Michael Patrick Brady


Well, That Was Fun…
My Jeopardy! Experience

April 24, 2015

Is there some way I can make this animated GIF my business card?

I didn’t realize I was on camera when removing my glasses, but I like the effect. I’m nearsighted, but I usually only wear my glasses to drive at night. At the Jeopardy! audition, the first thing I asked was, “How far away is the board from the contestants?” At home, I’m able to answer quickly because I can read through the question quickly, and I worried I wouldn’t be able to do that on stage.

It turns out the board is fairly legible from the podiums, but I was still anxious enough about it that I left my glasses on during the game. I wanted to take them off for the photo with Alex Trebek, but he snuck up behind me before I could. At the end of the game, when I was sure that I won, I didn’t want them in the celebratory shot. Just a little game show vanity. And after the win, I was comfortable enough to leave them off in games two and three.


The morning of the taping, the other contestants and I gathered in the hotel lobby to wait for the shuttle to Sony Studios. Everyone was excited, and the mood was jovial. Then Alex Schraff, who I faced in my second game, arrived.

Alex had been at the previous day’s taping. He was supposed to play on that day, except Alex Jacob had swept all five games, and they won’t allow two people with the same name to face off against one another. I can’t imagine how frustrating that must have been for him.

Alex S. told us all about Alex J. That he was a six-day champion. That his buzzer timing was impeccable. That he’d won over $100,000 dollars. That he’d bet big on Daily Doubles and pull it off. The mood among the group darkened considerably. Interestingly, I didn’t even notice when Alex Jacob joined us—I didn’t see him until he got out of the shuttle at the studio. He was listening to his iPhone and was wearing a bright red shirt that he’d had to buy the night before. He’d run out of new outfits. The new shirt still had the creases in it from where it was folded for display.

On the ride over, I sat next to Rachel Pepe, who I faced in my first game. We talked about our training—both of us had used the J-Archive to study. Interestingly, though I’d spent an inordinate amount of time drilling myself on opera, U.S. presidents, and state and world capitals, only one question across my three games related to something I had learned from studying: that Sucre is one of the two capitals of Bolivia. So studying the J-Archive in the weeks before the show gave me just as much of an advantage as watching Animaniacs as a child did.

In Alex Jacob’s last game, he hit true a Daily Double with the answer “Blomfontein,” one of the three capitals of South Africa. That’s also something I had picked up from the J-Archive. When the question came up, Greg Seroka (who defeated me in my last game) and I both shook our heads because we knew Alex would get it. Nobody wanted to face him, and thankfully Todd Lovell took care of that for us.

On Stage

I was really unhappy with the categories in the first round of game one. Hodgepodge? Come on. That discomfort, along with general jitters, threw me off a bit. Thankfully, Todd and Rachel seemed to have just as much trouble as I did, and the first round was a bit of a bloodbath. Low scores all around.

But in the break between round one and Double Jeopardy, when I saw how close we all were still, it calmed me down. Also, the fact that my Jeopardy experience was (potentially) half over in what seemed to me like seconds helped me refocus. For whatever reason, I felt in that moment that I was going to win.

Daily Doubles

If you had asked me before the shows aired on TV how I had done with Daily Doubles, I would’ve told you I got more wrong than I got right. In my memory, I missed four or five, and hit maybe two or three. So imagine my surprise now, having seen the episodes, that I went four for eight. The speed of the games and the general excitement really make it hard to remember anything accurately.

I’d psyched myself up going in to bet big on Daily Doubles; everything I’d read said it was the right strategy, and obviously Alex Jacob was case in point. But when I got on stage and the scores were so close and the categories were so random seeming, I got conservative.

In Game 1, yes, I was thinking of The Usual Suspects when I said Quartet for the Skokie, Illinois company. It was a wild guess, and I had no expectation that it would be even close to correct. When I bet $2,001 on the Spanish Daily Double, I got the answer right (“Franco”), but the math wrong. I though the bet would give me just over twice Rachel’s score, but I was off.

In Game 2, my J-Archive studying worked against me on the Bach Daily Double. With the category, “Dedications,” I simply couldn’t dislodge The Goldberg Variations from my head, even though I knew they wanted a city. Alex Trebek was right to scold me for missing Brandenburg. Should’ve been a lay-up.

In Game 3, there was no hope for me on the “Nonfiction” Daily Double. Carl’s Jr. is just not something we have in Massachusetts. Thwarted by regionalism!

