Scores of Yale students stepped out in the unflagging New Haven rain Tuesday to take a test that could determine their future. Not the LSATs or the MCATs. Not even an ordinary Yale midterm. It was, instead, the “JEOPARDY!” contestant pretest.
The “JEOPARDY!” brain bus had arrived.
The pretest was conducted in a steamy tent in Beinecke Plaza, the first phase of a three-part selection process. Those who passed the pretest were invited to a 50-question exam session later in the day in Woolsey Hall. Then, those who passed the second stage advanced to a mock “JEOPARDY!” game, where the contestant coordinator, Maggie Speak, tested contestants for their personality and game-playing ability.
Yale’s representative in the “JEOPARDY!” College Championship will be announced this morning, and the championship will be taped at Yale Oct. 3 and Oct. 4. The winner of the contest will receive a Volvo, a specially designed trophy and a cash prize of at least $50,000.
Despite the persistent rain, students arrived in good spirits and waited in line under the protective roof of Commons. Although many students tried out on a whim, others had particular motivations for auditioning for the award-winning game show.
“I watched ‘JEOPARDY!’ every night with my grandmother,” Jeohn Favors ’05 said. “I’d be doing her an injustice if I didn’t try out.”
Eric Eagan ’04 had another family connection — his sister competed in the regular version of the show.
“I’m not out to avenge her,” Eagan said. “[But if I had told her I was auditioning] she’d probably feign disinterest in the whole thing. She’s sort of bitter that she lost.”
Some waited in line without trying out, while others waited without even knowing why.
“I’m not even sure if I want to be on the TV show, ironically enough,” Carolyn Zabrycki ’04 said.
Speak said the show is looking for a student who can both answer the questions and play the game well. She added that the ideal contestant can keep the game moving along and have fun at the same time.
“[College students] are different than adults because when the adults look at the money on the board, they’re looking at mortgages,” Speak said. “Students want to make a good appearance. They take the onus off the game.”
Approximately 150 students advanced to the second round, while only 40 moved on to the finals.
Dennis Hong ’05 was among the few who advanced. Hong, a professed “trivia buff,” said he was surprised at having passed the pretest and could hardly control his excitement.
“I took this test and didn’t think I did so well,” Hong admitted, “but apparently it was good enough for an audition. I watch the show. I feel like my dream is coming true.”
Jimmy McGuire, a member of the “JEOPARDY!” Clue Crew, said he offers students advice on how to be a good game show contestant.
“You can’t study,” McGuire said. “You either know it or you don’t. But that’s why they call it a ‘clue.’ Sometimes the answer is right in front of you.”
McGuire and another member of the four-member Clue Crew, Sofia Lidskog, performed mock “JEOPARDY!” games in the auditioning tent. Members of the Clue Crew act as “JEOPARDY!” representatives and have a small presence on the show as traveling clue correspondents.
The Yale student who is ultimately selected will compete against 15 other college students from schools such as Rice, Purdue, Wake Forest and Harvard universities. Harvard auditions will be conducted on Thursday.
Speak said the show frequently pits rival schools against each other. Previous college rivalries on the show include Ohio State University against the University of Michigan, and the University of California at Los Angeles against the University of Southern California. This year will be the first time “JEOPARDY!” is filmed on an Ivy League campus.
“I think New Haven is the quintessential college town,” “JEOPARDY!” publicist Jeff Ritter said. “It’s perfect. You have an international college in a really warm community.”
Speak said over the two taping days, contestants do paperwork, prepare funny stories for their on-air interview with host Alex Trebek, sit in makeup and eat a lot of food. She considers herself the “den mother” of the college contestants, many of whom keep in touch with her and each other after taping.
Lauren Yee ’07 did not make it to the second round. She said she knew “JEOPARDY!” was at Yale but did not plan on taking the test until she noticed the line shortening at the end of the auditioning session. She said she was not disappointed upon learning she did not pass and was happy she got a free pen and keychain.
“It’s exciting to be a part of something you see on TV all the time,” she said.