This is my only trophy ever, for being a member of the district-winning Whiz Quiz team at Monnig Middle School. I was an alternate; I played in a total of 2 games and answered a total of zero questions. I even did that thing where someone buzzed in, and I buzzed in right after them and made a big show pretending I knew the answer but was beaten to it. It was humiliating not knowing a single answer to anything. My favorite teacher Miss Janice Dilworth from “spirit leading” was the sponsor and she recruited me because she thought I was smart. Ha! I showed her!
So years later, I didn’t know what I was thinking when I signed up to take the test to try to be a contestant on VH1’s “Rock and Roll Jeopardy.” I mean, I thought I knew a lot about rock, but I had never been called upon to prove it like I always dreamed.
The tryout was at 8 in the morning, which was the crack of dawn for me at the time. Oh, those days! Anywhuh, we hopefuls sat in the real Jeopardy audience, a seat or so apart, and were handed a questionnaire about our connections to music and our favorites and all that. Then they gave an oral test, and I missed some easy questions about Michael Jackson and Alabama. Like I said, it was early, but also… I choked. I choked!
Then they called out the names of the people who were moving on to the next level of testing. As more and more names were called, not mine, the hope started draining out of me, as happens in these situations when I’m trying for a spot among a group of people. I have never in my life been that last name called. Until that day!
I squeaked by to the mock game portion by the skin of my teeth, obvi. Because I was the last one on the list, and because of the numbers, I had no one to play against, which was fortunate for me. It gave me plenty of time to get accustomed to that whole “What is…?” bullshit. I tried to give them some personality, which may have come off as desperate, but I had to do something make up for my low oral exam numbers. I went home and then weeks later, I got the message that I was to be a contestant! Yay, me!
On the day of the show, I located and joined the other contestants right outside the parking structure, there on the Sony lot. This one gal brought her notes with her and was being really demonstrative about them. It worked — I was intimidated. I had nothing and had done nothing to prepare, aside from trying to name artists real fast when they came on the radio. Radio, oh, those days!
They took us to a green room and looked through our outfits — they had told us to bring 3 options. They chose my first option — a yellow sweater set from Rampage and a pair of plaid brown pants from Rampage. Then we were each individually approached and asked questions about what we’d said on our questionnaires. They asked if it was true that I quit guitar lessons when I became a cheerleader. I said it was, because it was, I think. The person then said, “do you remember any of your cheers?” I said “no,” and the interviewer moved on to the next person. I thought to myself, what an idiot! I took improv, I should have known to “yes, and” the question; keep the improv going. There were a couple of extra contestants there, and I worried my abrupt end to this tete-a-tete would cost me a spot on the show, or at least make these producers I’d never see again not like me.
Then we were all ushered down to the “Jeopardy!” stage, which was re-dressed for the rock version. We were randomly selected to go and test out the buzzer situation and get used to what the whole deal felt like. There was this one guy who was super-quick at the buzzer, it was ridiculous. I was the person who buzzes in furiously but too late. When the practice was over, we were told they were going to put us in groups of three, and that would be our show groups. I hoped to not get stuck with either Notes Girl or Buzzer Guy, but I ended up with them both.
Our group ended up being the first out of the gate, so I had no frame of reference as to what types of questions were going to be asked. I got into position and quickly developed a crush on host Jeff Probst. I mean, hubba hubba, right?
The first thing we had to do was the most nerve-wracking. It was where they say “a homemaker from Reading, Pennsylvania” or whatever, and the camera is on you to just be. I waved at the camera, doing a “what, am I on camera now?” face. After I did it, I knew it was wrong. Also, the set was yellow, or some shade of something that I knew was not going to pair nicely with the sweaters. So already, everything was awesome.
The game started, and let me tell you — those first-round questions were E to the Z. So much so that we all knew them. Good news for Quick Draw McGraw, bad news for Betty Slowthumb. At the end of the first round, I was in last place.
During the break, I did my best to maintain my composure, i.e. not cry. I was joking with my competitors, trying to laugh away that $5000 like it wouldn’t seriously help my financial situation. But it wasn’t about the money, as those who know a lot about rock and have always wanted to prove it can attest.
Hot Jeff Probst headed over to me for the interview portion. Here was my time to dazzle/seduce him. He asked me if it was true that I quit guitar lessons to become a cheerleader. I said yes. He asked if I remembered any of my cheers. I said yes.
“We’re the best there’s no debate! Yay, seniors eighty-eight!” I kind-of-yelled, swaying side to side to the beat. “I can’t believe I remember that!” I said, which was a bold-face lie. As Jeffy moved on to the next contestant, it dawned on me that this display of total assiness was going to be broadcast on television. Plus it was no way for the love of his life to behave.
I couldn’t dwell on my questionable choice, I had a game to finish. I had not yet burst into tears, so there was still hope for me to pull it together.
I knew there must have been a secret as to how McGraw was buzzing in so early. Here’s how the game worked: after a question was asked, white Christmas lights that encircled (ensquared?) the board would light up. You had to wait until you saw the lights come on to buzz in, or you were frozen out for 3 seconds. I figured out that my competitor was listening for the end of the question as his cue, anticipating the light by a fraction of a second.
At the beginning of round 2, I was armed with this realization. Oh, and also, I did another queer thing: after I answered a question correctly about Van Halen (in the category of “Devil Music,” I said “What is ‘Running With The Devil’?” — which I was technically wrong on, the answer is “Runnin'” not “Running”), Jeffy said “They were never better then, huh?” and I was all “Um… no!” or something to that effect. It was cut out of the broadcast. I imagine the editors going, “This dork will make America uncomfortable.”
So, like Cliff Clavin on that “Cheers” episode, most of the round 2 categories were in my wheelhouse. They were like, “Who’s buried in Lubbock, Texas?” and anyone who has been there knows it’s Buddy Holly. But most people have not been there, see.
The Notes Gal blew it when she got both Daily Doubles and lost. She had a audio clue for one — they played “How Soon Is Now?” And she said it was Morrissey, solo. She did some other stupid things like say it was called the Fillmore West. Whatever, by the end of the 2nd round, I had enough points to not bet anything in Final Jeopardy.
Now, when you’re about to win $5000, a strange kind of stupidity comes over you. During the second break, when my competitors didn’t want to pal around anymore, I kept asking the stagehands that were going to and fro if I needed to bet anything, or could I just bet zero. No one would answer me. I mean, I had seen the show a zillion times, I knew the rules. P.S. in this rock version, you just won $5000 (and didn’t get to come back) — you didn’t win your score or whatever. I bet 10 just to make it fun for me.
The Final Jeopardy category was “Song Inspirations.” Now, I knew a lot about big famous songs. I say “knew” because my mind is like a sieve now. I have actually forgotten all the Rainbow-Sabbath-Dio, etc. lineups that I worked for years to have down. The question was something like, what Bangles song was inspired by symbols found at a synagogue and at the JFK gravesite? Even though we had those separators between us, I knew my competitors were both writing “Walk Like An Egyptian,” because I could hear their markers writing a lot. That’s what I wrote, too, because that was the only Bangles song that came to mind.
It was wrong. As Jeffy Poop got down to me, asking what I said and how much I bet, kind-of jokingly, he saw that I had the worng answer, but no matter, I had won.
They had warned us about the zoom-in once you were declared the winner. I knew the camera was on me, but I couldn’t “Yay!” or anything — that would be too “in-your-face!” to those other two. My win meant that they lost. So I did a big “Whew!” like I had made it through an ordeal and was just glad to be alive. My father taught me to be humble, and humble I was. And good for me.
Okay, so… the trophy.