My game of Jeopardy! (and a California recipe)

Answer: It was broadcast on April 2, 2004.

Question: What was Bobbie Lewis’s national television debut?

It’s hard to believe that was almost 10 years ago! As I mentioned in my February 17 Feed the Spirit, I was a contestant on Jeopardy!, which is marking its 50th anniversary this week. My show was taped in mid-January, 2004 and aired on April 2.

That was so long ago that I have the recording on VHS, not on DVD.

So how did this come about? In the fall of 2003, Jeopardy! held auditions in Detroit.

My friends and family kept telling me I was good at trivia – indeed, I could often answer the Jeopardy! questions quickly – so I registered and a few weeks later found myself with 100 or so other hopefuls in the ballroom of a Detroit-area hotel. It was one of at least five such sessions in Detroit; there are a lot of people who dream of being on Jeopardy!

Answer: You ace a test with 50 short-answer trivia questions.

Question: How do you get invited to be on Jeopardy!?

They gave us a 50-question quiz, reading and projecting the questions on a screen, while we scribbled the short answers on an answer sheet. The questions seemed to come every five seconds or so. There was no way to say to yourself, “Ooh, ooh, I know that, let me come back to it,” because by then they were on to the next question – and there was nothing on the answer sheet to help you remember the question.

I missed at least five, and probably got at least a few more wrong. Dejected, I started to pack up my things when I heard my name called as one of the half-dozen from that session who had made the cut.

Answer: You’ll never know.

Question: What’s a passing score on the Jeopardy! quiz?

They never tell applicants what the “passing” score is or what their personal score was; you either make the cut or you don’t.  In some sessions there were a dozen who passed, in others, three or four. “Tell your family and friends you missed it by one,”  was their not-so-helpful suggestion for the losers.

We chosen few were asked to participate in a short mock game and then do a short taped interview. They wanted to make sure the prospects wouldn’t freeze at the sight of a camera.

Then they told us we’d be in a “pool” of contestants for a year, and they could call us any time. “Well, that’s that,” I thought, never expecting to hear anything more. Imagine my surprise when the producers called just a month later, inviting me to be on the show!

Now the process is a little different. They do an initial weed-out of applicants with an online quiz a few times a year. Those who pass can move on to an in-person audition – another 50-question quiz plus the mock game and interview – either at the Sony studio in Los Angeles or at one of the other cities the team visits throughout the year. Learn more about the process here.

Answer: A lot!

Question: What do most viewers not know about Jeopardy!?

  • They tape five shows a day, one after the other, with an hour’s break for lunch. The week’s worth of contestants – 11 hopefuls  plus a few alternates – start out together in the morning. Except for the previous game’s winner, all contestants are chosen by lottery from the day’s pool.
  • Only the winner gets the money. The person who finishes second gets $2,000 and the person who finishes last gets $1,000.
  • Jeopardy! doesn’t pay for airfare, hotel or any other expenses – but the winnings should cover it, even if you come in last. (If you win the last game of the day and live out of town, they do pay for you to come back the following week.)
  • There isn’t a huge amount of swag for contestants either. I got a Jeopardy! tote bag, a travel mug, a cheap ballpoint pen – and a very nice glass frame with a photo of me and host Alex Trebek.
  • All the contestants are instructed to bring two changes of clothing, so if you win and come back, it looks like it’s another day. I guess they figure out that if you win three games and there’s still more taping to be done that day, no one will notice if you’re wearing the same clothes you wore a few games earlier.
  • Around the game board is a row of lights, which you can’t see on your TV. Contestants are not supposed to buzz in until the lights go off when Alex finishes reading the question. Those who buzz in too early are penalized a tenth of a second. That’s why you see contestants hitting their buzzers repeatedly – if they’re too early, and no one else buzzes in, they might still have a chance to answer.

It was my luck to be in the last game taped that day, so I had to sit through four previous games with my palms sweaty and stomach churning.

Before the first game of the day, one of the producers goes over the personal stories for Alex’s chat after the first commercial break. The producer gives Alex two stories per contestant to choose from.

Here’s my favorite, which for some reason Alex chose not to use:

The contestant was an attorney in Washington, D.C. and was at a fancy government dinner where someone introduced her to King Somebody. She had an Uncle King, and was interested to meet someone with the same name. “So, King,” she said, “what is it that you do?” He looked at her for a long moment and then said, “I’m the king.

Answer: By being the only contestant to get the correct answer to Final Jeopardy.

