Former Jeopardy Contestants: Lend Me Your Experience!

I have a live audition in Philadelphia on June 14. I have NO idea what I should be doing other than playing the mock game. I know we have several former Jeopardy contestants on these boards, and I have a favor to ask (both for me and for the several other Dopers who have live auditions coming up): Give me some tips!

I’ve never auditioned to be a game show contestant before, so I’m going into this cold. What should I expect? What should I wear? What should I tell them during the interview?

I’m getting nervouser and nervouser every day…

I tried out twice before getting on the show, and the try-out always began with a written exam. I think the passing requirement was 35 right out of 50. I found that studying Trivial Pursuit questions and the world map was a big help.

After that, we had mock games. The producer asked typical Jeopardy questions, and the point wasn’t to get them right, but to speak confidently and clearly.

Finally, the producer asked us questions about our lives–our ambitions and family, and particularly asked for amusing anecdotes. A few of my fellow would-be contestants had clearly prepared for this, and I’m sure this gave them an advantage.

My advice in short: pass the test, then be happy and funny. I wouldn’t recommend full dress attire, but business casual seemed fine.

Good luck! Tell us how it went.

Have you read Prisoner of Trebekistan: A decade in Jeopardy, by Bob Harris? Harris was a 5 game winner (the limit at the time) and the book is full of strategy tips, besides being very entertaining.

Congratulations and good luck!

Jayjay, I’ve forwarded an email that Labsdad sent me with a lot of good information on the audition process. I’ll reprint it here if I get his permission, but you should already have it.


What Sefton said.

The only studying I did (and I did it both before the audition and before the actual competition – showing how well I did it) was to memorize state capitals. They seem to come up fairly regularly in one way or another, and it’s a nice manageable chunk.

What time’s the audition? Wanna have dinner after?

I’m supposed to be at the hotel at 9:30, and I’m assuming I’m going to be there at least 3 hours, probably closer to 4 or so. supervenusfreak’s coming with me, so let me ask him. I’d love to, though.

This is going on my library list. I’d heard of it before but didn’t think of it in the excitement of getting the emails.

Of course you can reprint it!

Shibb0leth and Labdad, thanks! I’ll peruse that email more thoroughly when I have more time over lunch.

I just second the advice to be happy and have fun! Remember, many, many people have the requisite amount of trivia knowledge – but they’re looking first and foremost for people who will be good on TV. So show lots of personality and give them a reason to want you to be on camera. I was given that advice before my own audition lo these many years ago by Jerome Vered, who as we all know is one of the three Ultimate Tournament finalists, and it definitely served me well since I got The Call only a month after my audition.

So have fun, and go for it!

From the brain of the ever wonderful Labdad, as good a fellow as one could ever hope to break bread with:

Here’s what I can offer.

I’m not sure how the tryout process has changed with the advent of the online test. In 2005, when I qualified, the test was given at the hotel conference room, and those who passed the test went on to the “audition” right there. Thos who didn’t pass the test were sent home.

Assuming your performance on the online test is all that was needed, and that you don’t have to take another test when you go to the audition, I’ll share what happened with me.

There were six of us who passed the test. We were divided into two groups of three, and were then told each group would play a mock game of Jeopardy. The mock game and subsequent interview were videotaped.

They had the big game board and three podiums with buzzers. We were told in advance they would not be keeping score. They wanted to see if we could navigate the board and keep the game going. They wanted us to demonstrate that we could select categories and dollar amounts quickly, speak up when we had to answer, etc.

One of the categories was “Jack Nicholson.” The answer was something like “Nicholson parodied this introduction from ‘The Tonight Show’ in ‘The Shining.’” I buzzed in and answered “What is, 'Heeeeerrrre’s Johhhhnnneee!” The contestant coordinator looked up and said “Good!” Now then, “Here’s Johnny” would have been equally correct, but the fact that I imitated Ed McMahon when I answered I’m sure had something to do with my being ultimately selected for the show. Know what I mean?

Prior to playing the mock game, they told us we would play the game for about 15 minutes, the we would be interviewed. They told us they wanted us to tell them our name, where we were from, what we did for a living, something interesting about ourselves, and what we would do with it if we won a pile of money on Jeopardy. I told the I was a “reformed lawyer” who now does University fund raising. The interesting thing about me was that I served on the board of the Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival held each year in Champaign, Illinois. ( And that I’d probably spend all the money I won on Jeopardy on my garden. This wasn’t done in recitation, it was part of a Q&A they were conducting with me. I think the key is to be engaging, and have some answers that aren’t the same as the 300 other people they’ve interviewed this week!

If you haven’t already done so, they will ask you to fill out a card and tell you some interesting things about yourself. I think this is critical. Here are some of the things I put down about myself in answer to some of the questions they asked:

  1. I attend a guitar camp in southeastern Ohio every year with former Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. It’s a beautiful rural setting near the banks of the Ohio River. A session lasts from Friday through Monday, and you get personalized instruction from some of the finest guitarists in the world. In fact, I had to reschedule my trip to guitar camp to be on Jeopardy!

