I Lost On 'Jeopardy!'

My "Jeopardy!" tryout lasted 12 hours. Of course, almost 10 of them were spent on a Greyhound bus.

I've been a trivia junkie since sixth grade, when I first got into the habit of doing my homework in front of Alex Trebek. I remained a devoted fan all through high school and college, when my friends and I would tune in, turn on and knock back shots. These days, I obsessively watch it at the gym (it's the only thing compelling enough to keep me running). I even have an embarrassing habit of scheduling social plans around the program.

Like many fans, I have grown to secretly yearn for a chance to be on the show. Prove how smart I am in front of all of America? And get paid for it? Fabulous! So after 10 years of obsession, this cash-strapped twentysomething took off work on a Wednesday and shelled out $80 for a coach to Boston and a shot at "Jeopardy!" stardom.

Before I boarded the bus, I was briefed by a friend who'd recently gone through the process. I'd be given a test, he said, and needed to get at least 35 out of 50 questions correct. I spent the four-hour ride curled up in the fetus position across two seats (travel like this is the only time I'm happy to be 5 feet 2 inches) and tried desperately to memorize the world capitals section of my almanac. Unfortunately, I quickly grew bored and turned back to my decidedly more engaging John Irving novel.

I had been warned that the tryout location would be less than glamorous. But I wasn't prepared enough. The tryouts don't take place at a TV station, or even a soundstage. Try a hotel conference room.

As for my fellow contestants, well, they were far more likely to be seen on "Jeopardy!" than on the next "Temptation Island." In fact, they were amazingly true-to-type. Aside from myself, an African-American Harvard Law student, and a handful of others, the crowd was white, middle-aged-and stultifyingly suburban. Never did a more nerdy group gather. A Kiwanis Club meeting down the hall broke up as we began. Compared to the "Jeopardy!" posse, they looked like rock stars.

Grant, our oh-so-peppy host, walked us through the procedure. My brainy fellow contestants asked him really important questions like "How long does it take to tape the show?" Annoyed, I shot my hand up, unable to resist the urge to stir things up.

"To what degree do demographics play a role in who gets picked?"

Grant froze. Suddenly our sanguine host lost his sales-rep rhythm. He assured us that demographics played no role in who gets on the show. That explains why most everyone on "Jeopardy!" is a tweedy, fiftysomething white male, but for me, it was a bummer. As a 24-year-old female, I obviously had a vested interest in demographic diversity.

The video tryouts began, and my turn came quickly. Trebek himself appeared on the TV screen and read all 50 questions-which you answer on paper-with his trademark smirk. (As a group, we all agreed that as a host, he's irritating and condescending.)

It was really too bad I'd put aside my almanac. One of the first questions required me to know the capital of Bulgaria. I was so annoyed. The toughest capitals you ever see on the show are of the Katmandu and Tehran variety. I could find Kinshasa, Kabul and Mogadishu on a map; you know, capitals where stuff actually happens. But Bulgaria?

And it got worse from there. My strengths are the arts, politics, history and literature-but even the questions in my favorite fields were out there. Psyched I remembered that August Wilson was the author of "Fences"? Absolutely. Proud I knew "guano" is a Spanish word for bird droppings? Sure. But my knowledge of country music failed me, I'd forgotten all about Mary Baker Eddy, and I guess I actually slept through my biology-for-nonmajors course during my junior year of college.

I wasn't the only one. As it turns out, about 95 percent of us didn't make it to the second round, an oral tryout with a buzzer.

After our tryouts, my fellow wannabes and I gossiped like high schoolers smoking cigarettes after the SAT. Everyone ranted about the absurdity of it all. Where did that "Richard III" question come from? On the show, they never go beyond Hamlet, Iago and King Lear's bitchy daughters. One wonders how anyone on the show ever bombs when the test is so tough.

Of course, I must admit we were all having a perversely good time, even after losing.

As I boarded my bus back to New York, I felt proud of myself for trying. I also felt entirely certain that I would give "Jeopardy!" another shot in six months, which is the soonest I'm allowed to do so. Between then and now, I'll have 120 more chances to practice shouting out answers at home and at the gym. I'm sure to get on next time. Now where's that almanac?

I Lost On 'Jeopardy!' | News