This morning, I got a great email from mental_floss reader (and friend of a friend) Erik Dresner about his experience on Jeopardy! that I had to share. Hope you enjoy it—and his awesome celebratory tattoo—as much as we did!
So here's my story:
Back in June, I got the call to appear on Jeopardy!, something I've been trying to do for 10 years. I spent the next six weeks studying Shakespeare, state capitals, world capitals, the presidents and the periodic table. One day before flying out to LA, the new issue of mental_floss, with a whipped creamed mustachioed Alton Brown and a tiny yellow eel on the cover, arrived in my mailbox. Also arriving was my other magazine subscription: Entertainment Weekly.
I brought the magazines for in-flight entertainment during the take off and landing procedures that put an embargo on electronic devices. My plan was to read EW on the way there and mental_floss on the flight back, but halfway through EW, I switched. Who knows, I thought to myself—maybe there will be a tidbit in there that could help me on a clue or two.
Fast forward two days. I've been picked for the third episode taping that day. The returning champ is Sara Lehmann, a woman from Albuquerque who entered the previous episode's Final Jeopardy with four times the cash of the second place contestant. She was good on the buzzer, bet large on Daily Doubles, and knew seemingly everything. I was terrified to go up against her. My one shot coincided with going against one of the better players I've seen.
I managed to hold my own for the first round of the game. I even got $2000 back when a response I gave earlier ("What is Firewood?") was ruled correct after a review. However, Sara responded correctly on a true Daily Double at the end of the round to take a commanding lead going into Double Jeopardy.
When you're on the show, everything is a blur. I had tunnel vision, focusing on the clues and only the clues with no hunting for Daily Doubles or paying attention to the scores. So when I did stumble upon a Daily Double, I was surprised to see myself in the hunt with over $10,000 and $5000 behind Sarah. I (hindsight: regrettably) wagered conservatively and got an easy one ("What is vulcanization?") to keep it competitive.
When the round ended, I found myself down by $5400 after an incorrect $2000 response. ("What is Mauritius?") My only hope at this point would be a Final Jeopardy that Sara would get wrong.
Then the Final Jeopardy category came up: Modern Opera.
Someone cursed. Others groaned. I laughed. Of course I'd get the opera category. I know little to nothing about opera. I only made it through two-thirds of Faust before leaving out of sheer boredom. It's just not my thing.
I considered betting small, assuming we'd all get it wrong, and hope that Sarah would bet big. But something kept nagging me. Modern Opera. That issue of mental_floss I read on the plane had an article on the modern opera Nixon in China. I remember reading the words "modern opera" about eight times in it. (On a re-read, I found that while those two words appear frequently in it, they're never together.)
I decided this had to be a sign, and bet big. If I was wrong, there was no way I'd win. I was gambling away my one Jeopardy! experience on a response before I even saw the clue.
Back from commercial, the clue is revealed: "This opera begins with Air Force One landing at Beijing."
If you watch the episode, you can see me write the response, very carefully dot the i in Nixon, then take a sigh of relief. But I wasn't out of the woods yet.
The third place contestant, Michelle, answered "What is Miss Saigon?", not a bad guess under the circumstances. I got mine of course. Then it got to Sara who blanked. There it is right there: life's dream realized. Sure, it may be a shallow dream, but Jeopardy! has been my favorite show since I was a teenager.
So thanks to you, mental_floss, I can forever call myself a Jeopardy! Champion, even if it's just for one day. If I wasn't already planning on being a lifetime subscriber, that cemented it.
I've attached two pictures—one of me with Trebek, and the other with my celebratory tattoo. The star represents my one victory (like a World Cup winning team puts on their jerseys). The roman numerals, 6448, represent the episode number. And I'm sure you recognize the little guy swimming through the letters.