Let the Games Begin!

So now it was time to play. We had known Jason, the defending champ, would be a contestant, but we didn't know for sure who his opponents would be. The legal department picks them from the contestant pool. They wound up picking Camille and Ted, who had been in the pool with Jason the day before, but weren't picked then.

We all trooped out to the studio, which was now full with an audience. It was pretty scary to see all those people staring at me! I immediately began looking for Tita, Janice, Mike, and Julie, and saw them sitting on the second row, across the aisle from where the contestants not playing in game 1 would be sitting. So I gave them a big smile, and waved vigorously at them. Glenn, the contestant coordinator, sternly told me, "No waving!" I thought he was kidding. I still did not realize I wasn't supposed to have contact with my supporters.

Jason, Ted, and Camille went to their podiums and signed in, and then stood in a line just offstage to wait for their cues. The familiar music started up, and Johnny Gilbert's voice boomed out: "This … is … Jeopardy!" And they began to play.

It was really interesting to watch how they go about making a TV show. We were looking from the side, but we could see on a monitor what the camera was seeing head on. They used several cameras. Two were directly across from the podiums, built into a wall. One was the close-up camera and one was a wide shot. Then there was a camera on a boom, that moved around. And then they had a guy walking around with a handheld camera.

They pretty much tape the show in real time. When it's time for the first commercial break, they stop the tape for about as long as the commercials would last. During this break Alex stands next to each of the two challengers and poses for a picture - that's where I got the picture on my Jeopardy home page. When they come back from commercial, Alex chats with each of the contestants. And then they finish playing the Jeopardy round.

After round 1, Jason was comfortably in the lead. He was really quick on the buzzer, and he seemed to know all the answers. I could tell Ted and Camille were in over their heads. In the Double Jeopardy round, Jason pulled away. Ted and Camille had that "deer in the headlights" look! Jason got all the Daily Doubles, it seemed, and he bet big every time. So by the time Final Jeopardy rolled around, Jason had over $20,000. It seemed to me at the time that Ted and Camille answered practically no questions, but when I watched the playback this week, I saw that they actually managed to answer a fair number of questions correctly. But not as many as Jason, and he benefited so much from the Daily Doubles. It was a foregone conclusion who was going to win; the question was, how much would Jason bet? He wound up with a total of $28,000, after getting the Final Jeopardy question right. Alex informed us all that this was the fourth-highest total ever.

Meanwhile, the rest of us were sitting there stunned, very pale. Glenn came over and grinned at us and said "None of you want to play Jason now, do you?" We all admitted this was the case. I was sitting next to Mary, and I had whispered to her just before Final Jeopardy: "Geez, Jason didn't seem that smart in the green room!"

But someone had to play Jason, and as they sent him off to change his clothes to maintain the illusion that the next game would take place on a different day, Glenn told us who the next two opponents would be: Steven and Kari. The rest of us sighed with relief (Jason could only play one more game, after all, so we were off that hook). I was really sorry that the two nice people I had ridden over with in the van were going to be Jason's final victims. I looked across the aisle at Tita and Janice and mouthed "I don't want to play Jason!" Tita was scared to death I would be disqualified, so she sliced her finger across her throat to tell me to shut up! I didn't understand why she did that until later that evening.

After about ten minutes, game 2 started. And a funny thing happened: Jason wasn't doing nearly as well as he did in the first game. Steven and Kari were right there with him. Jason always maintained a lead, and would look like he was going to put them away, but then he'd come to a Daily Double, bet big (as usual) - and miss the question!!! The really amazing thing was that each time I knew the answer! When Final Jeopardy rolled around, Jason was in first, followed by Steven, then Kari. I can't remember exactly what the question was, but the correct answer was Sir Isaac Newton. Kari got it right. Steven got it right. And Jason said … Francis Bacon! There was an audible gasp throughout the studio. A look of shock came over Steven's face as he realized he had won! He stepped off his platform (he and Kari had both had to stand on platforms because Jason was very tall - they want the contestants to be approximately the same height so that the camera can pan across without having to go up and down) and immediately became 5 inches shorter! And if you listened closely you could hear Steven say to Jason as he shook his hand, "Good luck in the Tournament of Champions." Even though Jason did not wind up being a five-time undefeated champ, he had a four-game total of over $58,000, and is a shoo-in for the tournament. Most years at least a few four-time champs make it into the tournament (although for the first time ever this year, none did). But I'd bet the farm that Jason will be in the tournament when it rolls around next year.

So now I didn't want to have to play Steven in the next game! In fact, I wasn't so sure I wanted to play anyone! I was experiencing severe performance anxiety! Glenn came over to tell us who the next two contestants would be: Allen and Mary. I breathed another sigh of relief.

Ten more minutes and game 3 began. I remembered the game as being nip and tuck between Allen and Steven, but actually Mary was right in there too. When Final Jeopardy rolled around Allen was in first, followed closely by Steven and Mary. The category was Airport Codes. I was very thankful that wasn't my question. I don't fly often enough to be familiar with the codes. The question was something like "This airport code refers to the fact that the land was an orchard before it was an airport." I had no idea what the answer was. I would've guessed Buffalo, figuring they have a lot of apple orchards in upstate New York. In fact that's what Allen guessed, and that was wrong. Mary guessed Orlando, another possibility I considered. And it was wrong too. Steven, who is from Chicago, got the answer right: "O'Hare"! It seemed like a lucky break that the answer was Steven's hometown airport, but it wasn't rigged. No one knew at the time the question was written that one of the contestants would be from Chicago.

After game 3 we took a dinner break, and they made the audience leave. A new audience, except for guests of remaining contestants, would be brought in for the afternoon. Those of us remaining trooped off to the studio commissary for lunch. Most of us ordered the oriental chicken salad, but I remember Steven got a big juicy burger. I couldn't imagine eating anything that heavy! I was very worried about spilling food on my pretty dress, so I had my chair scooted way back from the table and leaned over my plate. Didn't spill a drop! The meal was pretty lively, and Steven of course was the liveliest participant. He was on a high from winning two games, as well he should have been. He commented that he was winning ugly, but at least he was winning!

As we finished up the meal, Glenn announced the next two contestants: Scott and me. Gulp! Boy, was I glad he waited until after we ate to tell me. I don't think I could've eaten a bite if I'd known. Of course, I was sure it was either going to be the 4th game or the 5th game, but still, it was scary hearing my name called out.

Next installment: I Make My Debut