Part 3

The Show

Day One


Early Sunday Morning, August 21, my brother Bob and his wife Cyndy, picked me up at my apartment, and we headed south. I had been told I could bring up to three friends or family to watch in the audience. Since Bob and Cyndy had been most supportive, I invited them to come along. Karen would join us there.

Once we were safely on I-5, Cyndy pulled out the Almanac and began quizzing me. The only good this did was keep me from getting too excited and nervous. After a while we gave up and looked at the scenery.

We stopped at Magic Mountain and rode the roller coasters and got thoroughly soaked on the "river raft" ride. I knew I would have a hard time sleeping, so I wanted to physically exhaust myself. We left Magic Mountain and finished the drive to Hollywood and checked into the Hilton. We found a fancy pizza restaurant (is that an oxymoron?) for dinner, and finally back to the hotel and bed.

I had been right: I didn't sleep very well. Well, how could I? My nerves were all jangling and the adrenaline was pumping. I was supposed to be at the lot at 10 o'clock. There was time for breakfast, so we found a place on Sunset with a jukebox atmosphere, and I forced down a bowl of oatmeal. Bob and Cyndy dropped me off at the guard shack at 9:45 and said they'd see me later. The studio audience was supposed to be seated at 1 pm.

At 10:00 Ingrid and Glenn came out to get us. There were thirteen of us, including the then four-time champion, Bob. We were taken to a back entry to the studio building, and upstairs. We were shown the dressing rooms, where we left our changes of clothes, and taken to the green room. Here we were told that as long as we were contestants, we weren't allowed to talk to anyone outside a small list: Ingrid, Glenn and the third Contestant Coordinator, Suzanne Thurber; Alex Trebek, George Vosburgh (the producer), the stage manager, the makeup man, a representative from ABC who was monitoring the production for conformance to federal laws prohibiting rigging the results, and the other contestants. Any one else might be a member of the writing staff, and any communication between us and them was strictly prohibited. Anything that might be construed as rigging the results, however innocent, would result in disqualification. (The studio audience was told that they shouldn't talk or wave to us, because it might get us disqualified.)

They gave us name tags to wear, identifying us as contestants, and another stack of forms and legal releases to fill out and sign, including a nomination of a charity to which any winnings beyond $75,000 would go. We confirmed that we didn't have any affiliation with the production company or any of the major networks, finished filling out the forms and went in to the makeup room to have pancake applied.

When we were all done, they started telling us what was going to happen. We would be seated in a portion of the audience reserved for us until we were called to be on a show. The contestants for each show would not be chosen until just before the taping was to begin for that show. At that time, two names would be drawn from a hat (in the case of a five-time champion, a third name would be drawn). Only the defending champion would know beforehand that he or she would be playing. The boards of clues would be chosen at random just before each game started. There was no chance for cheating.

Then we were taken down to the studio. This time all the lights were on and there were crew people all over the set doing the last-minute things to prepare for taping the show. We were introduced to the John Lauderdale, the stage manager who explained the mechanics of the show-- as far as we were concerned:

The Contestants' Podia have computer monitors on the front, where the cameras and audience can see them, and on top, where the contestant can see it. The top monitor responds to a light-pen, so the contestant can write on it, and the screens show the result. Before each show, the contestants write their names, and a little later a crew member thickens the lines so they show better on TV. For Final Jeopardy!, the contestants write their wagers and questions there.

The Game Board is surrounded by a panel of fluorescent lights. These are turned on by means of a button pressed by a crew member who is reading the clues silently as Alex reads them aloud. As he pronounces the final syllable of the last word of the clue, the crew member presses the button. With the lights, the lock-out apparatus is switched to allow the contestants to "ring in." Since the lights are fluorescent, there is about a tenth of a second lag between the time the button is pushed and the lights come on.

The Button is on the end of a handle at the end of a cord. It is a sensitive micro-switch, just strong enough that you can rest your thumb on it without it going off, but any more pressure will cause it to click. When the switch is pressed, one of three things may happen:

1) If the board switch has been activated, the white light on the front of the contestant's podium will light cueing Alex to call on him/her.

2) If the board switch has not been activated, a red light on top of the podium, but out of sight of the cameras, will light; and the contestant will be locked out for two tenths of a second (a long time!). If the contestant clicks the button again before the red light goes out, it extends the lock-out for another two tenths of a second. When the light does go out, the contestant can ring in, unless someone else has gotten there first.

3) Nothing will happen if another contestant has rung in successfully.

If a contestant gives a wrong question, the crew member will reactivate the buttons as soon as Alex says, "No."