And I know my small bet on the “Calendars” Daily Double has been controversial on JBoard, but I have to stand by it. That category had been all over the place, and I didn’t feel comfortable going big and potentially knocking myself out of contention in Final Jeopardy. I had no reason to believe the Daily Double would be so easy. I decided I’d take my chances and hope the Final category was something that would give me an edge.

The Buzzer

I know it’s a Jeopardy! cliché, but the game really is all about the buzzer. What’s interesting is that the better a player gets at buzzing in, the worse the other players get. For example, when Greg Seroka got on that streak in round one of game three, my buzzer skills deteriorated. Because instead of trying to time my buzzing to Alex’s voice, or the light that tells you it’s alright to buzz in, I started trying to beat Greg at buzzing. So of course, I ended up ringing in too early and getting locked out. Thankfully, I was able to break out of that in Double Jeopardy and get back into play. Alex S. and Ashley Alley basically told me the same thing happened to them during game two, when I got on a streak.

Occasionally, I found myself trying to win the buzzer game and forgetting that I was in a trivia game. At least once, maybe twice, I was excited to have successfully rung in, only to realize I had no answer.

If you ever wondered what players are talking about in the silent chat with Alex that happens beneath the closing credits of the show, they’re talking about the buzzer.

The Categories

Beyond the first round game-one categories, which were dismal, I was disappointed I didn’t get to show off all the great things I’d learned about opera. There weren’t a lot of classic Jeopardy! categories to contend with, and frankly, I think a category like “Airports” is just really lame. But then again, I was blessed to be offered up some real comfortable ones, too: Authors: Born & Died; Plays & Playwrights; Irish Songs; Maps; I’m All About That Bassist. I’ll never get over Greg denying me the chance to run a full category by swooping in and stealing “Spinal Tap!”

Final Jeopardy

I won’t spend much time on game one. The clue was straightforward and the bet was basically predetermined by Rachel’s score.

In game two, I had a lock game already, and was actually disappointed that American Poetry was the category because I know I’m strong on it and would’ve rather had it turn up in a competitive game where I needed it. I could’ve bet $3,999 safely, but my conservative nature took over. $3,999 in the hand is worth an extra $3,999 in the bush. Rather than risk losing $3,999, I bet a buck and moved on.

Game three, I also thought this bet was pretty straightforward, but some people seem confused. Basically, I knew that in order to win, Greg had to get the question wrong. If he got it right, he had enough money to cover me if I bet everything. He had to make that bet. And if he got it wrong, I didn’t really need to do anything, because his bet to cover me would lose him enough money that I’d be on top. So I bet a little just in case he got skittish about the category, but not enough to put me in danger of missing if he lost. The J-Archive wagering calculator basically predicts our bets, based off of our scores at that time.

Maybe you wouldn’t have done it that way. At the time, it’s what felt right.

The Experience

The best part of the whole thing (aside from the money and the minor fame) was how nice everyone was. The other contestants were so great, and everyone is so excited to be there. It takes a lot just to get on the show; it’s an achievement in and of itself. And while it’s great to win, it’s hard knowing that two other people are going home disappointed. The contestant coordinators and the rest of the staff on Jeopardy! were incredible, and really made you feel like you were part of something special. And Alex Trebek was incredibly friendly and approachable. It was fun to see him interact with the audience during the commercial breaks, too.

In the first game, you can see I’m nervous. But after I won, I loosened up so much. You can see how much fun I’m having in the second game. And when I lost to Greg, I wasn’t even upset. He played a great game, and I’d kept it competitive. I was happy for Greg! He just got to fulfill his dream, just like I had. I was thrilled that I’d gotten all three Final Jeopardy clues correct—it was probably my biggest concern going in. As I left the stage, I shook Alex’s hand and told him that the whole thing had been a dream come true. It really was.

Post Script: The Accent

This is a subject I’ve addressed in another post, “Regarding the Accent.” Most people have been very kind about it, and a few are suspicious of how genuine my way of speaking is. I can only assure you that it is, and hope that the contents of the other post can serve to put it in the proper context. And anyway, who would fake such a thing? I’m not sure what advantage it would provide. I mean, in the Vine below, I think it’s clear that I was just speaking off the top of my head. I was getting ready to clarify myself, cause Alex’s confusion was so apparent.

I was glad that Alex seemed to enjoy it, and I don’t mind a little gentle ribbing. I like my accent, weird as it may be.

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