Slouching toward Jeopardy!, part 14: Tape Day at Last

Have you signed up for the online test yet?  Here’s Chris, one of last year’s semifinalists and a teacher from Pennsylvania, urging you to take the 13-minute test that could change your life:
Ad for Jeopardy online test

Well, tomorrow is the big day!  I play Michael, a Spanish teacher from Chicago, and Lindsey, a first-grade teacher from Waco, Texas, in the Thursday game.  Which means we taped after lunch (since all five quarterfinal games were shot on one day), and were sequestered in the green room so that we didn’t know what the score to beat for a wild-card slot would be.  After Wednesday’s game, Sara, Eduardo, Graham, and Cody are still in the running, and the score to beat is Cody’s $6,800–but we didn’t know that.

The morning movie this time was Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, which I always thought I hated–what’s entertaining about a frustrating series of travel delays?–but which turns out to be a sensitively acted and really very touching movie which I guess I just didn’t appreciate as a college sophomore.

I actually did want to say a bit more about the run-up to the Teachers Tournament this year.  A couple of months before the actual taping, I tapered off on the “studying” and, without really planning to, found myself thinking a lot more carefully about the actual gameplay.  I’d already been playing along standing up, clutching a toilet-paper spindle in lieu of a buzzer, and I’d developed a little mindful-breathing exercise to counteract the small adrenaline surge I’d begun to experience upon hearing the show’s theme music.  I used College Champion Keith Williams’s blog The Final Wager to learn basic wagering strategy and practiced Final Jeopardy! wagering while I watched the game.  (They give you a pen and paper on the show to do your wagering math.)  In early February, I had a tiny epiphany watching Lisa Schlitt win six games in a row: I realized that I knew nearly everything she rang in on, and some questions that stumped all three players in her games, so clearly what I’d heard and read was true:

Everyone who goes on Jeopardy! knows enough to win.

I understood this intellectually, but for some reason it hadn’t completely sunk in until I watched Lisa play and look for all the world as if she was having fun.  Yes, there are players who seem to know everything, but no one knows everything, and everyone has scored pretty high on the same challenging test.  If you look at the statistics on The Jeopardy! Fan,  you’ll see that often all three contestants have answered nearly the same number of questions.

It’s the damn buzzer,

people say, and those people have a point.  (This explains how the buzzer works and why the race is not always to the swift.) Some games, all three players manage to ring in about a third of the time.  Some games, one player seems to have the rhythm, or has it and then loses it, or doesn’t have it and then manages to pick it up.  It’s the buzzer, but it’s also which question values you manage to ring in on.  This is stunningly obvious, but the question values double as you go down the board, from $100 to $200 to $400–if I answer the first two questions in a category, and you answer the third, you are $100 ahead of me while answering fewer questions.  The buzzer, the question values, and the wagering introduce elements of uncertainty that are hard to appreciate from home, or at least they were for me.

I’m not sure why this made me feel a little bit calmer.  I think it comes down to finally being able to accept that I could win or lose and understanding at a gut level that either outcome would be fine–which, as I’ve said, I wasn’t ready to believe when I first tried out for the show.  Neither outcome would be a referendum on my intelligence, my preparation, or anything else about me.

I’ve been struck, over the last few weeks, by how many people’s comments about the impending show have been some version of

“Wow, I could never do that.”

These are bright, curious, interested people, a few of the millions who enjoy playing along with Jeopardy! at home.  Press a little and it turns out that they’re thinking along the same lines I was fifteen years ago–anxiety about being wrong in front of other people, the fear of looking stupid, the terror of shame.

I haven’t left these things behind, but I’m a middle-aged woman now, and I suppose I’ve had enough experiences of being sorry about letting fears hold me back from something I wanted to do.

Also, I’m a teacher.  I risk looking like a fool all the time.  I also want to model for my students openness and bravery and the willingness to fail.

Also, I’m a poet.  I love the questions themselves, as Rilke put it.  And I’m used to constantly risking absurdity.

I have more thoughts about this, but I will save them until after you see my game.  Check your local listings!  Also, at our viewing party, we will be asking people to play along and pledge (maybe $1?) for each correct answer to Friends of Kayany, the US nonprofit that supports the Kayany Foundation in providing education to Syrian refugee children living in informal tented settlements in Lebanon.  We have a student who has been very involved with this organization.  You can learn more at their website.

 

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