The Westin Hotel downtown is hardly intimidating on its own, but when you're gathered in a conference room full of 20 smart people — at least smart enough to pass the online Jeopardy test — nerves may start to go.
These hopefuls were randomly chosen to audition for Jeopardy in Memphis after passing an online test. Then they had a long wait before the live audition. After they go through the audition process, 18 months will pass before they'll find out if they've made the cut to be on the television show.
They aren't all from Memphis. In fact, most of the people in the group I'm placed in are from Alabama, South Carolina, and Louisiana. There was only one Memphian in my group, but there were many other locals who tried out over the two days of casting.
I tried out for the sake of a news story with no real hope of making it onto the show.
The first task was to complete a written test with 50 questions, similar to the test contestant candidates took online, according to the show's producers. The questions were difficult and specific in true Jeopardy fashion.
There were so many arts-based questions that a fine arts course in college suddenly sounded appealing to me. Contestants aren't told whether they passed or failed the test, and no scores were given out.
This is because, as the producers pointed out, the first thing qualified contestants would ask each other as soon as they met would be, "What did you get on the test?"
After the written test, we competed in a mock game of Jeopardy, complete with buzzers and a projection screen set up in the familiar format. Just like in the show, three people take turns asking for a category. The clue was read, and we battled to be the first to buzz in.
A clue was read from the "Who Made It" category — answer: "Internet Explorer." I know this one.
"Micro — I mean, who is Microsoft?" I answer, remembering to phrase the answer in the form of a question. Even though we were prepped on that beforehand, it's much harder to remember in the moment. What you think you may know deep down actually becomes a struggle to get out.
Janice Ingram, the lone Memphian in my group, is originally from the city but currently lives in Lakeland. She's a retired graphic designer, but now she sits on the board of directors for the Tennessee Genealogical Society.
"I try out every time they come," Ingram said. "This is not my first time. I love the show. I've been watching it since I was in college, since the days of [original host] Art Fleming. I know a little about a lot of different things. I have a sister who lives in Wisconsin, and we play every day over the phone."
Many others who auditioned alongside Ingram were also on their second, third, or fifth tries. Some traveled for miles just to have a shot on the show, but Ingram isn't looking for that glory anymore.
"I don't actually want to get on the show anymore," Ingram said. "I used to really want it, but now I just do it for the fun of it. I'd be too scared to be on it, I think."
If she did get on the show, Ingram mused, she would use the money to travel.