My second day on Jeopardy! started as a nearly-exact duplicate of my first: Shuttle bus ride to the studio, security screening, paperwork, high-intensity briefing, practice session. The only differences were that I already had my Hometown Howdy ready, that I felt a lot better in practice, and that I was selected to play in the first game of the day.
That last bit sent my pulse up to a tempo that a classical musician might refer to as "prestissimo" and that a rock musician might refer to as "speed metal."
My makeup got a touch-up, the sound guy clipped a microphone on me, and I was off to the stage. I was given the center podium, with Amy, the returning champ, on my right and Daniel on my left. I had seen Amy play the previous day, so I knew that, despite her very evident nerves, she could hang on for the win in a tough game. Daniel worried me a bit more; he was very strong on the buzzer in practice, and seemed quite confident.
Before discussing the gameplay, I will note that, before watching, I remembered exactly two questions from the game: The first Daily Double in Double Jeopardy!, and Final Jeopardy! The rest of the time, I was so immersed in what I was doing that I did not have the spare brain time to write memories. A lot of it came back to me as I watched the game, though.
While I got the first question right (a fact that my father remembered, but I didn't), the round started very slowly for me. I knew most of the answers for the first 15 clues, but I struggled to outbuzz Daniel. I was not pleased to go into the first commercial with $200 on the board.
After the commercial (and the awkward chat), things went much better. I started into some wheelhouse categories for me, such as the food one, and I was able to find my swing on the buzzer.
Ringing in on a Jeopardy! question is an incredibly intense experience. The clue is read, there is a lag (in which empires could rise and fall, glaciers advance and retreat, species evolve and become extinct...), then the lights come on. I almost always knew if my timing was right the moment I hit the buzzer, and the red podium lights on the bottom of my peripheral vision that signalled my success always produced a tiny surge of extreme joy and relief. There are few things in my experience that compare to it.
I ran off half a dozen or so correct responses in a row, and closed most of the gap with Daniel. He then hit a couple of questions followed by a Daily Double. He wagered $2500 (too small, in my opinion, but better than the $1000 wager to which so many contestants default), and got it right. By the end of the first round, he was still ahead, but only on the strength of that DD. Between the two of us, though, we ate up almost all of the clues and left Amy well behind.
A note on my clue selection: In defiance of traditional Jeopardy! gameplay, I did not select the clues in order, starting at the top and moving down. Instead, I picked third-row or below clues and switched categories often in a strategy called the Forrest Bounce. This has proven to be effective for some people, since it disorients your opponents a bit and increases your chances of hitting a Daily Double. It is not popular with many at-home viewers, and Alex and the producers just despise it. I thought I'd give it a shot anyway.
Double Jeopardy! went even better for me than the first round di. Daniel was getting some clues, but I was outbuzzing him more often than not, and Amy continued to struggle to get in. I pulled out to a good lead, then hit my first Daily Double. I wagered $5000, which was enough to give me a very large lead if I got it correct, but wasn't so much that I'd drop behind Daniel if I got it wrong. I didn't remember the exact wording of the clue, but I knew that the answer was William of Ockham the moment I read it. As a hardcore skeptic, Ockham's Razor is one of the central tenets of my entire belief system; I could hardly have been given a better clue, and from the reaction of the folks at my viewing party, a lot of my friends knew that.
It's a classic mistake in Jeopardy! to give someone's full name when only their last name is needed (since you might botch the first name and render your response invalid), so I responded "Who is Ockham?" Alex said "Yes, William of Ockham" and the game proceeded.
I picked the next clue and hit another Daily Double. Taken aback, I wagered $5000 again, then the game was stopped by the producers and we were told to turn our backs to the board.
Game stoppages like this happen every so often, but the recording is always edited to conceal them from home viewers. Sometimes they happen for technical reasons, but most of the time they happen because a player has given a debatably correct answer, and the staff needs to decide whether it should be counted as correct or not. While I was never formally told the reason for the delay, I strongly suspect that it was over my response of "Ockham" when the correct response was "William of Ockham." To my mind, the former is entirely correct under the scoring rules of Jeopardy!; since there is no one else of any note who could be readily identified by the name, "Ockham," I did not need to be more specific than that.
Apparently, the producers agreed. The tape was rolled back to just after I selected the clue, and I was told that, since no scores were changed, I was required to restate my wager of $5000 during the re-recording. The clue was a Video Daily Double, so one of the Clue Crew took longer than necessary to ask for the names of the two bones in the forearm. I thought about it for a second to make certain that I was giving the bones in the arm rather than the leg, then replied, "What are the radius and the ulna?" This correct response put me far ahead of Daniel (~$27,000 to Daniel's ~$12,000, if I recall correctly), and I hoped it would seal a lock game for me.
Unfortunately, Daniel was unrattled by this and he proceeded to rack up a number of correct responses. I laid back, since I wasn't 100% sure of the correct response on many of the clues, and I didn't want to Jeopardize (Hah! See what I did there!) my lead by guessing. With three clues left, totalling $1600, I was $2000 from a lock. I answered the last three, even though I knew I couldn't lock the game, and it was off to Final Jeopardy! with me at $29,800 and Daniel at $15,100.
The category was "Show Business Families;" this is pretty close to a wheelhouse category for me, since I'm so strong in TV and movies. I knew that I needed to wager a minimum of $401, but I could wager much more aggressively than that if I so chose. Given my strength in the category, I briefly thought of making a big wager, like $10,000. I then thought about whether, in other circumstances, I would be willing to wager $10,000 of my own money on a single trivia question. A Jeopardy! score is just a pile of valueless points until you win, but if you win, it becomes real money. I needed to wager $401 to have a shot at winning; I did not need to wager enough money to replace the horrible, 60-year-old single-pane casement windows on our recently-purchased house, or to buy a complete dining room set, or to take a trip to Europe. I wagered $401.
The clue asked for the name of a director whose middle name was that of a car company. I immediately started flipping through the long list of directors in my head, looking for a likely middle name. This went on for about five seconds before a wiser part of me said, "You idiot! You know hundreds of directors, but there are only a dozen or so car companies! Chevrolet: No. Chrysler: No. General Motors: Are you frakking kidding me? Ford: Wait, yes, it's Coppola's middle name!" I wrote down Francis Ford Coppola, and was all but certain that I had won, but I didn't relax yet.
Amy's response was revealed; she also wrote down Francis Ford Coppola, and was ruled correct. I finally relaxed. Daniel got it correct as well, but the look on his face suggested that he knew I had gotten it, too. After my reveal, I was told that I was a Jeopardy! champion, and that I had won $30,201.
I had a very few seconds to let this fact sink in, then my mic was unplugged and I was directed out onto the floor to chat with Alex while the credits rolled. He spent the time criticizing me for using the Forrest Bounce, and encouraged me to play straight next time so that I could get into the rhythm of the categories and not throw myself off. I found this criticism both annoying and misplaced, given the long runs I had in both rounds.
With that concluded, I was whisked off to the green room to change clothes, use the bathroom, guzzle down a can of Diet Coke, and (whimper) write a new Hometown Howdy. Half an hour later, I was back out on stage for Game 2...