Now that I’ve had my watch party for my Norman friends (and seen my episode five times – totally feeling like Phil Connors right now), I feel like I can finally post this. Warning: spoilers positively ABOUND in this post. So if you haven’t seen my episode yet, don’t read this. Watch it. Go on, I’ll wait.
I’ll start with the non-spoilery bits. It’s no secret that mine was the first game of the whole ding-dang tournament. When Corina called me after James and Sarah, back in the green room, my first thought was just oh. To be honest, I was hoping to stay in the green room for at least a little while longer, so I could watch movies and get to know my fellow contestants more. But no, I was being thrown right in. I mostly managed to suppress the trepidation. Mostly.
I was actually feeling fairly centered as I walked into the studio behind Sarah. I wasn’t really nervous at all. I don’t know if I was in the Zone or if my brain was just on autopilot. It was a lot to process, though, so for the time being, I just didn’t process it. I think the only time in that five-minute stretch that I actually felt something other than purposeful detachment was when the camera panned to me.
“A junior at the University of Oklahoma from Tulsa, Oklahoma…”
It was really happening. I smiled so hard I think I almost split my face open.
Then Alex came out, and I just went right back to not processing anything again. I’m pretty sure if I’d tried to process the fact that my second honorary grandfather, the unflappable Canadian who’s been on my TV for as long as I’ve lived, was standing less than thirty feet from me, I would’ve passed out right then and there.
The game started.
Actually playing Jeopardy! in real life is so different from sprawling on the couch at home and shouting out the answers before all your family members. While they were setting up the podiums, before the game, I adopted what I call my Guitar Hero Power Pose – not a wide second position, like Jack Black talks about in School of Rock, but definitely second position, feet planted as firmly as I could manage, shoulders square. I felt solid, sure I wasn’t going to fall over, which was good because the nervous shakes were definitely threatening to come over me. I realize now that I adopted this same position when I was standing in the Pacific Ocean the previous day and the waves came rolling with surprising force at me. It’s funny, actually, because during the game I kind of felt as if I was standing in the ocean again, trying to stay upright while waves of trivia smacked into me. I’ve tried so many times to come up with a good analogy for what it felt like to be up there, but the best I can do is this: try playing Wii Ping-Pong while standing in the Pacific. Imagine that you don’t just have to hold yourself up, you can’t just concentrate on that, but you also have to remember to ring in and try to get the hang of the buzzer timing (which, by the way, is hard).
I don’t remember many of the clues, but I do remember the interview segment well, in part because when Alex was walking over to my podium, before the show came back, he said to me, “You know, all I can see on that shirt is ‘Klahom.’”
To which I replied, “You’re not the first one to notice that.”
Anyway, we went back on air, and I told the story of the children’s book on basset hound genetics I wrote. (One of these days, I’ll make a post on here that’s comprised entirely of pictures of my basset hound Ella, so you all can see just how cute she is.) The game resumed.
Then the Manx question happened.
I knew the island in question, somehow, and I also knew the type of cat (thanks to a very brief obsession with cats when I was maybe ten that never compared in scope to my obsession with dogs). James rang in before me, though, and I thought frick.
“What is a Mannish cat?”
Phew. I got another chance. Then Sarah got in over me.
“What is a lynx?” Also wrong.
My time to shine, y’all. I rang in. “What is a Manx cat?”
Bam. Moolah in the bank.
I emphasize this particular clue because the next time someone got a Daily Double, the judges decided to have a little conference.
They replayed the Manx cat question a couple times, so I got to hear how oddly strangled my voice sounded. I still wasn’t processing much of anything, but in the back of my mind, I was faintly worried that they were going to count either James’s or Sarah’s answer right. Eventually, Maggie and Glenn hopped on stage and turned us contestants around so we couldn’t see the board. This judges’ conference thing was apparently going to take a little longer than a few seconds. They talked to us some. I talked with them, but I honestly can’t remember anything anyone said. It’s as if I was magically not processing things even more.
We didn’t find out what the judges were talking about till later.
One of the only things I remember clue-wise about Double Jeopardy! (even now, after watching the episode) was getting the Daily Double. (What can I say, I’m tired right now.) I took a miniscule risk – $600 – because my strategy was to play for the stumpers. My first Daily Double, which I muffed, is where I developed that strategy, actually, and it served me well later. But more on that in a bit. I saw the clue and instantly thought crap. My mind immediately went to the African capitals, so I was bouncing among Algiers, Tripoli, and Cairo. I don’t remember which one I ultimately said, but the correct answer was Carthage.
