Remember that time, with the wife beater?
My earlier post was all about the quarter-final game, which was on the first day of taping. My last three games, consisting of the semi-final game and the two-part finals, occurred on the second day of taping.
After I won the first game, I felt like all or most of the pressure was off. Sure, I still wanted to win the whole tournament, but I hadn't fallen flat on my face in the first game, I had won convincingly, and nobody would ever be able to take that away from me. I would forever be able to say I had won a game of Jeopardy. Anything else was gravy.
My body didn't quite agree with my mind. After miraculously sleeping like a baby the night before (when I didn't think I'd be able to sleep at all), I had a very rough night before that second day of taping. I didn't sleep well, I tossed and turned, I woke up several times, and I finally just got up about an hour before I had set the alarm.
I watched a little tv, played a few quiz games on my phone, then went down to breakfast. Rico, who had lost his quarter-final game, showed up and joined me. I was sad to hear that he and the others who did not make the semi-finals would not be allowed to ride the Jeopardy bus with us to the studio. Luckily, someone had rented a car and was set to follow the bus to the studio.
Only ten of us got on the bus that morning. The nine of us who had advanced to the semi-finals, and Michael, who was designated the alternate, should anything happen to one of us. Michael had the highest score of the six who did not advance, so he had the "honor" of riding the bus with us (really, it was OUR honor, because Michael has a wickedly awesome sense of humor). We joked about not accepting any food from Michael and never descending stairs in front of him.
We arrived at the studio a bit later than the day before -- there was no need for filling in paperwork and shooting promotional material. Like the day before, we went through make-up and rehearsals on the buzzer. Unlike the day before, we got to experience something that most Jeopardy contestants probably never do (and probably never want to).
I was at the second podium, running through the mock rehearsal game. The clue came up, something about the longest river in the United States, and I buzzed in. The red lights in front of me lit up, and I took a breath to give my answer. My answer never came, though, because I followed protocol and waited for my name to be called. When my name was NOT called, and the red lights had almost faded to nil, I looked over at Glenn, the "fake Alex" of the rehearsals to see why he hadn't called on me. Alongside Glenn was the REAL Alex, wearing nothing but an undershirt. Well, I'm sure he had pants on, but because of the host's podium, I could only see his upper torso, and it was bereft of the usual snappy suit and tie. Instead, he sported what we in the south tend to call a "wife beater."
Apparently, he was out there asking some technical question (Can we add more clues about Canada to this match?), and he eventually walked back around behind the big board. Life went on, but we now had that image seared into our retinas for eternity.
Back to the green room we went, and Robert the contestant coordinator called my name along with two others for the first game. YES! I wouldn't have to sit around waiting to play, stomach acid playing havoc! CRAP! I was up against two people I most definitely did NOT want to be playing!
Timothy was the oldest member of our 15-person contestant pool, and I gave him full credit for having that much more life experience and life memories to draw from. He played in the one quarter-final game that I actually got to watch from the audience the day before, and he was most impressive in that game.
Katie was one of two people I had been scared of playing right from the get-go of rehearsals on the first day, because of her apparent ease and speed on the signaling device (Michael being the other). I didn't get to see Katie play in her quarter-final game, and I knew she had not won it outright, but I knew I wouldn't control the board the way I did in the first game.
We went to get miked up and have our makeup touched up. I sat down in the makeup chair and leaned a bit to far forward, almost falling out of the chair. I immediately looked over at Michael and shouted, "Don't get any ideas!" He just smiled an evil smile.
Finally, it was game time. The three of us wished each other luck and took our places behind the podiums. Timothy told me that his wife, who was attending the tapings, had said the day before that she hoped he didn't have to play against me because I was "a demon on the buzzer." Timothy is tall, like me, and as such did not have to stand on a raised platform. Since I couldn't threaten him with falling off his platform, I instead said, "Hey, remember when we saw Trebek out here in the tank top? That was really disturbing, right?" -- and hoped for the best.
Stephen Canada Who??
The third clue in that category asked for Homer Simpsons grunt of displeasure. Somehow Timothy beat me to the buzzer and answered, "What is d'oh?" -- speaking the word "dough" very softly. At that moment, I wanted to shout, "D'OH!!" myself! I pride myself on my Homer Simpson impression, and I REALLY wanted that one. I had it all played out in my head. I would say, "What is D'OH?" in a perfect Homer voice, Alex would say, "Wow, you do a really good Homer Simpson," and I would reply (in my perfect Homer voice), "Hehehe, thank you Mr. Sajak!" Alas, it was not meant to be.
The first round went pretty well after that. There was a category about nuclear physics that I did really well in, and even a poker question. I made the audience and even Alex laugh with my interview story about trying out for the Duke basketball team. I even lead going into the break between rounds.
