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Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

So you want to be on Jeopardy!

If you’ve seen our July/August issue of Access¸ you probably can’t wait to see Josiah Washington, one of our junior volunteers, compete on Jeopardy Kids! We’re all so proud of Josiah and his family and can’t wait to celebrate his appearance.

I had the opportunity to appear on Jeopardy! (the grown-up version) last May. I only came in second, but I urge anybody who has considered trying out to take the plunge. Even if you don’t get on the show, the tryout process is a lot of fun and you’ll meet some amazing people.

Here’s how it works:

Keep an eye on the Sony Pictures contestant page here, or watch the show carefully. A few times a year, you can register for free online tests. The tests consist of 50 timed Jeopardy! clues you have to type answers to. They go by fast! If you pass the online test, you’ll get an e-mail inviting you to regional in-person auditions. (I actually auditioned twice before I got on the show; I had to go to Savannah and to Washington, DC.) In the audition you take a written test and play a mock game against other competitors; they’re looking for contestants who are clear, loud, and keep the game moving. After the audition you have eighteen months to wait by the phone. If they don’t call you and invite you to compete, you can try again at the next online test. If they do, pack your bags for Culver City, California! (Yes, you have to pay for your own plane ticket, but if you win and have to return they’ll pick up the tab.)

So now that you’re going to be on the show, you need to prepare. (Everybody asks me if contestants get a list of categories. Of course they don’t; if they'd given me a cheat sheet I'd have gotten everything right!) I “played” all the episodes on my mother’s DVR, trying to get as close to the actual show experience as possible. I stood up behind a “podium” (my dad’s favorite recliner), “rang in” on a pen, practiced betting, and tracked my score. The most important thing to learn, besides all the presidents, is how not to ring in. If you get a response wrong you don’t just lose money, you eliminate a potential answer for your competitors. Choosing a betting strategy is also important; if I had bet big enough on my Daily Double (“who is Ethelred the Unready?”) I’d be a winner.

It’s a misconception that Jeopardy! is a trivia show. The wording of the clues may disguise it, but most answers require knowledge of the important stuff; history, literature, geography, and art. The library should be your first stop for study materials. You’ll definitely need to know all the presidents, the countries of the world and their capitals, major geographical features like mountains and rivers, states and provinces, and world leaders. Study opera, Shakespeare, world religions, and current events and you'll have a good start.

(Of course, none of these topics showed up in the game I played, but I’ll go to my grave knowing that Connecticut is the Nutmeg State.)

Here are some resources that can help you become a Jeopardy! champion!

Sara M. Says: A funny, informative, bittersweet memoir by 13 time Jeopardy! contestant Bob Harris. You'll use his description of his study methods, but you'll enjoy his story of how Jeopardy! (and the love of a good woman) changed his life.
Amazon Says: A.: This is the story of a working-class guy from Ohio with little real knowledge of Ambidextrous Presidents, Things Made from Rubber, and hundreds of other categories, but wh more...
Amazon Says: A.: This is the story of a working-class guy from Ohio with little real knowledge of Ambidextrous Presidents, Things Made from Rubber, and hundreds of other categories, but who nonetheless plunges so far into cramming for Jeopardy! that it changes his relationships, bends his worldview, and literally leads him to the ends of the earth, trying to understand it all. Q.: What is Prisoner of Trebekistan? Welcome to a world where obscure information is crucial to survival, vast sums of cash are at stake, and milliseconds can change not just a game but the course of your entire life. (Plus, you could win two Camaros and enough Bon Ami cleanser to scrub a small nation.) Prisoner of Trebekistan is Bob Harris’s hilarious, insightful account of one man’s unlikely epic journey through Jeopardy!, gleefully exploring triumph and failure, the nature of memory, and how knowledge itself can transform you in unpredictable ways—all against the backdrop of the most popular quiz show in history. In Prisoner of Trebekistan, Bob chronicles his transformation from a struggling stand-up comic who repeatedly fails the Jeopardy! audition test into an elite player competing against the show’s most powerful brains. To get there, he embarks on a series of intense study sessions, using his sense of humor to transform conventional memory skills into a refreshingly playful approach to learning that’s as amusing as it is powerful. What follows is not only a captivating series of high-stakes wins and losses on Jeopardy!, but also a growing appreciation of a borderless world that Bob calls Trebekistan, where a love of learning reigns and the smarter you get the more you realize how much you don’t yet know. Filled with secrets that only a veteran contestant could share—from counterintuitive game strategies to Jedi-like tactics with the Jeopardy! signaling device—Prisoner of Trebekistan also gives you the chance to play along with the actual clues that led to victory or defeat in high-level tournaments, plus candid, moving reflections on how the games affected Bob’s offstage life—and vice versa. Not only an irresistible treat for Jeopardy! fans, Prisoner of Trebekistan is a delight for anyone who loves a rollicking tale that celebrates the unpredictability of life and the sneaky way it has of teaching us the things that really matter. less...

Sara M. Says: This is one of the most useful books I read in preparation. Fills in the little holes in your knowledge with style and humor.
Amazon Says: "An astonishing amount of information." --Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times When it was originally published in 1987, An Incomplete Education became a surprise bes more...
Amazon Says: "An astonishing amount of information." --Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times When it was originally published in 1987, An Incomplete Education became a surprise bestseller. Now this instant classic has been completely updated, outfitted with a whole new arsenal of indispensable knowledge. Here's your chance to fill in the gaps left by your school years, reacquire all the facts you once knew then promptly forgot, and become the Renaissance man or woman you always suspected you could be! What was so important about the Dred Scott decision? Why aren't all Shakespearean comedies necessarily thigh-slappers? What happened inside Plato's cave? What's the difference between a fade-out and a dissolve? Fission and fusion? Shi'ites and Sunnis? The apostles and the disciples? Is postmodernism dead or just having a bad hair day? And for extra credit, how do you tell deduction from induction? An Incomplete Education answers these and thousands of other questions with incomparable wit, style, clarity, and brevity. American Studies, Art History, Economics, Film, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Religion, Science, and World History: Here's the bottom line on each of these major disciplines, distilled to its essence and served up with consummate flair. In this new edition you'll find up-to-the-minute analyses of the geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe, Indochina, and the Horn of Africa; the latest breakthroughs in cloning and gene splicing; brand-new takes on the economy, from disinflation to global competition; a look at the recent upheavals surrounding abortion rights, free speech, and the death penalty; and much, much more. Ponder the legacies of eight American intellectuals (a couple of whom aren't even dead yet). Get a handle on 350 years of opera; the central ideas of Freud and five of his famous followers; the meanings of eighteen inscrutable-looking adjectives, from jejune to heuristic, numinous to otiose. Bone up on entropy and evolution. Take a whirlwind tour of English poetry from Chaucer to Yeats. Learn what to look for in Rubens or Rembrandt, The Birth of a Nation or Citizen Kane. As delightful as it is illuminating, An Incomplete Education packs ten thousand years of culture into a single superbly readable volume. This is a book to celebrate, to share, to give and receive, to pore over and browse through, and to return to again and again. less...
  • New York Times
    If you don't already read at least the front page of a major newspaper daily, get in the habit.
  • J! Archive
    Did you know there's a website which obsessively catalogs every Jeopardy! game of the Trebek era? Well now you do. Mine is show 6386.

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