  2. I serve on the advisory board of Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival, held every April in Champaign, Illinois. I got involved when I lived in Champaign, but my wife and I now go back every year for the festival.

  3. I’ve been an avid Atlanta Braves fan ever since they came to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966. I was at the game on April 8, 1974 when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s all-time record.

  4. I love to cook - especially southwestern dishes. I have an extensive pantry of ingredients we picked up in Santa Fe, NM when we vacationed there. My wife says when we run out of something, we’ll have to go back. (No phone orders allowed!)

  5. I spent my first 37 years in the South, so when I moved to Illinois in 1988, I wasn’t that familiar with bitter cold weather. The first time it got below zero, I figured no one went to work in that kind of weather and stayed home. I quickly learned I was mistaken!


My most valued possession? A baseball given to me by my grandfather when I was about 12. It is autographed “To Louis, Best Wishes, Lou Gehrig”

I subsequently had it autographed by Hank Aaron and Joe Torre when the Braves moves to Atlanta.

The most romantic thing I’ve ever done? Last year I took my wife to Paris for her birthday. Her birthday is in April, and I thought April in Paris would be a nice way to celebrate it.

The one mistake no one will let me forget? Letting my brown delivery truck roll down a steep hill and crash into an apartment building. (I left the parking brake off) Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Funniest travel memory/problem with language misunderstanding? I ended up with two full lunches and a full bottle of wine (instead of one lunch and a glass of wine) at a café in Avignon, France. (I ate both meals and my wife and I finished the bottle of wine)

What is my special talent or quality? How do I use it? I remember useless information. I used it to get on Jeopardy!
I think you get the idea. They’re looking for people who not only have a bunch of knowledge, but can also be engaging on TV. You’ve got the personality, and will come across fine on TV. Just brush up your anecdotes and you’ll be fine.

Also, they told us if we didn’t get a call within a year, we could try out again. They said they keep about four times as many people in the contestant pool as they need. It was 13 months from the time I passed the test and auditioned until I got the call. So don’t give up. It’s definitely a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” sort of thing.

Good luck - I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you!


Ugh, that may not work, then – I’m working up in the middle-of-freakin’-nowhere, Bucks County, so wouldn’t be able to meet in Philly much before 6 or 6:30. Let me know your plans as they firm up.

My audition (in Dallas two weeks ago) only took a bit more than two hours. The best advice I can give is that you not stoke up on caffeine in advance. The experience is quite exhilarating enough to keep you alert!

ShibbOleth gives great advice, and I don’t have much to add. Have good stories that you can tell quickly, without a lot of setup, and a lot of requisite knowledge (in other words, the story about the intricacies of the Trekkie convention might not be best, unless it’s funny as hell and a non-Trekkie will get it).

I would drop any lame stories about pets, and don’t tell them you’re going to pay bills if you win the cash. Remember the contestant coordinators see thousands of people… stand out in some way. (Within your personality… don’t get a mohawk if you’re not the type to wear a mohawk. If you are that type, now’s a good time to get that cut!)

Assuming you get to the tryout, relax, and SMILE. And check out your smile. If your smile looks like a grimace, ease up a little. Legitimately, you need to have fun doing it. Forget about what’s on the line. Just have fun, and think of the tryout as an experience in of itself. (I think thinking too far ahead is a mistake. Just enjoy it in the moment!)

I practiced by watching Jeopardy! at home with a clicking ballpoint pen. I recommend this as well.

When I was in the green room before my taping, I asked the CC what they looked for in contestants. She said that they wanted people that people at home would root for and would want to see win. People who are engaging, hopefully funny (but not always necessary). People who are characters. She was clear that they didn’t want the same character all the time - most people put on a persona that’s contrived, and just loud - but I would ask some close friends about the things you do that make you particularly interesting (ask them, don’t depend on your own thoughts!).

Good luck!

I was on ten years ago, and I auditioned on the set, so I don’t know if they have changed what they’re looking for.
I think the best you can do is to figure out clever answers to the questions Labdad gave (the same ones they asked me) and then write them down. (I forgot my clever answers.)
For personality, those who have been around actors know there is a certain presence they have when the camera goes on. I suspect the producers are looking for something similar, though not in such great quantities.

I didn’t study for the test at all, but I got all but one or two right. I think you either know this stuff or you don’t. One of the people on with me never got a question right during the entire show. She didn’t seem all that nervous, so I don’t know the cause, but I’m not sure you’d want to go on national TV and freeze up.

Things that seem to keep you off: one of the local people told me he had taken the test five times, and had never passed. I wondered why he bothered. Another guy had passed twice but had never been picked. He stuttered.

Good luck, and if you do get on, forget about studying state capitals and instead rig up something to practice button timing. Most of the questions can be answered by anyone, especially the easy ones, and the critical skill (which I don’t have) is ringing in first.

[Sean Connery]

“I’ve got a finger for you, Trebeck.”

[/Sean Connery]