Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Once Again, I Am Hoping That Having Memorized Vast Amounts Of Useless Trivia Will Not Have Been In Vain
[Portions of this appeared elsewhere, in three separate past entries. Those bits are pertinent to the overall subject matter today, though, so I'm weaving them into this narrative. If you think you've read some of this before, you aren't necessarily going insane.]
It is 7:37pm on Tuesday. I am waiting to take the on-line test to qualify for Jeopardy. It is supposed to start at 8 o'clock. I logged in to the test site at 7:32, and since I have nothing better to do while waiting, I'm writing.
This will be my third attempt to become a Jeopardy contestant.
Usually, in order to be picked for a regional qualifier, you go to their website and enter your name into a lottery of sorts. They only have so many spots and they usually get way more applications for those spots than they have room for. I had registered a number of times before, but had never been lucky enough to be chosen. This particular time, perhaps eight years ago, I got a call telling me that I was invited.
I was stoked! I really am quite good at the game; better than most anyone I'm acquainted with. I know that if I get onto the show, I won't embarrass myself. I may not win, but I won't self-destruct in front of a national audience. I have some holes in my game, but I also have specialized knowledge of some fairly arcane trivia. I think I might have a better than average shot at winning a game or two.
I know that the pressure won't get to me for two very good reasons:
1) Unlike the great majority of human beings, I actually like speaking in public. My job is, to some degree, made up of spoken performance. I don't fear a microphone.
2) I was on a game show once before and I did OK. I didn't win, but it was because of a lack of knowledge concerning one particular category, not because of overall dumbness or stage fright. The name of the show was Think Twice and it was a production of PBS. Yes, a PBS game show. I actually found a picture of it on-line (fortunately for you, not one with me in it) and it is below.
I have a tape of that show, but I can't bear to watch it. I don't like watching myself on film. I never look as good as I think I look in my mind.
The show ran for thirteen weeks, so you probably never heard of it. Most people didn't hear of it; that's why it ran only thirteen weeks. It aired about twelve years ago.
The premise, and thus the title, was that every part of the show either took two answers or had to be completed by two people in tandem. I had a partner (a former losing Jeopardy contestant, by the way) and she was about on the same level as myself. She was assigned to me on the date of taping.
I'll give you an example of the format. The host, Monteria Ivey, would ask a question like "What two federal holidays occur during the month of January?", and then the first person to ring in would say, perhaps, "Martin Luther King Day". Then, it would be up to that person's partner to supply the second half of the answer, New Years Day. If the partner could not supply the answer, the other team had a chance to steal the points by answering it.
Now, that was pretty straightforward and fun, and I think if the show had ONLY done that, it might have been a success. However, for some ungodly reason, the producers decided to have three different types of rounds in the show, and the other two rounds were much harder for the audience to grasp. I won't go into them here. Suffice to say that my team led throughout the show, until the final question on the final round, which concerned country music.
I knew dick about country music. I still don't know much. However, I know who Kitty Wells was. I had never heard of her then. I'll never forget her now.
(MY WIFE was in the studio audience. When they announced the category as country music, she turned to her friend, with a crestfallen look, and said, "Jim doesn't know anything about country music...", and she was right.)
So, we finished second. I received a whole bunch of neat gift certificates, most of which we used to do our Christmas shopping that year.
Getting back to the other show...
I took that Jeopardy test and it was hard but not overwhelming. They give you 50 questions and you need (if memory serves) 38 correct to qualify for the "personality" interview. That's where they make sure you aren't a psycho, have a face that won't traumatize little children, and you will be able to talk in more than a mumble when Alex Trebek asks you to tell him why you were married on February 29th.
By my best estimate, I had either 37 or 38 correct. They don't tell you your score, by the way. They just tell you whether you passed or failed. I failed, but I'm almost positive I missed it by one damned answer. And it was a fairly easy answer, too. I thought about this particular question afterward and I realized that I probably out-thought myself on it. I thought the obvious answer was too obvious, you know? So I put down something else that sounded reasonable, but looking back I'm sure the obvious answer was the right one.
Fast forward to about two years ago now. I registered for, and took, the on-line version of the test. If you pass (again, they don't tell you if you passed or failed) then you might get called up to take part in a live version of the test. I never got called, so I don't know if I passed or failed. I think I was on the borderline again.
Now, I'm taking the test again - in about 5 minutes, if the clock here is correct. It should take about 10 minutes, after which I'll let you know how I think I did. Wish me luck.
While you're waiting, I can tell you that I passed the test for another game show altogether, but never got on the show. That was Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
The audition itself was a simple process. We were checked in by staff and then handed a sealed envelope containing the written test. After being seated, we were given some simple instructions concerning the filling out of the answers on a separate form and then we were allowed to open the envelopes and begin the test.
The test consisted of thirty questions, multiple choice, and we were given ten minutes to complete it. In the interest of fairness to ABC, as well as future contestants, I won’t give you any of the actual questions. However, they were mostly of this caliber:
Which of the following states was the last to join the union?
