A. No cake walk.
Q: What is auditioning for "Jeopardy"?
Answering in the form of a question is all well and good when you're sitting on your couch at home, but when casting directors are shouting their encouragement, you have to watch for the green light and buzz in at the right moment, and also know the correct response? Yeah. It's not as easy as it sounds.
After trying out for "Jeopardy" at regional auditions last month, I am fairly sure if I ever make it on the air, I may end up being the contestant with a negative dollar amount, staring helplessly at Alex Trebek as the two other contestants answer questions left and right. I have renewed appreciation for those who actually make it on the show. And I'm a long way from ever taking the trip to California to attempt a "true Daily Double," if my gut feeling is right.
I arrived in Niagara Falls for the Buffalo-area auditions the night before. I figured I should be well-rested, and tried to see the humor in being put in room 665, only next door to evil -- not actually in Hades itself (there was no room 666, thank goodness). I had homework since I had waited until the last minute to fill out the "interesting facts" portion of my application. These are the chit-chat items Mr. Trebek banters with contestants about after the opening round.
It reinforced my feeling that I'm not going to be on the show, because apparently, I am not that interesting. But "sneezing one time on Bill Clinton" should at least get me points for being amusing or quirky or something, right?
This was the second time I was invited to regional "Jeopardy" tryouts. Most contestants try out more than once, according to the casting crew, and some of the show's best players don't get cast on the first try. And something like 100,000 people try out every year.
But I had an inkling of what to expect.
I started the whole process when I took the online test in March. Fifty timed questions, or rather, answers, similar to those that are on the show. In April, I got an email congratulating me on passing the test and inviting me to an in-person audition.
Then in Niagara Falls we took a second 50-question test that was a lot harder. I'm not sure if it was that the questions were more challenging, or that I was feeling the pressure, but it was definitely a reality check.
A mock version of the show followed. Practicing the clicker, the device that contestants use to ring in with their answers, is central to a "Jeopardy" tryout. Ring in before he finishes reading the question? You're locked out. Ring in too slowly? Another contestant will beat you to the punch.
You get coaching on a lot of little things: When you're selecting a category, try to avoid saying "same category for $200" because it confuses the cameramen. Watch for the green light that goes on when Alex is done reading the question. Speak up with a loud voice. Keep the game moving along.
During the mock tryout I discovered a few things about the contestant pool: It's heavily populated with English literature majors and professors, all of them have traveled extensively and most of them collect things, whether it be stamps, Medieval swords or toy cars. I felt even more boring by comparison.
Since the questions during the test and my mock audition are among those at other regional auditions throughout the year, I won't reveal the contents (I don't want to give other potential contestants a leg up; this is a competition after all). But suffice it to say that my depth of hockey knowledge only came in handy for one question, and, having a colleague from Kazakhstan proved to be a surprise advantage.
I turned to a couple of former local "Jeopardy" contestants for guidance. Pat Clevenger of Chalfant was a one-day champion in March. After his regional audition, "I did not think there was any way I was going to get on," Mr. Clevenger said with a chuckle.
He had taken the online test several times because getting on "Jeopardy" was on his "bucket list." "I always wanted to do it, to get on the show," he said, "so I kept trying."
It is very different in the studio than watching from home, he added. "Everyone's watching you, the lights are really bright. It's pretty overwhelming."
But now that he's crossed that item off his list, it's sort of bittersweet, Mr. Clevenger said. "If I'm reading the fine print right, I can't ever go on the show again while Alex Trebek is host," he said. "Maybe after he retires I'll think about it again."
Christine O'Toole, a freelance writer in Pittsburgh and wife of Post-Gazette political reporter Jim O'Toole, was on the show after her second audition. She was invited on the show shortly before her window of opportunity expired -- you're only in the contestant pool for 1 1/2 years after your audition. She said the people in the studio during the show are really helpful to contestants because they know everyone is nervous and new to the clicker.
Ms. O'Toole said that after her in-person audition, a casting director told her: "Don't wait by the phone. And, keep watching, which was the best advice."
After my trip to Niagara Falls, I'll be in the pool of potential contestants for 18 months. I may never be called for the show, but I'm eligible again after that time period is up. If I don't get called, I will definitely keep trying and taking the online test.
And yes, I will definitely keep practicing at home, but Ms. O'Toole made a helpful suggestion: "Most people practice by sitting in a recliner, with a beer in their hands," she noted. "You might want to try standing up."
Think you have what it takes to be a "Jeopardy" contestant? Take the practice test (www.jeopardy.com/beacontestant/contestantsearches/practicetest) and go to comments for this story online and tell us how you did.
Kim Lyons is digital news editor for the Post-Gazette: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1241.