Then the second round started, and all three of us fell into a sink-hole. I think there were more unanswered questions in that round than in the rest of the tournament combined. I fell way behind Katie and Timothy with some bad guesses. Somehow I managed to come back at the end, but my lead at the end of the round was only $300. I had $8700, Timothy had $8400, and Katie had $4800. I knew the situation was bad because I would need to bet almost everything I had just to cover Timothy's all-in bet. The bad situation became even worse when the Final Jeopardy category came up -- Buildings.
Not only was that an incredibly generic category name, it was also one that didn't inspire me with any level of comfort or ease whatsoever. I took quite a while to make my wager, even though I knew what I had to do, because the very thought of wagering so much on such a broad category filled me with dread. In the end, I bet $8200 -- $100 more than Timothy could get if he doubled up.
I had a strong suspicion that Timothy would bet it all, because he had made a comment earlier about needing to be more aggressive in this second round since there were no more wildcards. However, I thought Katie might bet nothing, in the hopes Timothy and I both got the question wrong.
When the Final Jeopardy clue came up, I had no idea whatsoever what the answer was. I had already decided on The Empire State Building as a guess if I didn't know it, so that's what I wrote down, feeling like a convicted man walking to the gallows.
The music ended, and Alex went to Katie. She had gotten the answer wrong, and - holy crap! - she had wagered it all. I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Alex went to Timothy, who had also gotten the wrong answer. He, too, and bet it all and went to zero. I could breathe again!
I'm sure it was a shocker for the audience to see me get it wrong and drop to only $500. After it aired, a whole lot of people I know said they thought I had bet it all, too. There was no way I was going to bet everything, but I do know how incredibly lucky I was to win that game. It could have gone in so many different directions.
On a side note, Katie Moriarty and I have remained friends through FaceBook, and I just have to say that I consider it majorly awesome to have gone up against someone named Moriarty and come away victorious. Of all the people I've ever met, that truly is one of the coolest last names -- right up there with Zamboni and Trueblood.
When this episode aired, the biggest point of outrage on the interwebs seemed to be how none of us recognized Stephen Harper, the current prime minister of Canada. One of the clues had shown a picture of a man and said that he followed (insert two other former Canadian prime ministers here). The fact is, we all KNOW who the current prime minister of Canada is. We just didn't recognize a picture of him. I do think there's a pretty big difference. I'm sorry to say that I also would not recognize a picture of England's David Cameron, Australia's Tony Abbott, or Italy's Giorgio Napolitano.
Since there are no wildcards in the semi-finals (only the winners move on), there is no need for secrecy about winning amounts, so all semi-finalists get to sit in the audience and watch the other games. I was shown to my seat, and I had a great view of the second and third semi-finals matchups.
A familiar face joined me after the second game. Becky, who I had played in the first round, came away victorious in her semi and joined me in the finals. We sat in the audience and quietly rooted for Maryanne from Canada to complete the replica rematch. Instead, it was Mary Beth from Alaska who took the third spot, winning decisively. (Yes, Alex would later say she only won by a dollar, but that was her wagering strategy -- she could have won by so much more.)
Just like the day before, the lunch break came after the third game of the day, so Mary Beth, Becky, and I were whisked away from the studio, out the door, down the alley, and over to the Sony commissary. Wow! I had to stay in the green room for lunch the day prior, but now I got to sit in the fancy chairs! Robert the contestant coordinator was our chaperone, and he kept us away from the other teachers, at one point even barking, "Don't talk to them!" when one of us got within ten feet. I later asked him why we couldn't talk to the people that weren't in the tourney anymore, and he smirked and said, "I'm going to give you an answer you have probably given your kids a million times -- 'Because I said so!'"
The Jeopardy Warriors Three
After a hearty lunch (Becky picked at her food, but my appetite was back on track), Robert took us back to the green room where we needed to change into another outfit. In the green room, there are two bathrooms and a "Champion's room." This is a small partitioned area where, during the normal run of shows, the returning champion would change. I immediately called dibs on the Champ's room, thinking that would give me some good mojo.
Once we were all ready, they took us out to the stage and we prepared to begin the first game of the Finals. The Finals is a two-game event where your totals from the two days are added together to determine the overall winner. This was an important game, though there's always the chance to come back from a deficit.
The first game of the Finals was just so-so for me. I didn't play horribly, but I certainly didn't play well. I started off pretty strongly in the first round, but I took some horrible guesses in a category about car tag lines, and that hurt me pretty badly. Mary Beth was just as good on the signaling device as I was, and she answered a whole lot of clues that I would have known if I could have buzzed in on time. I only managed to buzz in first on one of the clues in a category all about dinosaur names!
The second round was even worse as I seemed to hit a wall about midway through and just watched as Mary Beth increased her lead. At the end of Double Jeopardy, MB had a commanding lead of $16,000 to my $8,600, with Becky at $5,600.
