Jeopardy by
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We enjoyed watching gameshows in our household: “What’s My Line?”, “Truth or Consequences”, “Password”, and a few others, but none captured my heart like “Jeopardy”, the original one with Art Fleming as the host. I’d watch when I was home sick, which wasn’t too often. Still, I really enjoyed that show.

My senior year at Brandeis, Dan and I jointly purchased a black and white TV for my dorm room. I would hang upside down, drying my hair with the original “Jeopardy” on, but I didn’t have time to see Final Jeopardy. I had to get to class. Bummer.

I could often run entire categories: Broadway musicals, movie roles, Shakespeare, song titles; things like that. I’m terrible at geography, not great at sports. Dan and I compliment each other in our knowledge base. I would watch it if I were home with the kids and watch it sporadically once Dan retired. Now we record it and watch it every night.

Back in the early 2000s, we must have watched it a lot. The show was coming to Boston for auditions (long before one could audition on-line). Dan decided that I should try out and put my name in to do just that.

I was summoned to a room at the Sheridan Hotel at the Prudential Center one day in January, 2004, along with more than 100 other people. I was very nervous. We filled out forms before entering the large conference room. We were asked our personal information and to give three anecdotes that Alex Trebek might ask about if we made it on-air. I said that I had met Daniel Day-Lewis at “The Age of Innocence” premiere, that I used to pose for life drawing classes and that I’d been to the Playboy Mansion. I thought those might inspire some repartee.

We all entered, sat at tables and were given a large questionnaire and a very limited amount of time to answer. Helpers in the room gathered our answers and graded them while the producers talked about the mechanics of the show. Then the top twelve names were called; those who had gotten the most answers correct. I was one of them. We were called to the front of the room and, three at a time, came up and competed in a mock competition, “ringing-in” to a staged show to see how lively we were and how we handled ourselves.

I confess, this was just a few weeks after I recovered from my period of mild depression and months of irritable bowel syndrome. I had been unwell for quite sometime and wasn’t my usual vibrant self, so didn’t show my best side. That was part of Dan’s strategy for entering me. He thought it would be good to get me out, and it probably was, but still a bit overwhelming.

We twelve were told that we were in the pool of possible contestants for the 2004 season, and could be called to compete in Hollywood. I never got the call.

I don’t have a photo of myself from that day, but the next month, we visited David at Stanford, and I looked up my childhood next door neighbor, who was the only other person I knew at the time who had gone to Stanford, undergrad, and stayed out in the area. Though seven years older than me, I had always looked up to Lisbeth, so was thrilled that she made the effort to come from Berkeley to Palo Alto to visit me while we were there. I hadn’t seen her since I was a child, but we now stay in touch.

So this is what I looked like at the time of my Jeopardy audition. I even wore that same red turtle neck.

Feb, 2004, with childhood next door neighbor, Lisbeth


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    So sorry that you didn’t quite make the final cut on Jeopardy, Betsy. But, as I mentioned in my own story (one of the few not about Jeopardy), a good lawyer buddy of mine did and he described the whole process of prepping and finally being chosen — not on his first try — as “ten times longer and tougher than studying for the Bar exam.” So the fact that you just walked in — and in far below 100% condition — is truly impressive. Plus, the audition certainly did get you out in the world again. And made for a really good story.

    And thanks for reminding me of Art Fleming. At this point, he could almost be a meta Jeopardy answer: “Who hosted Jeopardy before Alex Trebek?”

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John. As I skimmed the titles of the other stories this morning (before responding to you), there does seem to be a common thread for those who write for Retro, (though we are a self-selecting group).

      Yes, I was an early adopter; Jeopary-watcher before Trebek. I like your meta-answer and I have the question. But Johnny Gilbert, the announcer, now in his 90s, has been along for the whole ride.

  2. I’m disappointed for you that you weren’t selected, Betsy. Having gone through the selection process for other shows (albeit not nearly as rigorous), I can attest to the importance of not just smarts but personality, and equally as important, poise under pressure, dead air being the kiss of death. My sense is you would have been the perfect contestant…even on a bad day!

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Great story, Betsy, and I am also impressed by your Jeopardy prowess. Especially when facing other challenges at the same time. I have spent a certain amount of time calling out answers to the TV, but nothing to rival you. So who is your choice for the next host(ess)???

  4. Marian says:

    I gained a new appreciation for how challenging it is (was) to be on Jeopardy!, and am so bowled over by how well you did. Too bad you didn’t get the final call. Makes me even more impressed with my friend Adriana. She does think quickly on her feet. I test better but am way more deliberative.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Marian. I’m not sure I would have done well, had I gotten the call and now I have really slowed down (between age and migraine medication, known to slow the ability to recall words – it is Topamax, but has the nickname “Dope-amax”; it turns us into dopes). When Dan and I watch, I will know answers, but can’t get them out quickly. Frustrating!

  5. Wow Betsy loved hearing that you almost made the cut as a Jeopardy contestant!

    I love that show and try not to miss it, I often know some of the lit and arts questions, and Danny the history, geography and sports questions, and when our son was still at home he covered the science questions.

    Sometimes we even got final Jeopardy when not one of the three contestants did! Then we really patted ourselves on the back!

  6. I actually flew to several testing sites back in the 90’s. I finally got past the written portion. Then there was mock-up of the show. Three of us with fake buzzers were presented questions. I signaled first on the first question and got it right. Feeling heady, when the second question came I found myself signaling again, without having an answer. The question had to do with waterways in the Middle East and I blurted out, “what is the Dead Sea?”. That was so far from correct that I was then and there yanked and told to scram. If only I had been a bit more cool-headed.

  7. Suzy says:

    Great story, Betsy, and like the others, I am so impressed that you got as far as you did. Too bad the call never came. I bet you would have been a great contestant! Although I understand that timing on the buzzer is as important as knowing the right answers.

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    Too bad you didn’t make the final cut, Betsy, but it was their loss. I think you would have been a great contestant. As you know from my story, I have a long history with that show and am sad about the loss of Alex Trebek.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Laurie. We all miss Alex Trebek. After he died, they rebroadcast his first episodes. It’s amazing how much he grew into his persona. In those first shows, he was much more of a “game show host”, with speedy delivery, higher pitched voice. Really interesting and fun; made me miss him all the more.

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