The Rock & Roll Jeopardy story

When I turned 30, I set out to do a number of things before I got too old. One of them was to audition for a game show. Thanks to a friend of a friend who had been on the show, I actually did get to audition for Rock & Roll Jeopardy, and I wrote down the whole story of my experience…then forgot where I put it. I just found it on a very old backup disc, so here it is for safe keeping in Google’s cache forevermore. Commence cut and paste!

First off, I’ve been really nervous about this since I found out I had an audition, which was about three weeks ago. Trouble eating, trouble sleeping, the whole bit. And they say you can get anywhere in L.A. in 20 minutes, so naturally the 20-minute drive from Burbank to Culver City took 50 thanks to traffic, which did not do much to calm my nerves. I showed up at the Sony lot five minutes late and ran into a group of people wearing black with long hair and tattoos just inside the gate–and I mean RAN, because Kat and I were sprinting through the parking garage. “Rock & Roll Jeopardy?” “Yup.” It was a group of about 40 people, some of whom looked really cocky. Kat was with me just to help me find the group, or so she thought–now she’s shuffling through the Sony lot with the rest of us.

Naturally the destination was at the opposite end of the lot. We went into the Jeopardy soundstage–the real Alex Trebek one, with the wood paneling and plate glass logo. Everybody filed into the audience chairs, including Kat, who, like the others there for “moral support,” was invited (almost scolded) to take the test. The vibe was really loose–Maggie and Tony, the contestant coordinators, looked like ex-hippies. I know they were ex-Wheel of Fortune, at least. Lots of jokes were told (some about how good Mark McGrath is on the celebrity shows, others about how bad Joe Walsh is) intended to loosen people up and it worked.

While the process was explained, we were told to fill out green sheets with all that fun personal info, like any cool/amusing/rock and roll stories you have. I have plenty. I wrote some anecdotes on my Handpring before I got there because I knew I would be nervous and probably forget them all. As it was, even with them written down, I forgot to mention one or two that might be good fodder if I get on the show. But that’s not exactly certain yet anyway, so I worry more about the test.

The first hurdle–well, the first hurdle is really getting an audition slot. They only audition twice a year, apparently, and April is the last one for 2001. Blow it here and you have to wait until January. The second hurdle is even more important: A 25-question written test. The Jeopardy answers are displayed on big monitors; you have eight seconds to write down an answer (not, in this case, in a form of a question–the written test is just raw knowledge) and they ask that you not write notes to yourself to go back later, because you can’t do that on the show. Funny, because the advice I was given by two people who took it previously was to do exactly that. I figure, okay, I’ll play it their way. But really, if you don’t know it by the time you get in there and you have eight whole seconds to think about it (which is what the first person to buzz in gets), chances are you don’t know it anyway. My biggest fear was not being able to recall simple facts and titles and stuff–not that I wouldn’t know the answers, but that I wouldn’t be able to give them under pressure. The week before, I was unable to come up with “You Oughta Know” as the title of Alanis’ hit when given the first lyric line, even though I knew it–so most of my stress revolved around that and the mere hassle of traveling, which I just absolutely hate.

Twenty-five questions later (including stuff about Billy Idol, Barbra Streisand, U2, and Dr. Dre–no Beatles?!) we hand in our papers. Kat turns to me and says she did lousy–but hey, she got to try, and that’s cool, since most people never even get to do that. Someone behind me who had taken the test before said if you miss more than five, you fail. Making a quick mental count I know I blew at least three questions (Beach Boys, Carole Bayer Sager, and one of my least favorite rip-off artists, Oasis) but the other 22 I honestly think I got right. Ten minutes later, the coordinators come back and announce that more people passed than normal and start calling names of people to stay. I was #11. And out of the 40 people, only 16 people passed the test at all. That’s more than normal? In any case, most of the people who looked cocky on the way in were tucking their free souvenir Jeopardy ball-point pens away and leaving just 30 minutes later.

At this point I’m thrilled. Going on the show would be nice but all I really cared about deep down was whether I was good enough to get on the show. I’ll take this test as a firm “yes, you are hereby officially recognized as knowing too much useless crap about pop music” and be happy to scare people away from trivia showdowns for the rest of my life. The written test was the big unknown, the hardest part for me, and I beat it, so I’m ecstatic.

Kat is thrilled for me too, but she left and I was herded over to the other side of the audience and given another form to fill out asking some more of the same personality stuff, only now it’s got the serious questions too. What’s your Social Security number? What’s your full legal name? Which of the four dates would you not be available to tape? One guy announced that he was unavailable for all of them–and it turns out this is the second time he’s made it this far only to have the same schedule conflict thing happen. So he left, and it was down to 15. Luckily I have no social life and therefore no conflicts.

Maggie and Tony told us one bit of surprise news. You know how the most you can win is $5000 plus a $1000 Sony shopping spree on Rock & Roll Jeopardy, whereas “real” Jeopardy gives the champ as much cash as they earn in the game? This year, the cap is gone and it’s the same deal as the regular show. As they said, “Take Sony and VH1 for all the money you can–it doesn’t come out of our paychecks.” Someone has already won $20,000 this season. Needless to say, everybody was kind of excited to hear that–nobody expected to get more than six grand on the show, but now everybody’s seeing dollar signs.