Each of these was demonstrated, and we all got a chance to feel the switch and write on the computer monitor screen. We played short mock games with a board from a game which had been taped several weeks before. We also saw the first of several technical glitches that would lengthen the day for some of us. This was the first day of taping shows following several weeks off, and the computers went down twice and the stage lighting had problems.

By this time it was about 12:30, and we were taken back to the green room to "relax" before the taping was to begin. A little after 1:00 we were taken back down to the studio. They broke the line of audience members filing into the house to let us in. I heard a voice ask who we were and why did we rate special treatment?

"These are the contestants," Glenn told him. "Don't talk to them."

We sat down and waited until Suzanne and Ingrid came over and called out two names to challenge Bob for the championship.

At this point, my memory becomes somewhat foggy. I was keyed up, waiting for my turn, and trying not to get discouraged when I realized I didn't know all the answers. Several times during the day I was glad I wasn't playing that game. Bob won the first game of the day-- his fifth-- so the second show had all new-comers.

Anne HerbstTowards the end of the second show, one of the contestants, Anne Herbst, responded with a question that wasn't expected, and Alex (correctly) gave her credit for it. However, the writers at the desk in front hurriedly looked through their reference book and came to the conclusion that silver "tarnish" was not "oxidation." I tried to get them to consult a "guest expert," my brother, but they ended up taking away the points involved. Even the Jeopardy! experts make mistakes occasionally. In the end, it either made no difference, or it shook Anne up, because she didn't come up with William Bligh being mutinied against when he was Governor of Australia.

The technical problems continued to interfere with progress, so we were sent to lunch after the second game instead of the third, as had been scheduled. The caterers had set up pasta and salad in the "Soul Train" set. We sat down and ate, though most of us didn't have much appetite. My stomach seemed to be tied in a knot. After lunch we returned to the studio for the last three shows. We had lost about a third of our audience as people decided they had seen enough and weren't willing to put up with more technical fuss and delays.

Two more shows went by... each time Suzanne and Ingrid would come over with two more names and each time the adrenaline level would go up: "Is it my turn?"... No, I had to wait some more. I was physically and emotionally exhausted when Suzanne came over at the end of the fourth show.

Fran, the only woman contestant left turned to me and said, "I hope it isn't my turn."

I said, "Me, too."

Suzanne said, "Bill and Fran."

We took off our name tags and walked back behind the audience, where the makeup man retouched the makeup that had sweated off during the day. The stage manager, John Lauderdale, took us up to the set and we wrote our names on the podium monitors, and then to the small area behind the set from which we would emerge when introduced. He reminded us that the announcer would start the introductions, then he would point at us, which was our cue to walk out to the podium.

Then from the other side of the set, Johnny Gilbert's voice:

"This ... is ... Jeopardy!

"Now entering the studio are today's contestants..."

John pointed at Fran, and she started out onto the set.

"A psychologist ...," Johnny's voice went on, and the finger was pointed at me. "... from Dexter, Michigan, Fran Pipp."

I started walking out, and the lights seemed to fade and I saw shooting stars. "Oh, no!" I thought."I can't black out now!"

"A programmer and analyst..." Johnny continued.

I took a deep breath and kept on walking. The stars went away and the lights came back up.

"... from Mountain View, California, Bill Nyden." I was there, on the set, still upright... but talk about an adrenaline rush!

Johnny Gilbert's voice continued: "And our returning champion, a director of planning and building from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Joe Roberts, whose one day cash winnings total $10,700.

And now, the host of Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek."

Joe started the game with the World History category. It took me a while to catch the rythm of the game, but I finally rung in on a question about the Acropolis in Athens, coming up with "What is the Parthenon?" for $400. When we stopped for the first commercial break, Ingrid came up to Fran and me and told us to show more energy. It would help us play the game, too.

During the interview, Alex asked me about SCUBA diving, and I ended by inviting him to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Then the game got under way again. I found the atmosphere was similar to a fencing competition, and the analogy worked for my concentration and the kind of energy I was using, and therefore showing to the cameras. We were fairly closely matched, but at the end of the first round, I was trailing with $1400. Joe had $2300 and Fran had $2100.

The "Double Jeopardy!" round was mostly between Joe and me, and time was almost out when I finished off Magazines and there was only one category left: Dogs. Fran had $2700, Joe had $7100 and I had $5200.

"Dogs for $200," I said

Alex: "Answer: A German word for 'splashing in water' gave us the word puddle and this dog's name.... Joe"

Joe: "What's a poodle?"

Alex: "Poodle, Right."

Joe: "Dogs for $400"

Alex: "Pure white at birth, this dog's spots begin to appear when he's about three weeks old.... Bill"

Me: "What's a dalmation?"

