For many years I harbored a secret dream. To be on Jeopardy. No, Jeopardy! Sorry–to be Jeopardy! champion. Seriously, though: 5-time Jeopardy! champion. Despite my pessimism and low self-esteem, why not? I excelled as a high school senior on It’s Academic, the DC-area quiz show. Excelled-ish. I answered the first two questions correctly. Nonetheless, our team captain, a 12-year-old senior with a squeaky voice, wouldn’t allow me to answer math questions. Emasculating? Yes. We did not win. I was also an enthusiastic devotee of pub quizzes, having competed in the UK, Dubai and Brooklyn. My quiz team usually won, which means we were either the most knowledgeable or least drunk. One day I saw an ad in the paper. Jeopardy! tryouts coming to a dismal business hotel in Manhattan! I looked normal on the outside, but I was jazz-handsing and pirouetting within.
I hopped on the train, got off, and collected several pints of sweat on the short walk to the hotel. It wasn’t nerves, just hyperhidrosis. All the cool guys had it. I sat in a large anonymous auditorium with several hundred hopefuls for the written test. Questions flashed on a screen, quickly. Six of us made the cut. The next step was a mock Jeopardy! tournament. I couldn’t work the buzzer very well and had trouble seeing the chintzy, ill-lit game board (profoundly myopic, I wear Hubble-brand spectacles). Nonetheless, I squeaked by. Now it was time for the interview. The producer opened a hidden drawer and took out a very large, white smile: “I want to see some pep, people! Show me the…sparkle! C’mon now! Who’s got a champagne personality?” Impressively, she managed to embody the worst aspects of cheerleading, dentistry and gym class. It was my turn to speak. “Hi, I’m Andrew—” The producer cut me off. “Pep it up, ‘kay?” “Uh,” I began, “your perkiness scares me a little.” I was trying to be funny, but no one was convinced. I continued: “You have seen the show, right?” No reaction. “The contestants aren’t that peppy. They’re kinda stiff, actually.” My colleagues inched away from me. No one made eye contact. The producer scribbled in her notebook. An under-assistant producer came out. His headset looked like the dental headgear I’d worn in high school. “You’ll hear from us if you made the show.” My phone, unlike me, kept its mouth shut.