The question is: “What is it like being on Jeopardy?” Helen Juvonen has the answer. She recently appeared on the popular general knowledge game show and won $58,202.
Last March she took the Jeopardy online test and was invited to audition in New York in June. There she met another 40 hopefuls, did more tests, and took part in mock games and personality interviews. At any time there is pool of up to 3,000 contestants, although only 400 are invited each year to be on the show.
The call came in September. She flew to Los Angeles with her partner Tyler Seguin. Contestants cover all their own expenses, but are guaranteed $1,000 which helps to defray costs. Most of them stay in the same hotel and the show sends a shuttle bus to transport them to the studio. They take along three sets of clothing in case they appear on several shows.
Five shows are filmed on the same day with a 15-minute break between, while the last winner and Alex Trebek change their outfits. Six games are prepared. Five of these games and the contestants are chosen at random at the last minute. Trebek does not meet the players until the show begins. While they wait, contestants practise getting the timing down pat and releasing the buzzer. The buzzer does not work until Alex has finished the question.
As she waited to be called, Helen heard topics that she could have answered on Canadian geography, Shakespeare, and the theatre. She tried to prepare by studying US presidents and state capitals. She trained her brain to stay focussed, listen to key words in the clues, and get the answers quickly. Because of her acting skills, Helen appeared calm on screen, but she recalled being extremely stressed and “never so nervous in my life.” She was gripping the podium with one hand and the buzzer with the other.
After Jeopardy’s first commercial break, Alex Trebek asks the players about themselves. Earlier they have prepared a list of interesting facts, and the producers pick two or three to rehearse with them. Alex asked Helen about her recent performance at a theatre in his home town of Sudbury.
One of the hardest decisions is deciding how much to wager in Final Jeopardy. Helen was hoping to cover the cost of the trip, but at this point in her first game she had $20,401, a lot of money to risk. She asked herself if she wanted to be the person who could have won but didn’t wager enough. The category was characters in the opening lines of 19th century novels, and she bet $20,400. She almost blew it, but came up at the last minute with the correct answer , ‘What is Dracula?’, and increased her winnings to $40,801.
In the second contest, the Final Jeopardy question was on military slogans and she added $16,401 with the response “What is A Few Good Men.”
After this show, she and Tyler flew back to Toronto, and a week later returned to Los Angeles for the third contest. With two cross continental flights in one week, and insufficient sleep, she was tired and not as sharp and focussed as before. She could not ring in fast enough or pull up the answers. She lost that game.
The shows were filmed in October and shown on television on Jan. 17, 18 and 21. The contestants sign a contract that they will not reveal the outcome to anyone before the broadcast. It takes four months to receive the prize money. There is a seven percent California tax deducted, and for Helen a 30 per cent non-residents withholding tax, which she has been told she will be able to claim back. She will use her winnings to replace her car, take a holiday and pay down the mortgage on her house in the Danforth and Main area.
She is now on two lists in the Jeopardy Hall of Fame – on the highest one day totals list, and the over $50,000 list. She believes she has the highest one day total of any Canadian.
She is still watching Jeopardy, but nowadays she is more relaxed about it. People tell her she has lived their dream.