I have thought about going on Jeopardy! since I was in high school. Out of some mixture of laziness and fear, though, I didn't try to audition for the show for many years. I always felt like I might do pretty well, though.
That changed in January of 2009, when Jon Hsu, an old friend and Knowledge Bowl teammate from high school, posted a link to the online test to be a Jeopardy! contestant. I was scheduled to be at a professional conference on the day the test was being offered, so I had the honor of taking it from a room at the San Jose Airport La Quinta Inn. (My brother says that "La Quinta" is Spanish for, "Next to the Denny's;" in this particular case, it meant, "Next to the Burger King.") I believe I got something like 40-42 out of 50 questions right, but I was not chosen for an in-person audition.
I took the test again in 2010, answering roughly the same number of questions correctly, and was invited to audition in Washington, DC, on 27 May. On that day, my wife, saint among mortals that she is, loaded both myself and our then-newborn son into the car and drove into the teeth of downtown DC traffic to take me to my audition.
I was a member of an audition group of 40, one of several such groups convened in Washington, DC that week. After waiting in the hall for a bit, we had our photos taken by Robert, one of the contestant coordinators, and we were shuffled the room for our audition.
The audition itself was presided over by another coordinator, Maggie Speak, who is worth the price of admission all by herself. Much has been written about her hyperkinetic and slightly unhinged presentation style elsewhere, but she must truly be witnessed in person to be fully appreciated.
We took another 50-question test, and once it was collected, we were allowed to compare notes on it. Based on these discussions, I figured that I scored about a 45.
It was then time to demonstrate that we aren't completely hopeless on camera. Maggie explained to us that they were looking for people who could follow instructions, handle the buzzer timing, and answer clearly and boldly. She said they also wanted people who looked like they were having fun, not hyper-intense types who looked like they were coming ashore under fire at Iwo Jima. (Based on my later experiences, all I can say is that I must have been having a particularly good day in that regard.) So, we played some practice Jeopardy! in groups of three, then we each chatted with Maggie as if she were Alex doing the "awkward chat with contestants" portion of the show.
I was in the first group of three to step up to the plate, and was assigned the middle buzzer. The gentleman to my left was a tall, bearded extrovert from, I believe, Texas; a series of transportation mishaps resulted in him making it to the audition by the skin of his teeth. He was so personable, outgoing, and unrattled that I figured he was a shoo-in to make the show if he didn't suck on the written test. (I don't remember a great deal about the woman to my right except that she was fairly quiet.) The practice session went very well for me. I buzzed quickly and often, answering several clues correctly and earning praise from Maggie for being loud and clear with my responses. The chat portion was a lot harder, and I felt like I put on no more than a passable performance.
I sat in the "audience" for the rest of the audition as more folks were put through their paces. There were a couple of people who were confident and calm, many more that were clearly overcoming some nerves, a few people that were far too quiet and meek, and a couple of people that should probably seek some sort of treatment for their Asperger's syndrome. (No offense intended to those with Asperger's and the like; I'm not being flip when I say that these people should probably be seeing a professional.) Comparing myself to this competition, I figured myself to rank about fifth, plus or minus three, out of 40. I thought I had an outside shot at best of making the show.
By January of this year, I had given up hope.
I was wrong. While in Denver International Airport on my way to a conference (the same one where I had taken my first online test two years earlier), I got a call from Glenn, the contestant coordinator. He told me that I was going to be on Jeopardy! It was all I could do not dance in the terminal.