No wonder I got it wrong, honestly. To me, Carthage is a town in Missouri. My family always stops at a Wal-Mart there and takes leg-stretching/bathroom breaks while en route to see our relatives in Iowa. (Shoutout to Oma, Opa, Angie, and Bill!)
Then came the end of Double Jeopardy! “Today’s Final Jeopardy! category is…”
For the first time in the entire show, I thought something I shouldn’t say on television.
The break between Double Jeopardy! and Final Jeopardy! is, without question, the longest effing break in the game. They give you a lot of time to consider your wager. The flip side of this is that they also give you a lot of time to freak out. That’s about what I was doing. I attempted to do some wagering math on the scratch paper they provided, but I was so nervous that everything I’d ever read about wagering strategy just flew out of my head and went on an island vacation.
Crap, I kept thinking. All the geography I reviewed was world capitals, and that was desultory at best. I didn’t review with maps very much at all. Crap, crap, crap. I definitely didn’t trust myself to get a geography question right if it wasn’t about world capitals. (There was one little voice in my mind that kept going WHAT IF IT’S A QUESTION ABOUT ONE OF THOSE PACIFIC ISLANDS YOU CAN NEVER TELL APART? PALAU OR TUVALU OR VANUATU?!, but I mostly shut that train of thought down.)
I was acutely aware that the presence of wildcards would complicate things. If I wagered low enough (I was at an even ten grand, and so was James), I could maybe still stand a chance at getting a wildcard spot.
So I decided to play for the wildcard instead of playing to win.
“$0,” I wrote on the screen.
It was about then that we found out what the judges must’ve been talking about (or maybe they had another judges’ conference about it – I’m not sure). Earlier, James had replied to a taxonomy question with “Class. [big awkward five-second pause] What is class?” The judges let him have it at first, but then they decided he waited too long, so they docked $800 from his total. I was now in the lead by an uncomfortably slim margin. They gave us an opportunity to change our wagers.
I still wagered nothing.
After what seemed like an absolute frakkin’ eternity, we resumed the game. Alex announced the change to James’s score and revealed the clue to Final Jeopardy!
It was a video clue. All we saw at first was this island shaped roughly like an arrowhead, and Alex said we were supposed to identify it. In that instant, I thought how on earth are we supposed to ID that? There are no cities marked or anything. Then the map panned out, and we saw the bottom of the boot of Italy.
Now, I mentioned in this post that I suck at geography and said it would come into play later. Well, this is exactly where it came into play. I immediately wrote down Crete. Not because I was 100% sure it was the answer, but because no other answer occurred to me. The only other island in the Mediterranean I could think of was Corsica, and I knew Corsica wasn’t shaped like that.
When the think music stopped, Alex went to Sarah first.
“What is Crete?” She had written Sicily and crossed it out in favor of Crete. Nope. She dropped from $6200 to $1400.
Then Alex went to James.
“What is Fiji?” Again, nope.
He’d risked everything.
I was still fundamentally not processing what was going on, but I had enough presence of mind to mentally raise an eyebrow. I had expected everyone to be much better at geography than me and just know this right off the bat. What in blazes was happening?
At this stage, I was just having an extended oh-crud moment for missing the clue. And of course, Alex revealed that I had put Crete. Wrong answer, nerd. Congratulations, you have officially sucked at geography on national TV.
It was also then that he revealed the correct answer was Sicily. Sarah had crossed out the right answer. I immediately started kicking myself. Oh my god, Whitney, really? the voice in my head was moaning. Why, WHY did you not remember Sicily?
“And what did she wager?… Nothing.”
It was only when Alex said I’d won that the penny dropped.
That was pretty much the only coherent thing I thought.
I managed to get through the post-game chat with Alex and subsequent interview without making too much of a fool of myself (although I’ll freely admit I was a little starstruck when I met Jimmy McGuire, who was the one interviewing me), and then I made my way to a seat in the audience.
I made semifinals. I’m playing again tomorrow. I’m guaranteed ten grand.
It was slowly sinking in.
Next time: we turn back the clock, to the previous day. I see my first ocean, among other things.