As many of you already know, I went to LA on Tuesday afternoon to tape Jeopardy! the following day. Christopher again took time off work to chauffeur me through the City of Angels (how misnamed can a city get?) and be generally supportive. The idea was to have a relaxing trip up there, a relaxing evening in the hotel, and a fun day at Jeopardy!, hopefully winning lots of money.
Unfortunately, things did not go quite as planned.
Again we took the train, leaving San Diego around 1:25PM. C met me at the station, out of breath from almost-running from his office a few blocks away, and still dressed in his work clothes (nice shirt, jacket, and twill pants). Me, I was in jeans, a Byrne’s Pub t-shirt, and a cotton cardigan–pretty darn proletariat-looking, I think. And Chrisopher certainly didn’t look like a Republican or anything’just a nicely dressed creative-type.
I tell you this because of what happened.
The normally restful ride was as usual until about Oceanside. C and I were seated at a table and playing Rummy, our favorite way to pass the time, and enjoying the views of San Diego county and the Pacific, as we headed north. At Oceanside, an early 40s-ish woman boarded. She first sat a few rows in front of us, but I immediately noticed she seemed a bit loud’especially for someone traveling alone.
My suspicions were increased when she saw Christopher walking past her on his way back from the cafe car, carrying a beer. She said, “Brewskis!? You can get beer on this thing?! Cool!” to no one in particular.
“Uh-oh,” I thought. I pointed her out to C, and he agreed—she looked like trouble.
We went back to our Rummy game and were deeply into it when the woman came back to the table across the center aisle from us and flopped down. She said something, but I was playing and trying hard to actually beat C (he usually kicks the hell out of me in Rummy), so I didn’t catch it. She seemed to talk a lot to herself, loudly, so I just generally tried to ignore her.
When one of us next shuffled, I did notice that she now had a Heineken in her left hand, and her somewhat meaty arm there attached had no sleeve but did have the hint of a bad tattoo near the top. Her leg was also unceremoniously slung over the top of the table.
And the mouth was still going. She started talking about how the houses were so close together you could, and I do quote, “hear your neighbor fart” and “it was all the fault of the damn yuppies.”
Suddenly, the guy sitting behind Christopher said “Yeah, man. That’s right!” and laughed about the ‘fart’ line. He then asked to join her, speaking about as loudly as she was.
C and I tried to continue our game, but it was getting increasingly difficult as she was so loud, and he was encouraging her. She again went off about the ‘Yuppies’ and I caught out of the corner of my eye that she was indicating Christopher and I with her head while she was talking! She continued on her rant about education (“totally a waste, man”) and the guy agreed, noting that he had been kicked out of high school in the late 70s. They both talked about morality (“stem cells are life, man, but I’m a type 1 diabetic—it’s hard to know what’s right, man”) and kids and mostly about being poor starving artistic-types’heavy on the poor.
On she went about how she was an ‘artist’ so she had a soul while other people (again, the head nod towards us) didn’t and were only interested in the money and didn’t care about other people; how she had been staying with her sister and her kids and how she didn’t have any money but her sister bought her the train ticket back to Pasedena and gave her $20 which bought her this beer and would buy her another one.
I immediately thought about how she was drinking Heinekens. No money, but drinking imports. There’s some logic. Of course, drinking alcohol and being a Type 1 diabetic is a real smart thing to do anyway.
Sometime just before Fullerton they announced that the cafe car would soon be closing. ‘Last call’ the conductor said over the PA, then announced we be in Fullerton in about 10 minutes. Lucky for us, the guy was getting off there. Maybe that would shut her up for a while. C and I were still trying to play and trying not to jump the aisle and throttle the woman. Anything to shut her up already.
We pull into Fullerton and he gets off, and she gets up. It’s an almost tearful parting. Me, I’m hoping she left with him, though her stuff was still in the seat. The train leaves Fullerton and there is blissful silence as we continue our game. Suddenly we hear, coming from downstairs (the cafe was directly below us), ‘What do you mean, you’re closed? All I want is a damn Heineken, man!’
She came back to her seat, bitching the whole way about not being able to get a beer (apparently it was some sort of conspiracy against her) and when the conductor comes through again, she bitches at him about it (he handled it too kindly, I think).
We’re still playing our hands (I was actually winning for once!) and now noticing the snow-topped mountains to our east, looking past the woman as she shoots herself up with what I assume was insulin. By this time we’re both pushing to get into LA so we could get away from this damn woman. She, in the meantime, decided to not-so-subtly complain to the world about what awful people Christopher and I were for not talking to her when she was talking to us (when that happened, I have no idea) and for being the wealthy, conservative, up-tight, self-obsessed, yuppy bastards we so obviously were.
Sigh. Relaxing train ride shot to hell.
