There’s a guy who’s been a contestant on the game show “Jeopardy” the past few weeks who really knows what he’s doing. He’s won over a half million dollars because not only is he smart as a whip with a mind like a game of Trivial Pursuit, he knows how to work the button. You can be a walking encyclopedia on that game but if you don’t know how to hit that buzzer, forget about it.
How do I know, you ask.
Because I’ve been there.
In 1972 I accepted a dare from my very favorite cousin and sent in a card saying I was available to go on the show. They sent me an appointment card; a few weeks later I went to New York and, with my stomach in knots, showed up for an interview. I had my picture taken and took a test which asked 20 questions. One was how many matches in a matchbook.
I thought “that was fun,” went home and almost forgot about it.
Nearly a year later I got the call which suggested that I should come back to the city the next day and I would be on the show.
I showed up at the appointed time, a quivering bundle of insecurity. I was told to wait in a room with about 20 other potential contestants, most of whom walked around quoting sports statistics, the Bible and state capitals.
The game in those days was offering a lot less money. The cheapest question was $10 and the most expensive was $100. Today, the lowest amount is $200 and the highest is $2,000. Inflation, I guess.
They put us through a practice round and before I knew it, there I was in living black and white, being introduced to a thoroughly charming Art Fleming.
We started to play the real thing and I gave a couple of correct responses. In a flash, it was over and, unbelievably, I had won. I was dubbed a champion and invited to come back the next day and bring a couple of outfits in case I won again. They played three games each day.
Next day I reported for duty with two new dresses in a paper bag. I chatted with Art while we had our makeup put on separate from the other contestants.
Show time! I was hot! I knew everything! I ripped through three games, answering things I didn’t even know. Daj Hammarskjold was one answer; Sparkle Plenty was another.
I figured out the button. You’ve got to hit it the second the emcee says the last syllable of the clue. If you get in first, especially on the lower-point questions, chances are you’ll know it.
On the fifth show I lost my edge and barely knew my name. I came in like lightning on the button and then stared dumbly as I heard the clues. Misspelling Audubon knocked my off the champion perch, but I came away with $1,800 and a set of encyclopedias. My kids were in the audience and they were thrilled; I had taken them out of school for the day just to watch their loser mom.
Years later I worked in an office where our dinner break coincided with “Jeopardy.” My co-workers and I would yell out the answers while gulping down our sandwiches in the back room. And today, especially with this hotshot on, I loudly whip even him with the occasional answer, safely from my living room. Of course I have the advantage; I don’t have to hit the button. And I do pretty well, even with sports statistics, the Bible or state capitals.
I’ve still got it.