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Friday, February 18, 2011

A Certain Kind of Fame Eludes Us

Some kids we went to school with dreamt of becoming Michael Jordan when they grew up. For those who dreamt of world domination through music, it was Bono. Kids who thought more about saving the world. . . .well, they wanted to be Bono, too. The Solipsist wanted to grow up to be Frank Spangenberg.

Some of you are nodding your heads in recognition. OK, one of you is nodding your head in recognition.

Frank Spangenberg was a New York City policeman. His bigger claim to fame was the most ridiculous handlebar moustache this side of the OK Corral. And his biggest claim to fame was holding the record for prize-money won on "Jeopardy!" Now this was back when champions had to "retire" after five wins, so Spangenberg's record-setting total was a relatively modest sum-- just over $102,000. But our admiration had little to do with the money; it was the relative ease with which Frank dispatched the competition. He was one of the first of those players who just never seemed to come close to being threatened by the competition. We wanted to follow in his footsteps.

We got our chance in the spring of 1999. "Jeopardy!" held a contestant search in New York. We went down to a fancy Midtown hotel. There, several hundred aspiring contestants milled about, waiting to be called in to take the test.

Yes, the test. It is a point of pride among Jeopardy! afficionados that the contestants actually have to be able to compete intellectually--which probably accounts for the relative unattractiveness of contestants when compared to those of other game shows. Anyone who looks good in a wetsuit can sign up to be locked in a piranha-filled tank. It takes brains to answer questions about French philosophy and things that start with the letter 'B'.

The test consists of 50 "Jeopardy!" style clues (which you do not have to answer in the form of a question). The producers don't tell you how many questions you have to get right (we suspect they just take the top 30 scorers from each group). If you make it past the test, you have an "audition." The screeners assured us that it really didn't matter whether we got the answers right--we only had to be natural and look as though we wouldn't panic on a live TV set. We did our best to remain calm and smile winningly, and, after answering a couple of questions (incorrectly, as we recall), we were thanked for coming in and told that the show would be in touch if and when they wanted us to fly out to LA for a taping. This was in May 1999.

By February 2000, we had completely forgotten this audition.


Image from oddchange.com


  1. More! More! I love watching Jeopardy. I suck at it, but I still love it. My husband (who has a high school education) always blows me outta the water.

  2. What is. . . a blog should not have a "to be continued?"