So we get to LA, get our rental (that took forever) and get on the freeway headed for Culver City and the Radisson there. The drive takes something like 90 minutes. At least. It’s bumper-to-bumper the whole way on the freeways. By the time we get to the hotel and check in, I barely have the energy to eat, and actually leave Christopher in the bar/restaurant to go up to the room and crash. He totally understands.
The next morning I was up much earlier than I needed to be, but that worked just as well. My complimentary copy of the LA Times said that Ohio was still undecided and the election hinged on that. That made me nervous, but I had other fish to fry so put that all out of my head and took a nice bath. As I was getting dressed, Christopher woke up. I finished getting ready, grabbed my bags, and kissed Christopher goodbye as I was taking the shuttle to the studio but he wouldn’t be admitted until 11AM, and then I still couldn’t talk with him until the day was done.
Down in the lobby I saw a nice bald guy about my age carrying several shirts and ties. I looked at my pile of hangers and motioned him to move them and join me. ‘Jeopardy!?’ I asked, and he smiled and said, ‘Yes.’ Turns out he was from Cleveland and I couldn’t help but laugh to myself that of all the contestants waiting there, I had to talk to the one gay man. He was very nice and we sort of hung out together during the day. Anyway, we had a bit of chit-chat before the shuttle arrived and we, and about 8 others, boarded for the 15-minute ride to the studio.
Since I was one of the ‘locals’ and had been to the studio before, I helped show people where to go when we got off the bus. Glenn met us in the waiting area in the garage, and we then boarded another bus for the short ride to the soundstage (why we didn’t walk the short distance, I have no idea). Off the bus and into the green room.
Once there the day just flew by. Glenn passed us off to Maggie, who is a very loud woman but very kind and funny. She told us what we needed to do. First we were told where to hang out clothes, put our bags, and given piles of papers to fill out yet again. This time the stack included a sheet to write out our ‘Hometown Howdy’ which Maggie explained to us. It seems that before you tape your actual show you have to do a little promo for your local station. So, you need to think up something witty to say to encourage your local viewers to watch you on Jeopardy! Ken Jennings said something about the Beehive State buzzing (Utah is the Beehive State), for example. I couldn’t think of anything except to reference ‘America’s Finest City’ which is San Diego’s slogan. Damn. Then Maggie went over each person’s ‘chat with Alex’ stories to see which ones were the best. Alex gets to pick which one to bring up, but they make suggestions to him.
After that, Suzanne (who I believe is one of the producers but who is definitely in charge of the contestants) sat down to explain what the rules are and what to expect for the day. It was all pretty much what we had already been told: we’d get make-up then go out for game rehearsals then we’d be told who gets to play the first game then we’d be escorted out to watch the tapings. We were strictly forbidden from speaking with anyone except those to whom we’d been introduced, and each other of course. After taping three games, we’d be taken to lunch then back for two more games. Again Suzanne reminded us that they had overbooked by two people and that whoever ended up being bounced would be invited back for the next day’s taping and would definitely be on that day.
Then Suzanne told us that there would be extra cameras in the studio, especially while we were doing the rehearsals and pre-taping stuff, but also during the show tapings. These weren’t Sony people, but instead were on the set to tape an episode for Biography. Seems that Biography decided to do a show on Jeopardy!, Ken Jennings, other contestants, and how it all works.
By this point it was my turn in the make-up chair. This was strange for me since I’ve worked with so many stylists, but never with them working on me. Sandy, the stylist, did a great job on me (we came mostly made up already’at least the women) though I loathe wearing that much make-up. Considering that my skin had figured out new and especially terrible ways of breaking out in the days before, I think she worked miracles.
Off we went to the studio and were told to stand on the set, behind the podiums, to learn how everything worked. It’s funny, but the bottom parts of the podiums are open, with keyboards and cables shoved in there (the keyboards are for the staff to reset things if needed’like if you mess up your name or your FJ bet). The Biography cameras were all over us while the floor manager explained things. If they don’t cut it, I’ll definitely be seen in those shots.
The two ‘hold overs’ from the previous day’s taping along with the current champion demonstrated the telewriter and signaling buttons for us, then the floor manager talked us through where to look for different shots (which camera at the open, for example) and where to stand when we’re brought out front with Alex after the game for the credit roll filler.
Then we got to play a mock game on the set. How exciting! The idea was that you’d play until you got a feel for the signaling button. Once they decided that you had the hang of it, they’d swap in someone new. Glenn played Alex for this rehearsal (we all thought he really enjoyed that part of his job). This was a real rehearsal with each person signing in, getting miked, and they played all the sounds, etc., just like the real game.
It was finally my turn and I signed in and grabbed the button…and I couldn’t ring in to save my life. Suzanne said she thought I was ringing too late and/or not bouncing on the button (which you have to do’not just hit it once but go tap-tap-tap until someone is recognized). I knew I was tapping and that I was, if anything, early. It was so frustrating! Eventually, I started getting in a bit, but not enough to make me happy.