The Final Jeopardy category came up U.S. Presidents. I was VERY happy to see that as I had studied the crap out of Presidents. At the same time, I didn't want to go to zero if I got it wrong, so I wagered all but $2,000.
The clue came up, somewhat wordy but basically asking for the second man to inherit the presidency without ever having been elected. I started to get excited, because I knew all about the 20-year curse, sometimes also called Tecumseh's Curse.
When I really started studying before my taping, I had learned of the 20-year "curse" on the office of the U.S. Presidency, which started with William Henry Harrison. In a nutshell, starting with 1840, every president elected on the 20-year multiple died in office. These men did not necessarily die IN that year, but if they were elected in that year, they died sometime while in office.
William Henry Harrison, elected in 1840, died of pneumonia 30 days after taking office. John Tyler took over.
Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860, assassinated in 1865. Andrew Johnson took over.
James Garfield, elected in 1880, assassinated in 1881. Chester A. Arthur took over.
William McKinley, elected in 1900, assassinated in 1901. Teddy Roosevelt took over.
Warren Harding, elected in 1920, died of an aneurism in 1923. Calvin Coolidge took over.
Franklin D Roosevelt, elected in 1940 (as well as 3 other times), died of natural causes in 1945. Harry Truman took over.
John F Kennedy, elected in 1960, assassinated in 1963. Lyndon B. Johnson took over.
Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, shot in 1981, but survived. Reagan thus "broke the curse."
Thus endeth the history lesson.
So anyway, my mind flew to Andrew Johnson, and I started to write his name down as my answer. As I started on his last name, though, something nagged at the back of my head. Something just didn't feel right, and that was when I remembered there was one other president who died in office. Someone who did not fit the 20 year pattern. A certain Mr. Zachary Taylor, who died of natural causes in 1850. Once I remembered, I quickly crossed out "Andrew Johnso" and wrote "Fillmore." I didn't think I'd have time to write "Millard Fillmore," and I knew they'd accept a last name only but not a first name only. (BTW, they would NOT have accepted "Johnson" only, because there has been an Andrew AND a Lyndon.)
Before revealing the Final Jeopardy clue, Alex Trebek had pointedly made the comment, "We have two social studies teachers and a math teacher, and the clue is U.S. Presidents." It seemed like a bit of a shot across the bow at the time, but I turned out to be the only one who got the correct answer. Becky's thinking must have followed my own - without the last second remembering - because she wrote Andrew Johnson. Mary Beth chose Chester A. Arthur and later said she got hung up on actual assassinations, rather than deaths of any sort.
This gave me the lead at the end of the first day, with $15,200 to Mary Beth's $11,000 and Becky's $0.
Back to the green room we went, and we changed into our final outfit of the day. Back to the stage we went, where we prepped for the final game of the day. Each of us was given a small note card that had our first day's totals on them. Something to keep in mind, this went at the top of our podiums, unseen by the viewing audience.
While we were waiting to get started, Maggie the contestant coordinator came up and pointed out an elderly lady sitting in a wheel chair in front of the studio audience. I think this lady's name was Maggie as well, and we were told that it was Maggie's birthday and asked to wave and wish her a happy birthday. We called over to Maggie who beamed a huge smile. Mary Beth then asked if we should sing her Happy Birthday. Standing at a podium, getting ready to play for $100,000, and she wants to sing Happy Birthday to this lady. How cool is that?
Our final game finally started, but with a bit of an unseen hitch. As we were being introduced, my camera went off prematurely, and Becky's came on midway through MY introduction. I thought it was odd, but I wasn't going to let it throw me off my game.
The round started, and we all pretty much held our own. Scores were pretty close going into the first commercial break. During the break, the director came over to me and acknowledged the camera error at the beginning and said they were going to fix it. He asked me just look forward and just stare into the camera, and that they'd edit that into the opening sequence. I must have stared at that camera awkwardly for 30 seconds before he said cut, and I know I could hear my fellow Jeopardy contestants in the audience laughing their butts off.
During the contestant interview portion, on the fourth and final day of the tournament, I FINALLY got to mention my book, Learn Me Good! Hallelujah! Alex responded to my plug with, "Good for you!" I'm thinking about adding that ringing endorsement to the back cover now.
The rest of the round mostly belonged to Becky and me, with Mary Beth answering a few clues. watching at home was kind of funny, because one clue asked about Superman's arch nemesis, and when Becky beat me to the buzzer, you can very visibly see me hit the podium in frustration.
At the end of the first round, I had a pretty good lead over Becky - $6,800 to $4,000 - with Mary Beth bringing up the rear at $1,600. My lead didn't last for long, though. A huge group of people had once again clustered around the judges table, and the break between rounds went on far longer than usual.
We're the four best friends that anyone could ever have...
