Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Totally off topic but it might interest somebody

I swear on the graves of all my ancestors that this blog will never degenerate into any sort of a personal diary, but this may be of some general interest so here you go. Jeopardy! (exclamation point obligatory) is, as far as I know, the only non-inane game show on TV. It's actually intellectually stimulating and possibly even educational in a vague, unfocused way. (Artificial intelligence researchers have discovered that human-like intelligence depends very much on a vast archive of factoids, so watching Jeopardy! quite possibly does make you smarter.)

So I figured it would be an excellent adventure to try to get on the show. I took an on-line test, and wound up with an invite to a contestant audition, which I took yesterday. They processed us in a group of about 20, starting with taking polaroids and collecting five of those little personal bon mots -- most embarassing moment, weird things you collect, horrible job you once had -- that Alex uses for the personality interviews during the first round. The people who run these auditions evidently harbored youthful dreams of being in show biz so they did a little stand up, with lots of artificial perky enthusiasm and lame jokes to warm us up.

Then we took a 50 question written test, writing down the answers to Jeopardy! clues that were presented on a screen. Next, we all took turns playing a fake game of Jeopardy! -- not a whole game or a real game, just about 5 minutes without keeping score -- in groups of 3, of course. Since Alex obviously wasn't there, the clues were recorded by Johnny Gilbert (who has the world's easiest job). Then they did the personality interview with each contestant in turn.

The outcome is that we're in the contestant pool for a year. They start taping in August and I could get a call any time from June through April, or never. They didn't give us any indication of the outcome or what any individual's chances might be. It is clear, however, that they aren't necessarily looking for the best players. They need people who can play a decent game, but they are casting the show. They want people who will play quickly and decisively, have a lot of positive energy, and be appealing on TV. Is that me? Who knows.

As for the game itself, knowing a lot of useless information is certainly helpful, but the real challenge is ringing in. You need to read the clue while Alex is reading it aloud (a distraction you have to ignore) so you have time to decide whether to ring in or not before he is through. When he is done, a human operator activates a light that signals that you can ring in. If you try to ring in too soon, you are locked out for 1/4 second, but if you do wait for the light, obviously you have to beat the other contestants. It's very difficult not to jump the gun, and it's easy to make a decision to ring in thinking the answer is about to come and then have it just not show up in the frontal cortex. I would imagine that keeping up concentration and focus for a whole game is quite tiring.

Answers to minor questions:

They now pay $1,000 for third place and $2,000 for second. So at least that helps pay for the trip to LA.

If there's a tie, both winners get the full amount, they don't split it. The reason people almost always play to win, and not to tie, in Final Jeopardy is that experience counts for a lot and you don't want to bring back a competitor who has already played the game. That's cold, but it's a jungle out there.

Alex is only the second game show host in history to have had a mustache. (He has since lost it.) Who knows who the first one was? (Please make sure your response is phrased in the form of a question.)

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