Home > Life > Saad is a contestant on JEOPARDY! [part 1]

Saad is a contestant on JEOPARDY! [part 1]

(I updated the entry on July 8 to provide more detail about what you don’t get to see on TV.)

The Essentials

What: watch JEOPARDY!

In the 2nd commercial break, everyone gets their photo taken with the man.

Date: Monday, July 12

Time: check your local listings

This blog post [part 1] describes (a) the lead-up to how I ended up being a contestant on Jeopardy! and (b) my experiences at the studio in Los Angeles.  After the show airs on July 12, I will post [part 2] describing my in-game thoughts.  To get the [part 2] post by email, use the link on the right sidebar “Sign up to receive email notification of new posts!”

The Lead-up

Becoming a contestant on Jeopardy! was a happy accident, because I didn’t know the online test even existed until January 2008. I had driven from Nashville to New Mexico for an internship and I was staying with my friend Guillaume while I searched for my own place to stay. His wife, