We here in the Globe newsroom are big “Jeopardy!” fans. And let’s face it, if you’re reading this story, there’s a good chance you are you, too. So when we heard our own Carrie Blazina had been selected as a contestant, we had lots of questions. Like how do you cram for a show that’s just as apt to ask about hair bands as it is to quiz players on the periodic table? Do you need a buzzer strategy? And what’s the real dirt on Alex Trebek? Blazina, a Globe copy editor who will appear on Thursday night’s episode, sat down with us after she returned from taping.
Turns out she tried out for the show a full year ago. When she never heard back, she assumed she’d been passed over, until one day this fall when she got a call at her desk telling her she’d been selected to fly out to California. There’s a lot she’s not yet allowed to share about her experience — namely whether she won. But she let us in on a few secrets ahead of the episode.
We know there’s a lot you cannot tell us, so let’s start there. What can’t you reveal about the experience before the show airs, even if we beg and plead?
I can’t tell you the outcome — did I win or lose. I can’t talk about the clues. And for some reason I can’t tell you what the story was that I told Alex when he chats with each of the contestants.
How did you go about studying up for the show? Were you madly studying the Periodic Table of Elements? Memorizing lists?
Well, for starters, I went to pub trivia more often than usual. And I began doing a lot of online quizzes. There is a free site called Sporcle that I thought was totally helpful with those. I also ended up downloading a flashcard app, which I used in particular to try and memorize things like world capitals. That was an area that I knew I was not particularly strong in, so I thought, OK I have to get at least a large number of these down because that’s something it seems to come up on the show a lot. I also studied up on the Bible and Shakespeare and opera. They ask a lot about opera and I know nothing about opera.
Let’s jump to the big day. Tell us how filming works: Are multiple shows taped at once? And how did you know what to wear?
The taping is Tuesdays and Wednesdays for pretty much an entire day. They tape five shows in those two days and take breaks in between, so Alex can keep changing his clothes and the returning champion can, too. They have you bring multiple outfits for that reason, by the way. In my case, my episode is airing Dec. 20 and they pointed out that would be winter for most of the country, so we might want to wear something wintry.
So once you’re camera ready and on set, what next?
Basically they pick names off a stack of index cards when you get there to determine who will be on each episode. They do a good job giving you rehearsal time. Everyone gets to try out the microphone, try out the buzzer, answer some questions. They really work to keep it casual and make sure you’re comfortable on the set and generally not overly stressed. My natural state at all times is to be stressed, especially appearing on national TV, but they were great.
Speaking of stress, what was your biggest fear when Trebek walked out and they started filming for real?
My biggest fear was that I would give a really stupid answer and I would regret it forever. I didn’t particularly care whether I won or not, I just didn’t want to go down in internet infamy. And I can say this: I actually did give some really dumb answers during the rehearsals and I thought that was going to throw me totally off my game. I can’t say whether it did. But you have to remember when the time comes, that was just rehearsal and now this is the real thing. Nothing that happened before matters. Just go for it.
Once the game begins, what’s something that would surprise viewers at home about the set up?
I thought the board was going to be really far away because they tell you, “Bring your glasses, bring your contacts, anything you might need to see at a distance because you have to be able to read the board.” You don’t have the question written on your own screen, only on the board itself. I kept thinking “Oh my god, how far away is this board going to be?” Because it looks really far on TV. In reality, I would say the board is approximately 10 feet away. It looks much further, but it’s not.
Tell us about your whole buzzer strategy. And what’s up with those contestants you see furiously clicking their signal?
When I was preparing for the show, I would watch episodes with a clickable ballpoint pen in my hand and click it to try and get the buzzer timing right. That was really my only strategy. But on the day you arrive for the show, they tell you that you can’t ring in until the question lights up on the board. If you do, you get locked out for a quarter of a second. That can be a long time when you consider that your competitors are also trying to ring in. And you don’t want to be in a situation where you know the answer, but you just rang in too early and now you’re trying to get unlocked.
And tell us about Alex. Fatherly soul or egomaniac?
You get very limited interaction with him. The only time you see him is when you’re standing in the podium and he walks out on stage to take his spot, just like on TV. He was extremely nice, in my experience, full of dad jokes. He was just sort of a weird old dad type, in the most wonderful way possible.
Since we can’t yet talk to you about the outcome, any advice to us couch potatoes who daydream of trying out?
Go for it. There’s no reason not to take the online test. You never know.
Find out where to watch ‘Jeopardy!’ here.This interview has been edited and condensed. Cynthia Needham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cynthianeedham.