A – North Carolina
B – Vermont
C – Alaska
D – Utah
I don’t think it was a tremendously hard test. There were a couple of questions I had to take a wild stab at, but I knew for sure, by the time we had to turn in the papers, that I had at least 25 out of 30 correct. Of course, I assume the tests change from day to day, so perhaps I lucked into one that matched my strengths.
The tests were very quickly graded and then we were told which of us should stay for an interview and which should go home. We had been given numbers with our tests. I was number 12. They called out the numbers of those who passed the test:
“193... 137... 126... 12...”
Yes! I passed the written test!
Now it was on to the personality interview, wherein someone would decide if I was pleasingly personable enough to make a national television audience root for me. Or perhaps decide that I was a blowhard psychopath.
Turns out they thought I might have been a blowhard psychopath. I received this postcard from the production staff about two weeks after my trip to New York.
I don’t know for sure what happened. Here's some conjecture.
I dressed nicely. The instructions I received from ABC, concerning the testing, called for casual dress. So, I wore a nice pink taffeta – nothing too fancy. No, I wore a navy polo, off-white chinos, black belt – casual, but not I'm-a-meth-freak-in-my-spare-time casual. I got a haircut about a week before the test, so I’d be neat but not look like I just came from the barbershop. I shaved that morning and trimmed my beard and sideburns. I cleaned my fingernails. I brushed my teeth and used mouthwash and checked my nose for hanging boogers just before going to the test site. In other words, I know I was presentable. That wasn’t the problem.
As I said, I passed the written exam. It was thirty questions, multiple choice, with a ten-minute time limit. Nothing too hard. The general tenor of the questions was as follows:
What do you use to drain your spaghetti after cooking?
A – A Colander
B – A Calendar
C – A Tennis Racket
D – Your Hands
Well, OK, it wasn’t quite that stupid, but it wasn’t MENSA stuff, either. A particularly bright ten-year-old would have had a decent shot at it. And – getting back to the personality thing - I didn’t stand up in the middle of the test and shout, “I came all the way to New York to take this fucking idiotic test? Why didn’t you just grab all the people off of the first short bus you saw passing by and save me the trouble?” I filled out the test paper as instructed and, in the approximately six minutes I had remaining after doing so, I re-checked my answers, making sure I hadn’t drooled on the form or anything else which might have been off-putting to the judges.
After being informed that I'd passed – I’d estimate that 1 in 8 of those tested did so – I had my picture taken. I smiled nicely. I was very pleased with the photo, too. I don’t think I photograph particularly well, but this one came out nicely. I looked reasonably intelligent, somewhat friendly, and I still had no hanging boogers. So, the picture wasn’t the problem.
Then it was on to the personality interview. From the results, you might think I had answered the interviewer’s questions in the following manner:
Interviewer: Hi, Jim! I’m Debbie.
Me: Debbie? Hah! Are you the one who did Dallas? Hah-hah!
Interviewer: What do you do for a living, Jim?
Me: I disembowel rabid weasels.
Interviewer: That must be interesting.
Me: Not if you’re the rabid weasel.
Interviewer: What’s the first thing you’ll do if you win a million dollars?
Me: Give it to Al-Qeada. Either that or I’ll rent out a roomful of whores and snort massive amounts of cocaine off of their asses until I die.
Interviewer: What sorts of hobbies do you enjoy, Jim?
Me: I thought I made that clear with my previous answer. Wow, you’re really thick!
Interviewer: Well, it’s been nice talking to you, Jim. We’ll let you know in a few weeks whether or not you’ll be placed in the contestant pool.
Me: Like I give a shit, sister. Hey, what are you doing later tonight? Would you mind if I snorted some cocaine off of your ass?
The interviewer’s questions really were like those above, but I didn’t give hideously inappropriate answers. I was nice. I was unthreatening. I thought I was at least fairly interesting.
Apparently, the producers thought otherwise. I don’t know. Maybe the swastika I painted on my forehead was a bit too much. I thought it was a nice homey touch, but you never can tell what’s going to turn some people off these days.
I’ve talked to a few other people who passed the written exam and who also were not invited to appear on the show. They are all nice people and they are all possessed of a higher-than-average intelligence. And I hope this isn’t too self-serving, but I think that’s the problem. I think the producers aren’t looking for the highly intelligent. I have a feeling that what they’re looking for are the reasonably intelligent – those who know how much two plus two is, but not necessarily what someone might do with that information - combined with the type of perky which I, unfortunately, am not.
Hey, it’s a TV show. I know that what they’re trying to do is appeal to the widest possible audience and just because they decided not to use me, I don’t need to feel like it’s some sort of personal insult. Luckily for me, as a voice-over talent, I work in a subjective business, so I know what it’s like to be rejected for no reason having to do with intelligence or talent or personality. Sometimes what you’ve got just isn’t what someone else is looking for. I’ve had ample opportunity to get used to being passed over and I know how to deal with it like an adult.
I think I did well on this latest go-round at qualifying for Jeopardy. I'd estimate I got 41 or 42 correct out of 50, and that should be good enough to qualify. We'll see if they call me for a live test. Until then, say a quiz-show-related prayer for me, please.
Soon, with more better stuff.