Brigham Young University has a history with “Jeopardy” — BYU graduate Ken Jennings holds the record for the longest “Jeopardy” streak at 74 games, and the school itself was featured as a clue on last year’s college challenge.
Monday, June 26, two more BYU attendees — one an alumna, the other a current student — will compete for their chance to win cash prizes and be recognized as Utah’s new reigning trivia masters.
Pleasant Grove resident Elisabeth Larsen and BYU senior Brandon Randall are set to face off against Friday’s winner on KJZZ Salt Lake City at 6:30 p.m.
The audition process
The “Jeopardy” audition process consists of three knowledge tests, one mock interview and a lot of waiting.
First, contestant-hopefuls take an online test, which is offered twice a year. Larsen took the test three times before producers contacted her, and Randall took it five times — twice for “Jeopardy’s” teen challenge, twice for the college challenge and finally as an adult contestant. The test consists of 50 questions in 50 different categories and takes about 12 minutes to complete. Contestants who get enough correct answers (generally at least 35 out of 50) are entered into a pool to be selected for an in-person audition.
At the in-person auditions, contestants take another computer test before participating in a mock “Jeopardy” game. They also practice answering the types of interview questions host Alex Trebek might ask on the show. People who do well in the in-person audition are entered into a pool of competition candidates for a period of 18 months, after which they can re-audition if they weren’t selected to appear on television.
The phone call
“I’ve watched ‘Jeopardy’ ever since I was a little girl and I was just delighted,” Larsen said. “I saw that I had a phone call from Southern California and I was really hoping it was them, but I didn’t want to press my luck. But when they called and said, ‘This is from “Jeopardy,”’ I was jumping, I was so excited.”
Randall got his phone call at a rather inconvenient time.
“I was in class when they called me,” he said. “I was in a choir rehearsal, and right afterward I checked the phone and I thought, ‘Oh, it might be them.’ I always look for the area code and when I saw it said ‘Culver City, (California)’ I was just freaking out. I didn’t, you know, scream or anything on the phone, but I was really excited."
“Pretty much every spare minute I had, I practiced,” Larsen said. “There are a few topics that come up on 'Jeopardy' pretty often. Things like American presidents, geography I made myself piles of flashcards on topics I thought were going to come up a lot.”
Larsen also used online resources like J! Archive, a website that stores the questions and answers of almost every “Jeopardy” game since 1984.
Randall’s study habits didn’t change much before the show. As a student, he found it difficult to study much more than what he was already learning in his classes.
“I just kind of did what I usually do,” Randall said. “I’ve always been really interested in learning random things. I look at Wikipedia all the time. And just trying to pay attention in class, too. I sometimes wrote on the sides of my notes in classes, ‘This could be good for Jeopardy!’”
Like any television show, “Jeopardy” has its share of bloopers that television viewers will never see.
“Sometimes they have to pause the show because a contestant misspeaks and asks for a clue that isn’t on the board anymore,” Larsen said. “Or if Alex Trebek ever mispronounces something, they’ll have him re-tape the audio during the commercial break so that when you see the show, you’ll never hear that.”
Taping, Larsen said, takes about as long as it takes to watch the show on television. In other words, it’s not very long at all.
“It goes so fast,” she said. “But we met there really early in the morning, and then we had a few hours of talking to the contestants and practice before we ever started filming.”
“It was really surreal, for sure,” he said. “I’ve been watching the show since then, and I’m like, ‘I was there! I was doing that.’ It flies by really quickly. I’ve heard from a lot of people who have been on the show that it goes by in a blur and I thought that maybe it wouldn’t for me, but then I go down there and the adrenaline kicks in.”
“The first time you meet him is when you’re standing at your podiums and he walks onstage,” Larsen said. “It’s so cool! You’re just like, ‘Oh my goodness, I am really here. This is really ‘Jeopardy’ and that is really Alex Trebek.’”
Randall said the contestants didn’t get to interact much with Trebek, but that the host was incredibly friendly and humorous during the taping.
“In between the commercial breaks, Alex Trebek answers questions from the audience and he is really funny. He has a really quick wit.”
A fun experience
“The (producers) make the whole experience really fun for the contestants and really fun for the audience members, too,” Larsen said. “They had prizes for the audience members. I had been thinking that we’d be so nervous that it would be a scary experience, but you’re not nervous anymore because they’ve done such a good job of getting you ready for it.”