Behind the Scenes of 'Jeopardy!': An Interview With Champion Pat Antle

04.11.12 29 Comments

As you can probably tell by the number of “Jeopardy!” bloopers we post here, I am a huge fan of the show. I watch it almost every night, shouting out the answers whether I’m with friends or sitting in my living room by myself. I’m easily excitable. Anyway, while I was watching an episode that aired last month, I was overjoyed by the reaction of one contestant upon winning. When I saw a GIF of it pop up in my Twitter feed (via the amazing Dan McQuade), I immediately retweeted it, no doubt adding something very subtle and understated like “OMG BEST EVER YOU GUYS BEST.” I think you can see why:

The next morning, because the Internet is awesome, I got an email from the guy in the GIF, Pat Antle. It turns out he is a fan of UPROXX and Warming Glow, and was very pumped to have seen his reaction make his way to Twitter. We traded a couple emails, and Pat was kind enough to agree to answer a bunch of questions about the show that have been on my mind for years. He was able to provide a lot of perspective and behind the scenes information, and I found the whole thing fascinating. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did:

First of all, let’s talk a little about the audition process to get on the show. I know they do the online test first, but, from there, how did you end up in the studio as an actual contestant?

The first step in the process, an online exam that I took in January 2011, consisted of fifty fill-in-the-blank “clues,” similar in both structure and level of difficulty to those you would see in a “Jeopardy!” round. That April, I got an email that I’d been selected for a May audition in Boston. The in-person audition consisted of three parts — a written test (similar to the online test), a mock half-round of “Jeopardy!” with two other auditioners, and a personality interview (much like “storytime” on the show). I had at least two glaring gaffes during my audition, so didn’t think I had a chance in hell to move on to the actual show. Apparently, however, they needed to fill the once-a-decade “did Bell Biv Devoe choreography during his audition” quota, and I got “the call” in October that I’d be taping in Los Angeles in late November. So the whole process took a little less than a year.

One of my favorite parts of Jeopardy is the segment where Alex Trebek asks the contestants to tell a personal anecdote. These are almost always painfully uncomfortable, and it delights me to no end. You actually managed to tell an interesting story when you were on, about a karate-related mishap. How did you figure out which stories to tell, and what, if any guidance, did the people at the show give you?

When you are selected for the show, you are asked to send five “interesting” stories in with your paperwork. You repeatedly go over those stories with the contestant coordinators in order to flesh out what you might say on camera, improve your delivery, and decide on your preferred story. During the taping, Alex Trebek starts the conversation based on one of the five stories. I repeat — Alex Trebek decides which story will be discussed, on the spot. ON THE SPOT. That is why it is so awkward — you might not be prepared for what he asks. For example, I told two stories, neither of which were my preferred story (Which was a great one about my hairdresser mom being ashamed of my horrible early-90’s mushroom cut after a picture of me appeared in the local paper. I even had the picture — it’s AWFUL.). So you take a group of people who aren’t necessarily the most charismatic, put them in the most nerve-racking situation imaginable, surprise them with unexpected prompts, and get television magic.

Tell me about Trebek. I have theories.

My experiences with Alex Trebek were limited to shaking hands after the games and the on-camera banter you saw on the show. They keep him away from the contestants because they are extraordinarily strict about clue security. He was still on the mend from his ACL surgery, so he mostly stayed at his podium when not doing the contestant interview portion of the show. He chats with the audience during commercial breaks, during which people repeatedly ask him what his favorite food is. He seemed to like me because I was emotional and excited and not afraid to banter a little during interactions, and I appreciated that. Nonetheless, it still feels like a punch to the gut when you get one wrong and hear the snarky, “No, sorry”. But that’s what viewers secretly like — put the mutants in their place! As for the mysterious small talk as the credits roll, it’s just the four of you discussing Final Jeopardy and the deductive route that each of you took. For my first game, the interaction was entirely me panting, “I can’t believe I won. Never in a million years…”. In the second game, it was me cursing and saying, “How the hell did I not see that when reading the clue?”, wondering when the camera would turn off so I could go somewhere and cry.

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