My 22 Minutes of Fame, part IV

10 December 1999
Categories: Narratives

The following is the fourth in a five-part narrative about my appearance on Jeopardy! in 1997.

Part I: “How do you get to Sony Pictures Studios?”
Part II: The Mecca of Nerds
Part III: Showtime!

Part IV: December 10, 1997

Image ©1997 Sony PicturesCaution: spoilers. Watch the tape first, or check out this analysis from the J! Archive fansite, and see the truth. Then read this, and find out what really happened.

From all appearances, it would seem that I was going great—tearing up the board—and then overextended myself on a Daily Double wager, causing me to panic and crash and burn. Not quite.

Let’s be honest. I kicked ass in the first round. I had confidence and knew virtually all the questions. Thanks to the actress’s psyche-out I avoided the Shakespeare category, which was a mistake because I knew all 5… but that didn’t matter because they handed me Let’s Play Clue, a board game I know all too well. (The player moving Colonel Mustard has the best odds of winning.) By the end of the round, I was leading by $200 over the actress. The returning champ was a distant third. The game was mine to win, or to lose.

Midway through the first round came the contestant chat, and my bullshit came back to haunt me. Alex could have asked me about my interest in space exploration, my rocketry web site, my history of bus trips through hell. But no, he went straight to the bottom of my list and asked about my unique hobby of collecting bricks from demolished historic buildings. So I chatted him up about the nostalgia (if not historical value) of the bricks I’ve collected, and managed to slip in a little commentary about the tragic loss of so many works by such great architects as Louis Sullivan.

I neglected to mention that one of the primary reasons I have these bricks is for the twentysomething outlaw thrill of sneaking into cordoned-off demolition sites.

I also failed to mention that the “collection” numbered, and remains, 2.

Then came the Double Jeopardy round. And tragedy struck.

It was going really well. My confidence was high, and I had the button under my thumb, both literally and figuratively—five times in a row I was first to ring in. Somehow I was managing to keep my knees from locking up. Then, from somewhere in the back of my head, or perhaps the ghost of the reindeer sitting on my shoulder, I’m not sure, came a voice:

“There’s a Daily Double behind Record Producers for $600.”

All through the orientation, the producers kept telling us, run the board top to bottom. That way you can get a feel for how the category is going to go, and even eliminate some possibilities since no two answers will have the same correct question. But I said to myself, what the fuck. I know rock and roll. So I asked for it.

Sure enough, a Daily Double. I freaked. Suddenly a sizable portion of my brain was shunted into answering the question, “how the fuck did I know that would be there?” I was surprised to see that I was well ahead and, rather than risk a sensible and tactical $1000, made a big mistake, wagering the margin between myself and second place. And then, the answer:

This person produced the all-time best-selling album in rock history.

Okay, I knew the album was “Thriller.” I also knew that Quincy Jones produced most of Michael Jackson’s albums. But the part of my brain that could put these two facts together was still busy looking for voices in my head, and the random name generator attached to my tongue said “who is David Geffen?”

From then on it was a lost cause, and a lead—I mean, a tie for the lead—dissolves pretty quickly when you start guessing at $800 and $1000 questions. When it came time to wager on Final Jeopardy, I didn’t have enough left to catch the leader. With the distribution of scores and the wagers I expected the others to make, I figured the best I could possibly do was second place, and a category as vague as Women didn’t leave me with any additional hope. Deep Space Probes would have been nice. I wound up betting that one of them would be wrong and would have bet a lot, so I only wagered a portion of my money in case I got it wrong as well. I anguished a while over the decision but never wrote a single number on my scrap paper, crunching numbers and logic in my head to try and find a solution that would let me win. It wasn’t there. In retrospect I should have just had the balls to bet it all, but even in my morose state I couldn’t bear the thought of having that goose egg on the front of my podium. (Not that the amount really matters. Only the winner takes the cash. Second and third places get the consolation prizes, but no money.)

I had a little vindication when I wound up being the only one to get the question right. The answer was:

One of three women, in the only statue that depicts women, in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

I was stumped for almost all of Merv’s little song. Why a trio of women? All I could think of were temperancers, suffragists, and war nurses. Just in the last few moments I thought, well, she was important enough to put on a coin… and jotted down her name as fast as possible. I didn’t have time to change the weird phrasing (“What is Susan B. Anthony?”) that was in fact caused by the producers admonishing us to fill in those words during the wagering phase so that we wouldn’t be disqualified for not phrasing it in the form of a question. (They claimed “What is” would be the correct phrasing, but obviously they had their heads up their legally-protected asses.)

I wound up in second place, just as expected. The champ shot his wad and came in third. The actress/witch and her goddamned reindeer got the cash.

Part V: Aftermath

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