I moved from Cleveland to San Diego on January 3, 2000, with two goals in mind: succeed wildly at my new job and get on “Rock and Roll Jeopardy” to win tons of dough.
“Rock and Roll Jeopardy” was just what it sounds like – a rock music trivia version of “Jeopardy” produced on the same stage, but hosted by a pre-“Survivor” Jeff Probst. It ran on VH1 at odd times throughout the week for about four years. The day it premiered, I was hooked, never missing an episode. I usually sat fuming, knowing that I would totally smoke all those losers on TV. I swore if I ever got the chance, not only was I going on the show, I was going to win.
Luckily, I had some previous “Jeopardy” experience. About five years prior, my ex
was on regular “Jeopardy”, winning a few days in a row in an experience I’ll let him write about on his own one day. We had flown out to California together and I got to see the studio from the audience point of view, so I was already somewhat familiar with how it worked from behind the scenes. But getting a callback was the first goal, albeit a surprisingly easy one. I simply logged onto VH1.com, clicked on the “Rock and Roll Jeopardy” link and submitted my name to the potential contestant pool.
A month later, I got a letter inviting me to an open casting/testing session for the show’s upcoming season. I drove up to Sony Picture Studios in Culver City the day of the session to see about 200 other potential contestants. This wasn’t going to be easy.
One nice thing is that everyone seemed very friendly with each other. Instead of eyeing each other with suspicion and jealousy, everyone sat around and bonded, joined together by our love of music and this weird day off from work. It was funny to hear some people try to out-obscure each other by dropping titles of Pavement b-sides and the name of Aimee Mann’s first band before ‘til Tuesday…I played it safe and kept my conversation to work, San Diego, my family in Ohio. I didn’t want to tip my hand too early.
We were herded into the very studio were Jeopardy tapes and seated in the audience section. The producers introduced themselves, then gave us a written quiz of 25 music trivia questions. We had to answer each question within a 15 second time limit, then we moved on to the next. I found the test to be pretty easy, only getting stumped on one question that I can’t remember now. I figured we were going to be left with a large pool of potential contestants.
After about a half hour break, the producers read off about 40 names, including mine. “If I called your name, please remain seated,” said one of the producers. “Everyone else, thank you very much for coming, but unfortunately, you did not score high enough to be on the show at this time.” Phew. Fully 2/3rds of the people who showed up that day were now out the door.
The producers split us into groups of three, where we now stood on the stage with prop buzzers and played a sample game in real time. Here’s where they got the chance to see how we’d play on TV. I knew I had to be look enthusiastic, smile a lot and project. Basically, be an idiot. If that was the qualification for making it, I was a shoo-in. After having each of us play a couple sample rounds, they took Polaroids of us. I hate having my picture taken and I hate smiling for them. I conquered both fears and gave them the widest smile of my smiling career. Cheese, motherfuckers.
And that was it. “We’ll call you,” basically. We were “on the list.” Whether we got picked at the point depended upon how many episodes they were shooting that season, how well we did on the written and sample play tests and how we would look on TV. For now, we got a taste of TV and had to return to our workday lives and wait.
Sitting at my desk at work two weeks later, I got the call. I was in.Must...force...smile.
Since I had to be in Culver City by 8:00 the morning of the taping, I wasn’t taking any chances driving up from San Diego. I got a hotel room at the Hilton by the studio and stayed the night there, bored out of my skull. I wanted to be nice and rested for the taping, so I tried to go to bed around 9:00 that night. No dice. I think the last time I had tossed and turned like that was the night before
I left for the Army.
Eventually morning came and once again we were taken to the audience seating in the studio. The producers called out nine names, again including mine. “Good news! You nine scored the highest on the written and sample play tests, so you get to compete against each other!”
All nine of us had the same “Oh, crap” look cross our faces at once. So much for my imagined bloodletting.
The nine musical geniuses had to wait the whole day for our tapings. They had scheduled a few episodes of “Celebrity Rock and Roll Jeopardy” before us, so we got to sit and watch Brian McKnight, Andy Strummer (of the Police) and CeeCee DeVille (of Poison) play a game. Observations:
• Brian McKnight is 12 feet tall.
• Andy Strummer knows jack shit about rock trivia.
• CeeCee DeVille may be clean and sober now, but seems to have suffered a case of permanent cokey mouth. He would not shut the fuck up, no matter what. He blabbered during his turn, others’ turns, while host Jeff Probst tried to explain the rules, during the announcer’s commercial tags, blah blah blah. Finally, one exasperated producer lost his cool and said in a loud, sing-songy voice in front of everyone, “CeeCee, if you don’t STAY FOCUSED, we’re all going to be here ALL NIGHT.” That worked a bit.
Brian McKnight won. By a lot.
Finally, my name was called. I went backstage with a nice young woman and a pretty laid-back guy named Darryl and each of us picked a numbered ping-pong ball out of a bag. I got number 3…that meant Darryl was going first. They led us out to the studio floor and there it was in front of me, what I had seen so many times on TV – the Jeopardy game board.
But first, we had to be prepared for the camera. A bit of makeup and some powder to deaden my bald head’s glare under the studio lights, then the worst…they brought out a small wooden box for me to stand on. I’m only 5’9”…pardon me! There was a quick lesson on how to work the buzzers and then the countdown.
“Five…four…three…” and a silent two, one from the floor manager, then the opening began.
We were off.Click here to see the show open and me smile like a mongoloid in QuickTime format.
Next: Jeff Probst hits on me. I think. I don’t know.