Last November, I decided to make a quick trip out to Los Angeles. I had a few days free on my calendar, an airline voucher I needed to use, and a place to stay with family.
I made my trip to go out and see a taping of “Jeopardy!” Since Alex Trebek announced his cancer diagnosis in March, I felt a desire to go back to Stage 10 on the Sony Pictures Studio lot, where I had appeared on the show nearly 25 years ago, to watch a taping live for the first time in years. My experience didn’t disappoint, but not for the reasons I had expected.
Here I’ll expand on a Twitter thread about the experience, with the Twitter comments in italics.
THREAD: Since I was there for the episode’s taping in November, I want to share a touching story about #AlexTrebek and one of tonight’s @Jeopardy contestants.
Alert for West Coast audiences—spoilers ahead… 1/15
In sum, tonight’s @Jeopardy featured two challengers (Shanu George and Priscilla Drobes) who struggled against the returning champion.
Shanu battled—lost big on some Daily Doubles, and bounced in and out of the red—but got out of the hole in time to stay for Final. 2/15
While watching the episode live, part of me worried that only Victoria, the defending champion, would have money at the end of Double Jeopardy, making her the only contestant to make it to Final Jeopardy. That scenario has happened a couple of times before, but it’s awkward for everyone involved.
But of the two challengers, Priscilla struggled most. I could see the contestant coordinators trying to help her with the signaling button at @Jeopardy’s first commercial—she clearly was having difficulty ringing in. 3/15
Based on the body language, I think she was trying so hard to buzz in that she timed herself out. Quite often, the people who wave their arms up-and-down trying to buzz in lock themselves out—the gesticulating takes up time, and once they eventually depress the buzzer, another contestant has rung in.
Once she did master the signaling button, however, Priscilla struggled with her responses. I’ve seen that happen even with @KenJennings—you try so hard to ring in, and then realize you don’t know the correct response to the clue! 4/15
You could tell Priscilla was nervous—she was shaking while giving her responses—and at a certain point, the tension builds on itself. You start trying to force things, and you just get yourself further in the hole. She was having that kind of night. 5/15
Sitting in the audience, I felt badly for her. I ended up forcing things a bit during one of my own @Jeopardy games, so I know what that feels like up on stage—and it isn’t fun at all. 6/15
I’ve been in her shoes on that stage. I buzzed in on a couple of responses I wasn’t sure about, guessed on my responses, and ended up losing money for those incorrect answers.
Anyway, Priscilla ended up with a sizable negative score at the end of Double @Jeopardy. While Shanu got out of the hole in time to hang around for Final, Priscilla did not. 7/15
The touching moment regarding #AlexTrebek came after Final @Jeopardy. While contestants who finish Double @Jeopardy in the red aren’t on-stage for Final, they’re supposed to come back on stage AFTER Final, for the closing credits. 8/15
I don’t think Priscilla knew this. The producers motioned for her to go back on-stage for the closing credits, and the body language suggested a mix of confusion (“I have to go back up there?”) and shock (“I have to go back up there???”) 9/15
The @Jeopardy closing credits roll, and Veronica (who defended her title, BTW) and Shanu talk politely with Alex. Priscilla just stands there, not really knowing what to do—and probably wishing she were anywhere else in the world than on that stage. 10/15
After the closing credits end, #AlexTrebek goes up to Priscilla and pulls her aside (something not seen on-camera). I will readily admit that I was on the other side of the studio—i.e., well out of earshot—so do not know specifically what they said. 11/15
Watching the footage of last night’s episode, none of this interaction appeared on-camera. Viewers just saw Veronica and Shanu chatting politely with Alex, and Priscilla standing by herself politely, feeling very much out-of-place. The cameras had switched off by the time Alex and Priscilla spoke.
That said, I know that after my last @Jeopardy game, Alex told me not to overthink things, and not to second-guess myself for my mistakes. I did just that, of course—I’m a perfectionist, and it’s in my nature. 12/15
Because I was the only contestant who knew Final Jeopardy, I started to beat myself up while I was still on stage: “If I hadn’t buzzed in on those clues I really didn’t know, I wouldn’t have lost that money—and I could have caught the eventual winner during Final Jeopardy!” I mentioned something like that during the closing credits, and right away Alex chimed in: “You can’t second-guess yourself like that.” It took me years to gain that kind of perspective, but I did—eventually.
But after having watched that interaction between Alex and Priscilla—albeit at a distance—I couldn’t help but think that if a 79-year-old battling pancreatic cancer had told me there are bigger things to worry about than a bad game of @Jeopardy, I would probably listen. 13/15
And after that episode taped on November 12, I couldn’t help but be struck by the way—again, based on my observations at a distance—#AlexTrebek was trying to comfort someone else, even as he fights for his own life. 14/15
I won’t speak for Alex’s thinking—what specifically he said, or why he said it. But as an outside observer, one would think that going through a fight against cancer would make one that much more empathetic towards others. While Alex hasn’t been a contestant, he’s seen and heard enough incidents similar to hers—he served as executive producer of “Jeopardy!” for its first few seasons—to have a sense of what she was going through.
Now that the @Jeopardy episode in question has aired, I can share that story with the world.
I hope you enjoyed it. And I hope it serves as a reminder to us all that it’s never a bad time to bring kindness and compassion into someone else’s life. END
Since I first published this Twitter thread last night, I’ve been struck by the responses. First, so many former “Jeopardy!” contestants took time to read and share their thoughts. As one of them said, it’s like a (very extended) family,which might explain how and why the show has become, and remained, as popular as it has.
Second, many individuals said they felt badly for Priscilla while watching the episode as it aired. It was awkward to watch in the studio as well. Everyone has bad days, but to have it happen in the very public way it did to Priscilla becomes heart-rending for all involved.
A final word: I’m going to donate the proceeds from this article to the Lustgarten Foundation for pancreatic cancer research. I didn’t so much as “write” the above article so much as found myself fortunate enough to witness an incident worth sharing, and had a forum to do so. It seems entirely appropriate to donate the proceeds on behalf of the true participants in the event (Alex and Priscilla) to Alex’s designated charity. And if you enjoyed the story, I hope you’ll do the same.