Finally, I got swapped out for a few minutes while someone else got a chance. Then, I was brought back in but at a different podium. That time I had no problem at all. It made me wonder about the button system a bit. Later, talking with Harry (the guy from Cleveland), he said he thought that one button seemed funky, too. Of course, he could have just been saying that to make me feel better. Everyone was so encouraging of everyone else that that is definitely possible. We all wanted everyone (almost) to win. Anyway, in that position I also got to play a Final Jeopardy, so I got a feel for writing on the telewriter.
After the rehearsal they herded us back into the green room and announced who was first up. It was the hold-overs from the previous day (no surprise). We all took a breath, lined up for the loo, then got ready to watch the taping.
They brought us back into the studio, now filled with the audience, and there was Christopher sitting one section over from where we were seated. It was great to see him there. Turns out he was seated next to Harry’s partner. Johnny Gilbert was warming up the crowd and the first contestants were miked and ready to go. Johnny quieted the crowd and the floor manager led the new contestants through doing their ‘Hometown Howdies.’ Then, everyone was quieted again and they began the first show.
I can’t tell you anything about any of the shows in so far as who did what, what the questions were, and what the outcomes were. I can tell you that they seem to go very quickly when you are there, even though they stop for the commercial breaks and whenever they need to check an answer or fix a technical problem (both are rare but both happened while I was there). Also, during the first break (I think’it may be between rounds), Alex stands next to each contestant and they do a digital capture that is later sent to the contestant as a memento. Alex also answers questions from the audience during the breaks, as does Johnny.
So it goes pretty much like what you see on TV: first part of the Jeopardy round, commercial (they bring water out for the contestants and powder them down if needed then, and do the Alex photo), contestant chat with Alex and second part of Jeopardy round, commercial (more water and powder for the shiny bits), Double Jeopardy round and intro to Final Jeopardy, commercial–but this time the contestants have as much time as they need to do the FJ math and make their wagers, Final Jeopardy, and close.
In-between the shows there is about a ten-minute window for the champion to change clothes (Alex too) and for everything to be reset for the next show. Then it all repeats.
After the third show (I still hadn’t been selected), we were taken to lunch at the ‘Grille’ on the lot. Walking there we passed by a very ugly building named after one of my favorite old Hollywood stars: Rosalind Russell. In case you didn’t know, the Sony lot is the former MGM lot’talk about hallowed ground for me!
At lunch they had CNN on and we all got the bad news about the election. Only one of us seemed happy about the results’that person was a self-admitted Conservative, and not one of my favorite co-contestants. Oh well. Our numbers had dwindled a bit by this point as most of the people who had been on and hadn’t won had already left (though they could have stayed if they wanted), so I had to be friendly (okay, polite) to the Neo-Con.
When we were leaving the studio for lunch, Johnny was announcing that they were having a drawing for audience members to get special prizes. I thought that was a pretty cool thing for them to do. When we got back from lunch I looked over at Christopher in the stands and saw that he had a Jeopardy! bag leaning against his seat’he had won! Turns out it was a Jeopardy! tote bag with a Simpsons Special Edition Jeopardy! game in it. Very cool!
We had another brief rehearsal, this time with a small audience so Christopher got to see me practice at that point. Again, I had no problem with the buzzer, but was not at the suspect podium. They then told us who would be playing the fourth game and when I was not selected I had the sinking feeling I was going to be bumped. They had said they preferred bumping locals since it was easier for them to get to the studio and, even though it’s quite a distance away, San Diego is considered local in this case.
They went through the fourth game (with a few technical hitches) and announced the contestants for the last game of the day’not me, I had indeed been bumped. They said they would call the next day to book the next taping and that I could stay or go as I saw fit. I went to Christopher to ask him what he wanted to do and was intercepted by a handler who said I couldn’t talk to him! I turned to Maggie who assured the lightning-fast Latina that it was okay. We decided to go ahead and leave then in the hopes of getting the car back early enough to not get charged any extra time.
In fact, we just caught the 5:10 Surfliner…just. And that was after almost running through Union Station. The train was very full but we found two seats facing an elderly couple on their way to San Juan Capistrano to visit their daughter. Cramped, yes, but so much better than a ranting pseudo-artiste.
Jeopardy did indeed call today and booked me for next Monday. Unfortunately, I thought they would pay for my return trip, but I was mistaken’they only pay for returning champions’ trips, not bumped contestants. So, I’ll be heading back up there on Sunday. This time, unfortunately, it looks like I may have to drive. My only other option would be to take the train again and get a cab from Union Station to the hotel, then later one back to the station (or the hotel again if I win and need to stay over) as the rental cars are all jacked up (price-wise) for some reason.
Oh well…it was still a great experience and it will be fun to do it again. This time I’ll get to tape and, who knows, I could still win. In the meantime I get to study more, and work on my ‘Hometown Howdy.’