All little children have big dreams – they want to be ballerinas, doctors, firefighters, or United States presidents. But Liz Lackey, senior education/music major, had different plans – she wanted to be a “Jeopardy” contestant.
The popular television game show, which features host Alex Trebek and airs on ABC, has fascinated Lackey for as long as she can remember.
“Watching ‘Jeopardy’ is one of my very first childhood memories,” she said.
Last Wednesday, Lackey’s dream came true when a show taped in early September aired and she took second place in the evening’s competition.
For Lackey and for most Jeopardy hopefuls, the road to Trebek’s stage can be a long one.
The process began when Lackey signed up for a tryout taking place in April in New York City while visiting Jeopardy’s Web site. Although she had signed up for both teen and college tournaments, she finally received an invitation to an adult audition.
At the audition, each of the participants was required to take a 50-question test that covered 50 different categories. Upon completion, the test was graded immediately and those who had passed were notified.
“They never tell anyone what their score was,” Lackey said. “So if you fail the test, you can tell everyone that you missed it by one point. Out of about 70 people in my audition, only six passed, including me.”
Since she had passed the test, Lackey was asked to stay to play a mock version of the game and be interviewed. Even then, though, Lackey’s chances of actually being picked to appear weren’t a sure thing.
“(They said) if they wanted us to be on the show, they’d call within a year,” she said. “But don’t wait by the phone, since they don’t call everyone.”
Finally, in August, Lackey did receive a phone call. A day later, a FedEx package arrived with a contract, forms to fill out and instructions on what she should wear.
Since her show would not be taped until Sept. 13, Lackey spent the next few weeks preparing for her date with Trebek.
“My dad bought me an almanac so I could read up on general knowledge,” she said. “I studied categories that commonly showed up on ‘Jeopardy,’ like presidents, world capitals, state nicknames, Oscar winners, etc. Did any of these actually show up in my game? Of course not.”
Finally, the day of her taping arrived. Lackey explained that an entire week’s worth of shows are taped in one day, and that the show is taped in real time. The only pauses are for commercial breaks or to discuss discrepancies in contestants’ answers.
“At the beginning, my heart was pounding and I had to put my hands on the podium to stop them from shaking,” she said. “I calmed down as the game went on.”
Despite a bout of nerves, Lackey stacked up quite well against her competitors – Josh Danson, a marketing communications consultant from California, and Vik Vaz, a medical student from Texas. She ended up taking second place, with Vaz, the defending champion, taking first.
“I got my best category (music) twice during the game,” she said. “When ‘Musical Compositions’ came up as a category in the ‘Double Jeopardy’ round, I was so shocked that I didn’t even hear Alex read the last two categories! The game goes so quickly that you rarely have time to look up and see the scores. I didn’t realize how close everything was until I saw it on TV. You just try and buzz in first and get it right.”
Although she didn’t come out a winner, Lackey has no hard feelings towards her competitors.
“I had one goal and only goal only going into this: make it to ‘Final Jeopardy,'” she said. “Don’t end up in the red. Since I had $10,400 going into ‘Final Jeopardy,’ I accomplished my goal. Vik and Josh were both good players, and Vik happened to know a lot of obscure stuff that got him on top. I’m not ashamed or anything to have lost to him, even if he did lose the game right after mine.”
And of course, win or lose, Lackey did get the chance to meet host and game show icon Trebek.
“You can’t really talk to Alex that much, since he knows all the questions for that week and he doesn’t want to let anything slip,” she said. “During a commercial break, he started talking to me in an Irish accent. I think the red hair and freckles gave him an idea. He also has a very firm handshake. He almost crushed my hand.”
While Lackey is contractually obligated to abstain from appearing on another game show until at least next year, she is open to trying her luck again in the future.
“I believe ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ tapes in New York, so that’s easier than flying to L.A. for most other game shows,” she said. “So … who knows?”
But for now, Lackey is content to know that she was able to have one of her childhood passions come to life.
“I had such a wonderful time being there, so I really couldn’t have asked for more,” she said. “Well, maybe except the winning part.”