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Published May 24 2012

Benshoof: Audition could mean picking a category in front of Alex Trebek

CHICAGO - As I held the buzzer in my hand and looked over the screen in front of me, I realized my leg was shaking, almost uncontrollably.

I’m not one to get nervous, but this was bad.

I tried to quell the tick first by standing on the side of my shoe, then just by sheer willpower. But still, my leg trembled.

This was it. The moment I’ve waited 119 days for: My Jeopardy! audition. This was my chance, standing in a Chicago hotel conference room, to prove just what a smarty pants I am, to get on national television and compete for thousands of dollars.

It was my turn to pick a category, trembling leg or not. And the judges were waiting.

“Let’s go ‘Directors’ for $200.”

For me, the official pilgrimage to becoming the next Ken Jennings – the winningest contestant in the game show’s history – started in January when I took the 50-question online test.

You have exactly seven seconds for each question. That’s not a lot of time, and the questions are tough, but I guess that’s the point. Tens of thousands of people take the test when it’s offered every year, and the show’s producers need some way to narrow that number down.

In all, the test takes barely 10 minutes, and then you’re left to catch your breath. Supposedly, you need to correctly answer at least 35 of the 50 questions to have a chance at advancing, but you aren’t actually told how well you did.

So, I hoped, and I waited.

In March, two months after I took the test, my brother Galen actually appeared on the show. After leading going into Final Jeopardy!, he ended up in second place, tripped up by a ridiculous question about Harpo Marx.

A week or two after that, I got an email – I had passed the online test, and was invited to go to Chicago for the official audition.

Of course, I RSVP’ed that minute.

Fast forward to Saturday. After weeks of studying random facts, I had my shot as well.

The first part of the audition consisted of a 50-question written test. This went well, although I embarrassingly and agonizingly bombed what should have been an easy one. Really, who forgets the capital of Sweden? Me, apparently.

Next, I competed against two other contestants in a true Jeopardy!-style match, buzzers and all. Despite my trembling leg, I got a couple right and presented myself well.

Then I was interviewed by the judges, who asked me questions about myself and my background, checking to see if I was personable and enthusiastic enough to appear on national TV.

I like to think my bowtie helped me stand out.

When the two-hour event was all said and done though, there’s no way of actually knowing how I did. If I was deemed to have passed the audition, I’ll apparently be placed in a contestant pool for 18 months.

So, I could get the call to try to better my brother’s appearance in the next year and a half, or, if I didn’t do well enough, I’ll get no call at all.

Either way, as someone who loves his trivia (ask anyone), I certainly had my shot.

And if I’m lucky, perhaps someday I might be picking a category in front of Alex Trebek himself.

“I’ll take ‘Directors’ for $200, Alex.”

I like the sound of that.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535