The termites clue had been worth $1,000, so I lost the $1,000 they had credited me with PLUS another $1,000 for getting the answer wrong. Now down to $4,800, I made ready for Double Jeopardy. Before leaving the stage, Maggie grabbed my arm and said, "Remember, when they take your money away, just go back out there and get it all back!"
The film starting rolling again, and Alex announced the ruling to everyone. Becky got the first question of the round right and then moved to a category called "Literary Openings." This turned out to be my category, and I ran all five clues. I then started to run the Anatomy category, hitting a Daily Double at the $1600 clue. What kind of glands are tear ducts? Exocrine glands? Never heard of them, and I lost $3000 as a result. If I had more time, I might have thought of Endocrine glands and swapped Exo- for Endo, but it didn't happen in those few seconds.
The rest of the round went pretty much my way until the final category, all about art in the Guggenheim Museum. I actually knew four out of the five questions, but Becky and Mary Beth were able to beat me to the buzzer, and Mary Beth got the last few high-dollar questions correct.
When the round ended, I had a big lead at $18,200, Mary Beth had $10,600, and Becky had $8,000. As I looked at the scoreboard, I quickly doubled Mary Beth's score and added her $11,000 from the day before. I had more than her -- I had won the tournament!
The the fear and doubt kicked in, and I spent the next 5-7 minutes with scratch paper and a marker, checking my math every which way from Sunday. I finally convinced myself that I had indeed done the math correctly, and that a wager of $0 would ensure my victory.
At that point, I decided that, since my answer didn't matter, I was going to give a shout out to my son, Drew. I had talked about him a lot to the other contestants, the coordinators, and even Sarah of the Clue Crew, who had recently had a baby herself. But I hadn't had a chance to mention him during a game to the world at all.
At the end of the very first game, before Final Jeopardy, I had asked Maggie if I could write, "Hi Drew!" at the bottom of my response. She thought hard about it, then said, "Normally, the rule is no, but you know what? Go for it!" Almost immediately, John the director was at our podiums saying, "OK, remember to write legibly, put your answer only, no shout outs, no smiley faces, nothing else!"
This time, I didn't ask for permission, but I figured they'd forgive me.
When Alex started to read the clue, I zoned out. I picked up my pen and started to write, "I Love You, Drew!" I never looked at the clue at all, and I hadn't paid attention to what Alex was saying. I think it's driving some people crazy not to know whether I would have been able to answer that question or not, and they'll undoubtedly assume that I couldn't have, but the honest truth is that I saw Mary Beth's correct answer of "What is Pakistan?" LONG before I ever saw the clue. So there's just no way to say with any certainty.
Every word spelled correctly!
In any case, it didn't matter, because I had the finals locked up. Becky had gotten the answer incorrect and went to $0 again, but by winning third place, she was guaranteed $25,000. Mary Beth got the answer correct and had bet it all, taking her two day total up to $32,600. Then the moment of truth. Alex revealed my answer and chuckled at the shout out. He never asked who Drew was, so there are probably some people out there who either think I'm gay or a huge New Orleans Saints fan (or both). My mind still screamed that there was a 0.00001% chance I had made a bone-headed math error, but when my screen changed to $33,400, I could finally relax and celebrate.
I ran around the podium to shake Alex's hand and felt like I was floating off the stage. I had no earthly idea what he said to me until I saw it on TV last week.
When we all stood around at center stage while the credits rolled, Mary Beth gave me a huge hug. Then Becky gave me a huge hug. Then Trebek and I threw our arms open and faked giving each other a huge hug.
I held up pretty well during the entire taping and even during the post-game interview with Sarah. Once I walked off the stage, though, I couldn't help it anymore, and I started to cry, big time. Then Maggie started to cry, then even the super sweet make up lady started to cry.
I finally got the waterworks under control, and I was lead back to the commissary, where everyone was having a big after party. There was a cake, chocolate covered strawberries, and champagne. Alex Trebek was not there, but then I figure he celebrates in his dressing room with cake, chocolate covered strawberries, and champagne after every game.
Lots and lots of pictures were taken, lots of hugs were given, and I finally got a chance to call my wife to tell her the good news.
At one point, I was over on the side talking with a few of the Clue Crew members when I heard a big shout. I turned to see my fellow contestants filming a short good luck video for me. In every teachers tournament, they show a video for each teacher of their kids shouting, "Good luck on the teachers tournament!" These fine folks were now making one for me to use during the Tournament of Champions. This is not usual or commonplace in the least. This is something that THEY came up with and decided to do just because they are THAT. FREAKING. INCREDIBLE.
I know that I'm leaving out a ton of details, but this already feels like a novella, so I'll just shut up here. I have no idea when the Tournament of Champions will be, because they are doing a special 30th anniversary tournament this year, and the next ToC won't be until sometime next season. Until then, it's back to life as normal for me, with daydream material to last a lifetime.