Alex: "Correct."

Me: "Dogs for six."

Alex: "This smallest of dogs comes in all canine colors.... Bill"

Me: "What's a chihuahua?"

Alex: "Yes!"

Me: "Dogs for eight."

Alex: "This 'badger dog' was bred to keep its legs short so it could follow a badger into its burrow.... Bill"

Me: "What's a dachshund?"

Alex: "Yes!"

Me: "And Dogs for $1000"

Alex: "The last clue."

The sirens went off and game monitor flashed the "Daily Double" sign.

Alex: "Will it do you some good? ... or some harm? The Daily Double: you have $300 less than Joe at the moment."

Me: "Let's ...... go $2000."

Alex: "For $2000 in the category of 'Dogs,' here is your clue:

'Unlike the German miniature schnauser, most other breeds of the group originated in the British Isles.'"

Me: "What's are terriers?"

Alex: "You've got $9000 and we're out of time in this round of Double Jeopardy!"

I was in the lead going into Final Jeopardy! I was stunned! I stood there, grinning, waiting for the next step. Johnny Gilbert announced the consolation prizes for the "runners up" and then back to Alex Trebek.

Alex: It's time to find out what our last Final Jeopardy! category for this week is going to be-- Presidents-- good subject. We'll be right back with the clue after this..."

Suddenly it was pandemonium on the set. John Lauderdale came up to remind us of how to enter our wagers on the lower part of the monitor, and leave room above for the question. Glenn came up to record the amounts of the wagers on paper, and make sure they agreed with the amounts written on the computer screens. I was having trouble thinking, so I asked for a piece of paper to calculate how much I ought to wager, carefully did my arithmetic and wrote it down.

The ninety seconds of commercial break were soon over and the cameras were on again.

Alex: "We are about to discover what these three contestants know about ... Presidents. In a moment, players, I'll give you the clue. That will give you thirty seconds to write down your questions. Be sure you phrase your response correctly. Our Final Jeopardy! answer is this:

'The last president who did not serve in the armed forces.'"

We wrote down our answers and waited for the tune to stop. Alex then started the process of finding out what was what: First Fran, who had $2700, had written "Who was L.B. Johnson?"

Wrong. Having wagered $200, she ended with $2500. Then Joe, at $7300, had "Who was Franklin Roos.t" He had run out of room on the right, but Alex gave him credit for it. He had bet $1701, bringing him to $9001 and, temporarily, the lead.

At this point, one is supposed to keep a stoic look, and not give away whether one has won or lost. But there was no way I could keep a straight face! I had written "Who was F.D. Roosevelt." Alex started to ask whether I'd bet more than a buck, but then he said, "Look at that smile, do you think he's bet more than a dollar?" My wager of $3401 brough my total to $12,401 and I was the new Jeopardy! Champion.

During the closing credits, Alex Trebek said he'd seen me writing down Roosevelt, but wasn't sure whether I'd been specific enough. He was glad I'd put the initials there.

Joe and Fran were called over to the director's table to sign some last papers and select one of the parting gifts. Bob, Cyndy and Karen came down to the set to congratulate me. I was glad it was all over for the day! My stomach was tied up in knots, and I was having trouble keeping from laughing aloud. We decided to go out for dinner at a place Cyndy had found in a book, but first I had to get my things from upstairs.

Glenn took me back up to the dressing room to collect my second set of clothes. Joe was up there already, with a major cloud over his head.

I asked him what was wrong, and he said, "I really blew it. I didn't bet enough."

I said, "What do you mean? I bet enough to cover you."

He said, "Redo your arithmetic. How much did you win?"


"I had $7300, how much would I have gotten if I'd doubled it?"

"Fourtee........... Oh!" My arithmetic on the set had been all wrong. I had carefully doubled his score and doubled mine, and bet the difference plus a dollar. Wrong algorithm. (I should have doubled his score, subtracted mine and added a buck.)

"Right." He said. "I'll be kicking myself for the rest of my life."

(And I should have been $2200 richer! Oh, well. As I've been told many times, $12,401 is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.) --- (Note: Joe has probably stopped kicking himself. In April, 2000, he won $250,000 on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?")

We left the room, and Glenn and Ingrid escorted us to the back door where Bob, Cyndy and Karen were waiting. On the way to the restaurant, I mentioned my close call. Bob said his first reaction when my bet was displayed was, "He didn't bet enough." During dinner, while waiting for our orders, I went to the phone and called home to tell people how I had done.  After eating, we returned to the hotel and I tried to get some sleep.

My home page.
The Call
The Game, Day Two
Clues & Questions - Day 1 
Clues & Questions - Day 2