There are certain things that some editors have in common. The need to obsess over commas and verb tense often carries over into other arenas of life. To wit: if you’re an editor, it’s also likely that you’re a trivia fan, like me. I used to be part of a pub trivia league in Toronto until I switched day jobs and couldn’t get to the host pubs as easily as before.

So perhaps it would be of little surprise to learn that I’ve auditioned for Jeopardy, and not just once, but twice – once in 2009, and again earlier this year (2011) at the end of June.

Talking about Jeopardy is an iron-clad, no-fail icebreaker. I’ve had many, many people ask me about the process. So here goes: a first-person account of what it’s like to audition for Jeopardy. And in case you were wondering, no, I have not met Alex Trebek.

(Also, I know that the official name of the game is “Jeopardy!” but I really don’t like using the exclamation mark in the middle of a sentence next to other punctuation. Here, I’ll refer to the people coordinating the auditions as “Jeopardy” or “the Jeopardy people.”)

Note: This entry was so long I had to break it up into 2 parts. The second part is available here.

Phase 1 – the online test

Jeopardy introduced online auditions a few years ago. I’ve auditioned online twice, and both times the process was the same. The auditions both happened around the end of January to the beginning of February, but you have to register online at the official Jeopardy site before the test to be eligible.

When you register, you provide your identifying information and indicate where you would most like to have your in-person audition take place by selecting the city of your choice from a list. This is not a guarantee that you will be auditioned, but it makes the process much easier if you make the cut.

Unfortunately, the show doesn’t hold auditions in Canada; ultimately, I chose to audition both times in New York City. The drop-down list allows you to choose from about 6 cities. Other choices include Boston and Lexington, Kentucky, as well as a few other names that escape my memory. (Seattle? Boulder? Orlando? Not sure.)

When you register, you also indicate the date and time that you want to take the online test. They normally have 3 nights that they reserve for online tests, with the test starting at a different time on each night to accommodate variations in time zones.

On the night of the test, you have to log onto the Jeopardy site at least 15 minutes before the official start time and then wait for the countdown to finish. (Note: from what I remember, you need to have Flash installed on your computer for everything to work.) Now comes the fun part: answering the questions.

Once the test starts, you are given 50 questions to answer in order on a variety of topics. You only have about 10-15 seconds per question to get your answer, so you have to think fast. Aside from speed, the format is quite open: you can misspell your answers, and you do not need to answer them in the form of a question. Trust me, this test passes quickly, so it’s best to be prepared. The questions cover the bread-and-butter categories of Jeopardy: books, pop culture, geography, mythology, and so forth.

Once you finish all 50 questions, that’s it. And that’s when you run into one of the power issues that’s emblematic of the Jeopardy audition process – your own lack of information.

Literally. Here is a list of things they don’t tell you once you finish the test:

  • They don’t tell you how many questions you got correct at all.
  • They don’t tell you what benchmark you need to pass to be considered for an in-person audition (I’ve heard that you have to get anywhere from 35 to 48 right out of 50 to be considered).
  • They don’t tell you when you’ll be contacted by them should they choose to have you audition in person.

Most importantly, they will contact you for an in-person audition only if you get the minimum number of questions right. If you’re lucky enough to get that far, you enter the next part of the process.

Phase 2 – the call-back

Again, you won’t know that you’ve gotten this far until the Jeopardy people tell you so. Both times that I did my online test, I got a follow-up email of congratulations near the beginning of May. So, in terms of timelines, it’s a 3-month wait.

The glorious we-want-you email from Jeopardy tells you:

  • That you’ve been chosen for an in-person audition in the city of your choice,
  • The date and time of the audition slot you’ve been scheduled for,  and
  • That you need to RSVP within 48 hours with your name, contact information, audition location, and hometown information to confirm the audition.

Both of my auditions were scheduled for the last week of June. So, keeping timelines in mind, it takes you a full 5 months to go from online test to in-person audition.

Jeopardy sends another email before the audition listing the terms and conditions for appearing on the show, and in this email they ask you to write down five interesting facts or stories about yourself. This little fact sheet becomes the basis of the “chatting with Alex” segment that normally happens at right after the end of the first commercial break.

 Next week: Part 2, in which I discuss the in-person audition and your odds of getting on the show.