Thursday, February 14, 2002

Game Show Me the Money!: Kevin II
Last August, Kevin F. Sherry was a contestant on Jeopardy!. Media Diet previously interviewed Kevin about his experience. This is the rest of his story.

After a day of watching and waiting, I was paired up with Ulhas, the returning champion who had already won two shows and $23,799; and Leslie, who sat next to me in the contestant waiting area the whole day making stupid comments. I secretly hoped that she would be on my show. "Jeopardy!" tapes five shows a day, and we were the last to go.

My palms were sweating so much that I continually wiped them on the felt covering of my podium. We signed in and were ready to go.

In the first round, the categories were U.K. Dependencies, Bobbing for Bobs (all guys named Bob), Art Attack (vandalized artworks), Actors and their Films, Missing Links (Better Than _____ Pound), and Last But Not Least.

Ulhas and I did pretty well to start off. I answered the very first (publishing) response: "Who is Bob Guccione?" By the first commercial break, Ulhas had $1,000, I had $1,300, and Leslie had -$100.

During the chat portion, Alex asked me about the biggest story I had ever covered. I said that it was always cool to watch California wildfires eat up hillsides as airplanes dropped water from the skies.

After that, we went back to the game. Leslie hit the Daily Double, but could not manage to name the only continent without any permanent residents. I went on to hit six correct responses in a row and closed out the Jeopardy! round with $3,600. Ulhas had $1,300 and Leslie had zero.

In Double Jeopardy!, the categories were American Historic Events, Everybody Loves Ray Bradbury, I'm in Charge (they name a leader, we name the country), The Animal Kingdom, Taxi (about the show) and "Cab" (each response would have "cab" somewhere in there).

Again, the battle was between myself and Ulhas. He clicked his buzzer furiously, while I kept mine at my side. I sometimes got into grooves where I buzzed in a millisecond before him. Other times he beat me by the same margin. There were only a few questions total that none of us knew the answer to. Ulhas and I kept switching the lead back and forth as the round drew to a close. I answered a $200 Bradbury question about "The Illustrated Man" correctly (What are tattoos?) and picked the $400 question: "'Dandelion Wine' is based on Bradbury's own childhood in Waukegan in this state." The others stared blankly as I buzzed in with Illinois.

I chose Bradbury for $600, and that turned out to be the last Daily Double of the game. Ulhas led with $7,500, I had $6,600, and Leslie had $1,600. I wanted to bet big enough to take the lead. But there were only a few items left on the board. If I got the response wrong, I didn't want to be out of reach of Ulhas. So I bet $1,500.

"The Fire Man" was the working title of this classic Bradbury novel.

It helped that I once covered a Bradbury speaking event and had him sign my copy of "Fahrenheit 451." If I had known the question would be so easy, I would have bet it all. But I got it right and surged to $8,100. That turned out to be the last question of the round. The buzzer sounded, and I finished $600 ahead of Ulhas going into Final Jeopardy!

The category: Major League Baseball Team Names. I thought: "This will either be really good or really bad." I'm a big baseball fan and didn't want to blow it.

We all wrote our secret bets on our screens. Back from commercial, Alex revealed the answer: "This team received its name after an 1890 incident in which it 'stole' away an important player from another team." Think about that for 30 seconds.

The responses are revealed from lowest score to highest, so Leslie went first. She said: "What are the Pirates?" Correct response. She bet everything and doubled her score to $3,200. Next was Ulhas. He guessed the Red Sox. His bet was $2,500, which dropped him to $5,000. And then me.

My thought process: I saw the 1890 in the question and knew the team had to be old and somewhere in the east. I ran cities up and down in my mind and came up empty. As the 15-second music began, I knew I had to write something. I thought perhaps it was a trick question, that it was an East Coast team that had later moved. The phrase "artful Dodger" was the only one that seemed to fit even remotely, and that's what I wrote. Wrong, of course.

They then reveled my bet: $7,000. That dropped me down to $1,100 and third place. After a big gasp from the audience, Ulhas walked away with his third win.

Why did I bet so much, many people ask? Two reasons. I had watched Ulhas compete in his first two games, so I thought I had a sense of his knowledge base and strategy. In one game he ran an entire sports category by himself. In another, he and an opponent had close scores at the end. Ulhas bet big to win. So I figured Ulhas knows sports and he bets big when the score is close. So I bet enough to beat him if he had doubled his score. Seems I was wrong on both counts.

Some suggested that I should have bet less, at least to secure a second-place finish for myself. But I didn't even think about Leslie until after the music stopped. I realized that there was a possibility that she could win, which would have been an atrocity. And I was going for the win, not second.

Ulhas walked away with the cash. Leslie won a weeklong trip to Thailand. Her comment as we were walking out: "Oh, and I've already been to Thailand." Shut up.

For my efforts, I won a week-long stay at the La Quinta Resort and Spa in La Quinta, Calif, near Palm Springs. I would have preferred something a little farther from where I live, but a free trip is a free trip. They even throw in $200 a day for food and beverages. I have to claim the prize before the end of September 2002.

All of us also received the "Jeopardy!" computer game, a handheld "Jeopardy!" game that I found useless when I was preparing for the show, and a month's subscription to The New York Times, which is a pretty cool thing to have.

Before the contest I thought that I would feel crushed if I did not win at least one show. But after reviewing my performance, I felt pretty good. I answered a ton of questions and didn't get a single one wrong (until the end there). I went head-to-head with Ulhas, who was a great competitor, and Leslie, who was on my left. Ulhas went on to lose his next show. He missed the Final Jeopardy! response: "What is Thailand?"

It was a fun experience, and my weekly hometown newspaper in North Olmsted, Ohio, put a story about me on their front page. It's pretty cool to see your name in the newspaper. I had five fans in the audience to cheer me on, although for Halloween most of them surprised me by dressing as pirates. Ha.

That's my show in a very large nutshell. Any other questions, just ask.

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