Cool Stuff Writers Do: Our Associate Editor Is Going to Be on Jeopardy!
SmokeLong Associate Editor and resident trivia buff Meghan Carlton Phillips will be appearing as a contestant on the beloved game show Jeopardy! this Friday, April 21, 2017. Will she make it a true Daily Double? Will she give an undying shout-out to SmokeLong Quarterly? Will she win big and buy us all jet planes? Check your local listings and tune in this Friday to find out!
In the meantime, we asked her some questions about her experience auditioning and being on the set, how she prepped, and what her most dreaded category would be.
What made you decide to audition for the show?
I really love trivia. My family, especially my dad’s side, have always been trivia people. On holidays around the dinner table, we always throw out questions about movies or music. We like the little odd bits of information. I’m not much of a game show person, aside from Jeopardy!, and I’ve never been on another game show.
What was the audition like?
I auditioned in D.C. in a conference room in a big hotel near the Verizon Center. It’s pretty nerve-wracking. There are people who audition twenty times and never get picked to be on the show. The whole process takes a few hours, but it flies by. Being in a hotel conference room with no windows makes it especially disorienting. After I finished the audition, I went right to an Au Bon Pain near my metro stop and had a huge hot chocolate.
What did you do to prep for your appearance?
Oh man. I feel like I didn’t do as much as I could, but I also pretty much lived in the Jeopardy! world for the month or so I had between finding out about the show and actually taping. I watched multiple episodes of Jeopardy! every day and played along. I especially worked on buzzer timing and wagering. My husband Ian would read me questions from old games from the J! Archive while I cooked. When my sister was home for the holidays, she drilled me on U.S. Presidents. I read books by former champions (Bob Harris’s Prisoner of Trebekistan and Ken Jennings’s Brainiac).
What are your weakest categories, and what categories were you hoping to get?
My weakest category is by far geography (I played kids’ geography games online to try to remedy this). World history and sports are also two categories I’d be kind of terrified to see on the board. Ian and I joked a lot about the ideal categories I could get. We’re big fans of the show Cheers and so we talked about what my Cliff Clavin categories would be. I was definitely hoping for literature or something literary, Broadway musicals, and dog breeds (I really love watching dog shows). I also love the categories that are mostly based on word play, and my favorite category is Before and After, where the answer is two different things connected by the same word in the middle.
What’s the one thing that you don’t realize when watching the show at home that you realized in the studio? What’s the one thing about Alex Trebec that surprised you?
Oh man, it’s just so surreal to be on the Jeopardy! set. It’s much bigger than it looks on TV—the podiums, the buzzers, the distance to the board. All of it felt big. It’s really bright and very cold. One of the nicest things about filming, though, is the quick camaraderie that forms among the contestants. We sat together, ate together, walked around the Sony lot like kids on a field trip. And the people who work with the contestants are some of the warmest and kindest people I’ve ever met. When you’re there, it really feels like you’re a member of the Jeopardy! family. During breaks in filming, Alex Trebec answers audience questions, and he is very patient (I heard him answer the same question at least three times) and very funny. Also, when I got my picture taken with him, he said my name in an Irish accent, and I’ll remember that forever.
How hard is it really to get that buzzer timing down?
It’s hard. Part of it is the buzzer itself. The real buzzer is much thicker than the pen I used (most of the time) to practice with at home. I needed to use one hand to keep it from slipping. I read something about using a spring-loaded toilet paper holder as a practice buzzer and tried that in addition to my usual pen. It’s also tricky because you’re reading the clue on the board, but also listening to Alex read the clue and trying to sync up your buzzer with Alex’s voice. One of the great frustrations of playing is missing clues you know because someone was faster on the buzzer.
Where will you be watching your show when it airs?
I’m just watching the show with my family. My work wanted to have a viewing party, but I didn’t want a big fuss.
How is Jeopardy! like flash fiction or the writing of flash fiction?
Jeopardy! clues are all about packing a lot of information into a small space. They rely on the player to fill in the blanks, make connections. Every word of a clue is carefully chosen because it needs to lead the player to her response. The best flash does similar things. Telling a story in a condensed space. Trusting the reader to make connections, to fill in the blanks. Using vivid and concrete language. Leading the reader toward a distinct emotional experience.