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— "What is a toboggan?"

"That is correct! Now we go to final Jeopardy. Can we have some think music?"

A guy offstage is fumbling with a stack of tapes. He can't find the think music.

"Okay, movie objects! In Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman is put on a chain-gang for these mechanical devices."

Silence. Nobody buzzes in for several beats. Finally, Debby. "Trucks?"


I could clean up at this game. I could do it blindfolded like the new Jeopardy champion, a blind sportswriter named Eddie.

I ask to speak with the woman who administered my test and she obliges. Her name is Rebecca Erbstein, and she is promotions manager for Jeopardy. She's "in charge of this whole shebang. We have," she says, "been in Charlottesville, Virginia; Birmingham, Alabama; Phoenix, Arizona..."

"Do you throw darts at a map?"

"No, actually, there are a lot of different reasons for selection. For example, the reason we were in Charlottesville at UVA is because they were the winners of the Jeopardy Online competition -- which is one of the components of the event. Part of the prize was a contestant search on their campus. The reason we were in Chicago was because we were doing a remote in the area, looking for contestants. San Diego, because our affiliate, KNSD, called and said, 'We'd like to do something with you guys.'"

"What percentage of people pass the initial test?"

"It's hard to say. We have no idea until we see how many people show up."

I didn't quite follow but asked, "Is your impression of people in the United States that they are undereducated or smarter than you thought?"

"I can't give you that concrete of an opinion because the people that come out watch the show, and they know what they're getting into. Jeopardy is an intellectual show; there's no getting around it. We get people from all walks of life. We get bartenders, doctors and lawyers, construction workers. Jeopardy is not just about being smart. It is about people who are trivia junkies and people who just retain information. It's not about the elite or the overeducated. It's for absolutely everyone. It's a great learning tool for children as well."

Erbstein then informs me that coordinators #1 and #2 are named Maggie Speak (or Speke) and Grant Loud (or possibly Lowd). "It's absolutely coincidence," she insists.

That evening, as I am basking in my intellectual prowess and watching The Simpsons, I decide to look at the sheet I was handed. On one side are directions to the Westgate. On the other side it says, "BRING THIS LETTER WITH YOU." Further down it says, "If you pass the test, you will be put in our files to be considered for Season #16 of Jeopardy! However, even though you pass the test, we cannot guarantee that you will be invited to do the show. In fact, even though you are invited to the studio, there is no guarantee that you will appear on the show... Testing takes approximately two hours... TESTING STARTS AT THE APPOINTMENT TIME AND NO ONE CAN BE ADMITTED IF THEY ARE LATE."

Geez. What a hassle. They really jerk you around. And on the heels of that thought, the words of Rebecca Erbstein come back to me. She was trying to warn me. She was being honest when she said, "Jeopardy is an intellectual show." The key word here is "show." This is not MENSA testing or a Stanford-Benet profiling. I had missed the point completely.

It's television.

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