so that Julie and I could share a cab back to the hotel.  After Friday's game ended, I was standing out in the studio lobby feeling lost and sorry for myself when the audience for Thursday and Friday's shows started walking past. A number of people stopped to tell me that they thought I'd done amazingly well, that they were sorry I hadn't won, that I'd looked unbelievably calm up there. "Weren't you nervous at all?" Someone told me that they knew they could never make it on the show, but "at least I can say I met someone who was on!" To the random people in the audience who talked to me: you really helped. I can't thank you enough for the things you said.

This is what the studio looks like when you're
outside the gate waiting for your cab

I feel bad about the cab ride back with Julie, because I was really still trying to process what had happened in our game, and I know it's got to be terrible etiquette to talk to her of all people about my own sadness over losing. Back at the hotel, we shared an elevator with a guy who was interested in the fact that we'd just taped  Jeopardy, and he said he'd be fine unless any opera categories came up. I said, "Wait till May 24, and you'll see how I feel about opera!" When I got to my room I called Morgan, and I realized that I didn't want to spend the next day (his birthday, no less!) in LA alone, eating out with money I hadn't won. I canceled the night's reservation at the hotel, booked a new flight home, and went to LAX. I was back home in Denver by about 1 AM.

I spent the next four months (not the entire four months straight - I'm not Eeyore) deciding how I felt about the whole thing, and thinking about how I wanted to handle telling people about the show, and trying not to feel like a huge loser. Oh, and watching the Cult of Tesla thrive, with Google+ trending topic games, and online comics, and every time I just wanted to scream, "Don't talk to me about Tesla!" But of course I couldn't. Here's the thing, though: over those four months I realized that what the contestant coordinator said at the beginning was actually not just feel-good crap. Hundreds of thousands of people take the online test. A few thousand of those are contacted to do an in-person audition. A few hundred of those actually make it on the show. Every single one of them loses, most without ever winning. I'm competitive, and who doesn't think winning is more fun than losing? And who doesn't judge the people on TV against the yardstick of your own knowledge? But it's hard to meet the standards to get through the process and onto the stage, and even harder to have the guts to find out if you're as good as you think you are when you're sitting on your couch yelling out answers.

I did both of those things, and I lost. It's okay, though. I got to write a lot of blog posts, and learn a lot of things, and I got a lot of support and positive comments from people who know me, as well as total strangers. You don't get any of that if you're too afraid of failure to try.


  1. Very nice once again, Ursula. Bravo.

  2. Very well said! I am so happy that you had the experience. I don't know how many times when I told someone that you were going to be on Jeopardy they replied, "She is so smart, she should do well". Or something to that affect. I agree, you did very well. Yay! I am also glad that you let all of us in on your experiences. It has been really interesting.

  3. Jeanie: Thank you. It means a lot from someone who has been there.

    Virginia: Hearing things like that makes me smile, really. I realized that I was having an experience that a lot of people are curious about or might enjoy reading about, and so I figured I should do my best to tell it all. I'm glad I managed to make it interesting! :)

  4. Very interesting Ursula.
    An enjoyable read in the sense of capturing an entirely other side of what is not seen on TV.

    I stated it before, but I think it is worth mentioning again that you did exceptionally well.