Culver City, Here We Go

Laura September

By the time I flew to Los Angeles the day before taping I was heartily sick of skim-studying, and I figured at this point nothing new was going to soak into my brain. So even though I brought along my study flashcards, once I left the house for Pearson International I never looked at them again.

The US Customs agent was completely unimpressed with my reason for going to the States (though he was so inert-looking I’m not sure he was ever aware of my presence in front of him.)

Good luck page from hotelAt the Culver City hotel the front-desk clerk handed me my key card in a little personalized folder with the next day’s shuttle bus information and a “Good Luck, contestant!” page signed by hotel staff. Even though I knew perfectly well that they hand these out to hundreds of contestant-guests a year I was childishly pleased with this acknowledgement. Sony also provided breakfast chits and free wi-fi, so that saved me some extra costs.

Early next morning a group of nicely-dressed people with garment bags (containing the Jeopardy!-mandated two extra changes of clothes) milled nervously around the hotel lobby, waiting for the shuttle bus to take us to the Culver City Sony studios for 8 am. Pretty much everyone seemed friendly and smart, and worked in white-collar occupations (medical technician, teacher, a couple of law students, etc.) One of the other contestants looked vaguely familiar; it turned out that he had been at my New York audition. I estimated that I was the oldest of the bunch, and certainly the only Canadian. I mentioned my fear about blowing a Canadian question, which started an amusing round of what things we were each dreading (mostly variations of people blanking on their own occupational specialities.)

Fun Fact I learned studying for Jeopardy!

The US had a Secretary of State named Hamilton Fish at the same time it had a Supreme Court Chief Justice named Salmon P. Chase.
old portraits of fish in Victorian men's apparel

Once at the Sony Studio lot (Studio 10, right across from the Wheel of Fortune building)—past the metal detector, cheesy fake Jeopardy! podiums (for audience members to pose with for pictures), cardboard standup of Alex Trebek (ditto) and the glass display case full of Emmys—we were herded into the contestant green room, arranged around a conference table to fill in some more forms, and talked at by the chief contestant wrangler, a sturdy, excitable force of nature: Contestant Producer Maggie Speak. And boy howdy did she ever speak to us—for about the next hour—regaling us with an energetic, stuck-on-high-volume mix of rules and regs, aspirational/amusing contestant stories, stupid jokes, general TV show advice and Jewish mother admonitions of “Eat! Eat!” while pointing to the trays of baked goods and drinks.

We were reminded often to go potty whenever we were in the green room, because once we were in studio we’d need a chaperone to go to the bathroom offstage. We were also exhorted to try to keep on playing through any technical glitches, unless we were told to stop. Also, they stressed that it doesn’t matter whether your question starts with “Who is” or “What is” as long as it’s in the form of a question (“What is Charles Dickens?” is perfectly acceptable.) And if there ever was a discrepancy between the video board and Alex, always follow what Alex says! In the lengthy Q and A session I asked whether my accidentally saying “zed” instead of “zee” would cause me problems. Answer: of course not, because “Alex will understand what you’re saying!”

Paula, the current champion from “last week’s” show—in actuality taped the day before1—was sitting on the green room couch, slightly apart from the rest of us since she’d heard Maggie’s spiels already (in all likelihood down to the very word). Every time a staffer referred to her, “heyyy, how’re you doing, Champion?” the rest of us smiled at her warily and somewhat enviously. On one side of the green room was the door to a room for the sole use of the current champion to change into their “next day’s” clothes. Inside, it resembled a very small empty closet, but it had a satisfyingly large sign on the door saying “Champion’s dressing room”!

While Maggie was blowing our hair back Maxell-style with her (good-natured) bellowing, Corina and Senior Contestant Coordinator Robert—a cool dude who generally called me “Suzuki!!!”—were sidling up to each contestant and going through each of our stories that were deemed good enough to present to Alex. For me Robert had narrowed it down to two, with one highlighted as the best (though Alex was always free to pick whichever one he wanted.)

All the while this was going on, contestants were being sent to either of the two makeup artists, who proceeded to slather us in that orangish atrocity called TV pancake makeup. Worse, all female contestants also got the added touch of TV beauty makeup spackled liberally on top. So much for my own tastefully-applied makeup (thanks for the tips anyway, Vee!)

  1. Jeopardy! tapes two days a week (Tuesday and Wednesday), five shows (a week’s worth) a day.