Maggie says they want people to be themselves, but louder. This is the part I feel I can do pretty well. And really, being on TV and acting like you’re having fun is not something I’m worried about. I figure, okay, you’re smart enough to know the content–but what they want to see for stage three is if you can give them good TV. Be loud, energetic, fast, interesting to watch, and look like you’re having fun. It is, after all, a game. As the first group goes up to play a fake game, there’s a guy with a clipboard taking notes, and I’m almost sure this is the kind of stuff he’s writing down. Do they look like they belong here? Are they having fun?

Another thing is a little more basic: Knowing how to play the game and respecting its rules. Even here, in front of the very people who decide who goes on the show and who doesn’t, people are not answering in the form of a question. That’s, like, the only rule of Jeopardy. Do they give you the touchdown anyway if you run the ball to the wrong end zone? Maggie also reminds people to pay attention to clues in the category titles (an AC/DC song in the category Rhyme Time is not going to be “You Shook Me All Night Long”–it’s either “Back in Black” or “Hell’s Bells”) and to answer with the information being requested–if the screen says “Sunday Bloody Sunday was a track on this album,” don’t say “U2.” Lots of people screw that up, apparently. Also, they say, when you get an answer right, quickly pick another category. They don’t want you standing there going “Uhh…” like you’re looking in an open refrigerator, but again, some people do it right in front of me at the audition anyway. If you’re too nervous here, what will you do when lights are on and cameras roll?

We’re asked to make up our own dollar amounts in the practice. Just call out a number, they say–but make it a number you would hear on the show. That’s $100 through $500 in even hundreds, then $600, $800, and $1000. Not “one meeellion dollars,” not “$475.” People have done it, they say, and it’s not funny. I think it also shows that you’re more interested in being a wise-ass than respecting the show. You want to be memorable to these people for all the right reasons.

The test game was almost like what you’d find if your high school teacher decided to use Jeopardy games in class to help you study for a test. A folding table, laser-printed questions in little plastic sleeves and a homemade box with three buzzers and three light bulbs. Buzzing in is important–too early and you’re locked out for a split-second (wait for the host to finish speaking, and a white light will go on to signal that it’s time to ring in), too late and you lose to someone else. With videogame reflexes, this should be easy, right? Sorta…some other guy during my session kept ringing in early and they let him go anyway. Still, anybody who does anything wrong gets humorously scolded, so I toe the line. By the time it’s over, I’ve actually been complemented a few times for speed, buzzing, and projecting my voice. Oh, and all the questions I attempted, I got right. That doesn’t matter to anybody but me, of course, but I think I did a good job of showing that I can play the game by the rules and not show how incredibly nervous I am doing it (and make no mistake–I was still incredibly nervous at this point). After we’re done, they do a quick meet-the-players round, again to find out if you can handle the 30-second Q&A with Jeff Probst, the host (he was not there). The other two people have mediocre stories and boring jobs. I’m a cartoon character that plays video games for a living and I just wrote a book. I didn’t even get to my Van Halen anecdotes (and Jeff’s a VH fan, so…).

Once everybody’s done, we’re told we get yet another written test–or three! They’re considering special episodes based on 80s, 90s, and heavy metal, and they want to see if they have people who could handle those topics. Everybody in the group wants to take the 80s test, half want the metal test, and almost nobody wants the 90s. I took all three (and these, they warn, are harder but won’t make a difference as to our earlier performance, it’s just more information for them to see if the idea is popular or feasible) and only did well on the 80s test. I took the other two for fun but wrote “please don’t pick me for this” at the bottom.

So that’s where I am now. It took three hours and I should hear this week if I get picked. They tape five shows a day (including the celeb games) on four non-consecutive days in May, all of which are before E3 (the last is the May 15). The earliest is this coming Friday, May 4, so I may be back in L.A. within the week. We’ll see…

Oh, and here’s a few questions from the 25-question test, which I’m paraphrasing, based on whatever Kat and I can remember:

Hurry up and tell me the name of this disco dance craze, which also had a “Latin” version.

The title of this Beach Boys song precedes the line “Everything will turn out alright.”

You shouldn’t feel sorry for knowing that Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb recorded this song, featuring the line “Our love, we’ll climb any mountain, near or far.”

If I could save time in a bottle, I’d tell him not to board that fatal plane in September of 1973.

5. RAP
This former member of N.W.A. went on to become a noted record producer.

No Doubt first hit the charts with this single from their 1995 album “Tragic Kingdom.”

When John Entwistle joined this band in 1962, they were still known as The Detours.

“Early morning, April 4, a shot rings out in the Memphis sky”


1. The Hustle
2. Baby Don’t Worry (got it wrong)
3. “Guilty” (got it right thanks to Sierra’s Backstage Pass CD-ROM game)
4. Jim Croce
5. Dr. Dre
6. “Just a Girl”
7. The Who
8. “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”

So, back to 2012. Did I get on the show? No. I was not in LA, and I think that had something to do with it — they don’t want to pay travel if they don’t have to, you know? This is why game shows often introduce people as “originally from Trenton NJ” because now they are living in LA. Since they were taping a week before E3, I could have told them “I’ll be in town” and that might have improved my chances, but stupidly I didn’t offer that. And now the show is off the air, and I like Probst and all, but I don’t want to go on Survivor to meet him.

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