Question: How did Bobbie Lewis redeem her terrible performance in Jeopardy! and end up in second place?

As I told you in my earlier post, I did not perform very well in my one and only game. I don’t know whether I was buzzing in too early or too late, but I didn’t have an opportunity to answer many questions at all, and when I did, I made a few stupid mistakes. But I was the only one who had the correct answer to Final Jeopardy and so I came in second. My $2,000 winnings paid for a swell four-day vacation in Los Angeles. My husband and I toured the Sony studio, visited the fabulous Getty Museum and the fascinating LaBrea tar pits, enjoyed looking at the gorgeous houses in Venice and the weirdos at Venice Beach, and had a terrific meal at a Persian kosher restaurant.

Would I do it again? You betcha – although 10 years later the synapses are firing a little more slowly. I don’t get as many answers as I used to, and there are a lot more “ooh, ooh, I know that!”  moments. I seriously doubt that I’d make the cut. Luckily I don’t have to worry about it  –  no one who’s already been on the show can audition.

Answer: Nothing, but it’s made with artichokes and wine which makes me think of California.

Question: What does this week’s recipe have to do with Jeopardy!?

This is a nice recipe that’s great for weight watchers because it’s made with skinless, boneless chicken breasts and has no added fat, and it’s elegant enough to serve for a fancy company meal.

A Cherry Apple Pie for Presidents Day


I am a Scrooge when it comes to Presidents Day: Bah, humbug!

When I was in school we got two—count ‘em, two—days off in February, one for Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12 and the other for Washington’s on February 22. Their actual birthdays were the actual holidays.

Then in 1971, our federal government decreed that most federal holidays would be celebrated on a Monday. A three-day weekend was nice enough for those of us in school or working in traditional office jobs – but it kind of took the wind out of the birthdays of two of our greatest presidents. I think the holidays had more meaning when they were celebrated separately.

What a relief that they didn’t change the date of Independence Day. Imagine celebrating the Fourth of July on July 2 or July 6! (Want to learn more? Stephanie Fenton’s Holidays column explores the strange history of Presidents Day.)

It’s still Washington’s Birthday

When I was doing research for this piece, I was astonished to learn that the official name of the holiday is still Washington’s Birthday. How would old George feel to know that his birthday is now always on a Monday? And how would old Abe feel knowing that he is officially ignored altogether?

I think Lincoln has always been my favorite president. He preserved the Union through a disastrous civil war. He was responsible for the passage of the crucial 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, even though it wasn’t ratified until after his death.

When I was younger I didn’t see nearly as much to admire in Washington. A great general, yes. Our first president? Big deal. Then in 1984 (was it really 30 years ago?) there was a wonderful TV mini-series about Washington starring Barry Bostwick. And I realized just how hard a task he faced as our first president.

George kept us together

We may have been “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” as Lincoln would put it fourscore and seven years later. But in 1776, and even in 1789 when Washington was elected (by the Congress, not We the People), who knew what that meant? Some of the early Americans actually wanted to make Washington our king! Luckily he would have none of that! The new nation could have easily fallen apart in its early years; indeed there were a number of rebellions against the infant federal government. It was Washington’s leadership that kept us from foundering.

Plus I’ve had a soft spot in my heart ever since George Washington helped me win second place on Jeopardy! 10 years ago. (My one and only game was broadcast on April 2, 2004.)

I was getting creamed by the guy who won that game by a wide margin and who went on to win about eight more. And due to a couple of stupid mistakes, I was in third place going into Final Jeopardy, which was in the category George Washington. The “answer” was this: “In 1798, George wrote to John Greenwood, a man in this profession, ‘I am …ready to pay what ever you may charge me.’”

I was no expert on GW. But I did know that George was famous for his ill-fitting wooden false teeth. So I guessed, “What is a dentist?” I was right! And I was the only one of the three contestants who got it right, salvaging a little bit of the ego that had been bruised by how poorly I’d performed in the game and moving me ahead of the third person.

A pie for two presidents

I promised you another pie recipe this week from Sweetie-licious Pies by Michigan pie-meistress Linda Hundt. This cherry apple pie is appropriate for both Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays because it’s an apple and cherry pie. Apparently Abraham Lincoln loved pies, especially apple. And of course we all know the myth about George Washington copping to chopping down his father’s cherry tree (first recorded in a book about Washington by Mason Locke Weems). What better excuse can there be to eat cherry pie every February?