CHICAGO — Two thousand miles from where “Jeopardy” tapes in Culver City, Calif., a group of 17 men and women met Tuesday morning at a Michigan Avenue hotel to try to score a coveted spot on the quiz show.
The two-hour audition — one of six scheduled this week at Chicago’s Westin hotel — drew Chicago-area residents and visitors from Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana. Some were veterans of pub trivia, while many told tales of lifelong fandom of “Jeopardy.”
All of them were there because they passed an online test, the first hurdle to becoming a contestant. At the Westin, the hopefuls took a 13-minute written quiz and participated in a mock “Jeopardy” game before bantering with senior contestant coordinator Glenn Kagan in a simulation of the interviews host Alex Trebek conducts with contestants on each episode.
“What we’re looking for primarily is well-rounded people for the show,” Mr. Kagan said.
The mix of contestants Tuesday included an Albany Park resident who developed board games, a University of Chicago student who plays the trombone and a suburban stay-at-home mom who brought a Lego figurine of Mr. Trebek to the audition.
Emily Ayshford, who lives on the Near North Side, said being on the show “would be a lifelong dream fulfilled. I wouldn’t even care if I won. It would be a dream to play.”
The Northwestern University communications director said she studied the periodic table of elements and gods and goddesses, among other topics, to prep for the tryout.
She nailed half the clues she answered in the mock game and chatted with Mr. Kagan about her visits to New Zealand and South Africa, where she rode an ostrich.
“It’s the closest I’ll ever get to riding a velociraptor,” she said.
Although the contestants’ backgrounds and occupations varied, all of them seem to be well-traveled with a fondness for hobbies such as rock collecting, playing in a bluegrass band and raising three cats, including one with an affinity for Mr. Trebek’s voice.
Mr. Kagan said there is not a precise formula to determine who makes a great “Jeopardy” contestant like former Chicago trader Alex Jacob, who won the 2015 Tournament of Champions, but he’s looking for the type of people viewers will root for.
He said he evaluates energy level and ability to follow directions, including waiting for clues to be read completely before buzzing in with answers. Contestants’ success on the show is often determined by the clue categories they face, Mr. Kagan said.
“I really can’t guess [who will win]. I’m just happy for anyone who does well on this show,” he said.
Mr. Kagan said he and contestant coordinator Ryan Keller took copious notes during the Tuesday morning audition, which will be used in determining which applicants will be added to the potential contestant pool.
Those who perform well remain in the pool for 18 months after their audition date. Some applicants may be called immediately, while others may not be contacted for months. Some hopefuls end up applying multiple times before landing a spot on the show, Mr. Kagan said.
About 400 people compete on each season of “Jeopardy.” Those who are tapped to be contestants are given “several weeks’” notice to get to Culver City on their own dime. Shows are taped on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, usually from August to May.
Mr. Kagan and other contestant coordinators hit the road during taping breaks to hold these auditions. Mr. Kagan said Chicago is visited about once a year.
Perrie Cronin-Cole said he drove more than three hours during Monday’s snowstorm from Madison, Wis., for the tryout Tuesday.
He said he has been watching “Jeopardy” since he was a young boy and now he watches with his kids.
During their interview, Mr. Kagan reminded Mr. Cronin-Cole that “Jeopardy” has held kids competitions.
“He would get a kick out of it,” Mr. Cronin-Cole said about his son, who turns 2 years old this year. “He’s got a story to tell already.”Alex Trebek - Chicago - Illinois - United States - North America