ONE PROSPECTIVE TEEN
A Jeopardy Teen Tournament hopeful named Matt Price wrote to tell me about his auditioning experience. With his permission I've posted his story here.
CONTESTANT'S AUDITIONING STORY
I had pretty much lost interest in Jeopardy! for a while, but my interest started to pick up again in the Spring of '99 when, after an episode, I saw an ad for contestant searches for the Teen Tournament that were taking place in Boston among other places. I thought about it, and since Boston is close (I live in Rhode Island), I figured, "What the hell, I have nothing to lose." So I went online and registered for it, figuring they wouldn't even call me back.
After about a week and a half I found a message on my answering machine asking me to call the studio and get my information. I did that, and they sent me a letter with directions to the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston to try out on July 24. I thought the whole thing was a hoot -- I mean, I was trying out for Jeopardy! I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to tell anyone because I just figured, "I'll go there, take the test, fail, and go home" -- and I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up for me. I was taking it all in stride.
Every day, I would play along with Jeopardy (the way this Web site said I should), keeping score -- and honestly, I didn't do too well, but I figured the questions for the Teen Tournament would be a little easier. I kept track, and the highest score I received using the scoring method on here was $10,400. I felt I was as ready as I would be for the test, so I didn't do any other studying. I did read my World Almanac and NY Times Almanac regularly because, since I want to be a statistician, they are my favorite books.
On the day of the test my mother drove me up to the hotel. I still wasn't nervous. There were no signs or anything inside telling us where the auditions were, so we had to ask. My audition was scheduled for 11 AM, and we got there around 9:30. (Hey, maybe I was a little anxious.) But we went upstairs and walked around listening to the parents of the kids in the first audition. It was like being backstage at a beauty pageant -- the parents were truly catty "stage parents." They were whining and complaining about how "school performance wasn't an issue" among other things. It was really bad. So my mother and I left and came back when it was time for my audition.
My mother and I waited in line for a few minutes until the doors opened. While standing in line, there was this really obnoxious girl standing behind me who was obviously showing off and trying to psych out everyone around her. I made my mother change places with me in line before so I wouldn't turn around and say something to the girl. In front of us, there was a kid from New Hampshire who was describing his Jeopardy! experience to another kid. It turns out this kid had tried out for Jeopardy! three times before and didn't get on the show, so he knew about everything that went on there. We had to say good-bye to our parents, and we all sat down in a pretty big room with 2 television sets in the front. There were about 80 of us. I noticed a girl that was pretty cute, so I sat next to her. There were 2 contestant coordinators, both women, who were explaining the game process to us, and they were very pleasant and nice. While they were handing out pens, I made it a point to say "Thanks a lot" with a big smile, instead of "Thank you" -- you know, just to stand out a little. The woman handing out pens seemed pleased that I said that, and said "You're welcome" with a smile as big as mine. They asked us if we had any questions, and almost every hand went up. I didn't mind, because I was soaking the whole experience in -- it was still a hoot for me. But when the kids starting talking, it did get on my nerves. I had never been in a room with so many arrogant people! It seemed to me, like instead of asking questions, they were saying, "I'm so smart and everyone's below me," of course without using those words. There were a couple girls in the back of the room who were like that, and the girl from the line was still acting up. Of course, there were some decent questions.
Well, the test got started, and I finally got nervous. I answered the first few questions in a row and thought to myself, "Don't get too excited, they'll get harder." They did, but I still managed to get most of them -- I'd say I left 5 to 7 questions out of the 50 blank, and out of the ones that I answered, I wasn't 100% sure of 2 or 3. There was a lot of literature (my weak point), science and geography (my strong point), mixed in with pop culture and sports (both strong points for me). The two women left the room for about 15 minutes, and everyone started talking about their answers. There was a bunch of girls sitting in front of me who couldn't care less about the test. They talked about shopping, their flights into Boston, their schools, etc...which I thought was pretty cool. I didn't really talk to anyone -- I just said "what's up?" to a few kids who were staring around the room like I was.
After about 15 minutes the two women came back and told us 9 of us had made it -- but before they announced it, they said there were 2 chairs with tape on the back of them and the winners would get a hat or a T-shirt. My chair had the tape, and I got a T-shirt. After everyone settled down from that excitement (HA HA) they started reading the names. Everyone applauded while the person whose name was read raised their hand. Well, 5 names were read and I was thinking, "Wow, I did pretty well -- these kids must've gotten 50 out of 50." Six names passed and I thought, "Well, I'll be home in time to watch the Red Sox." Seven names -- "Oh well, I had nothing to lose..." The eighth name they read was mine. I was in shock...all I could do was shake my head and laugh. Everyone who didn't make it left the room. Pretty much everyone said good luck to me. Nobody was really disappointed. Oh, yeah -- by the way, none of the loudmouths made it, but the kid who had tried out 3 times did.
All the finalists went up to the front of the room, and we started playing the mock game. Everyone there seemed like they wouldn't look too out of place on the show. I played the third game out of 3. It was very different from playing on your couch -- you couldn't blurt out anything until they called your name. We must've played for about 12 questions and I answered 4 correctly and answered 1 wrong. Then they asked us what we would do with $25,000. Since it isn't a scholarship, you can do what you want with the money. A few of them said they'd buy a car (which, if I were them, I wouldn't have said). I said I'd use most of it for college and give the rest to my parents to pay for my braces and my oral surgery bill. One of the coordinators said I was very handsome and it looked like I already had all that work done. I smiled and laughed and thanked her. I was the last one to leave and I said good-bye to the coordinators -- you know, to stand out again -- and I was off. They said that if they wanted us on the show they would send something to us by FedEx anytime in mid to late August for taping on September 13. Well, it's August 27 and I can assume they don't want me on the show. I'm a little disappointed, but I didn't have my heart set on it, so that softens the blow. What matters is I got to the final cut and had an interview, which made me feel pretty good.
My advice to anyone trying out for the Teen Tournament? Watch the show every day, learn important things from it, pay attention to all aspects of the news, and dress nicely for the audition. If you make the cut, I don't want to say, "don't be yourself" -- but be a more outgoing and friendly version of yourself. Remember, they have 3 auditions in 4 cities across the country -- so at best you have a 1 in 108 chance. You have to shine. When they ask you what you'd do with the money, don't say "buy a car" -- it's an educational show! Mention college somewhere in your response, tell them everything you're involved in, in the community and in the school. Finally, go in with the attitude of having nothing to lose, because you don't. If you don't make it you won't be too disappointed, and you can always try out again. (I'm thinking about it already!) But if you do make it, it will be a little nicer and a lot more surprising!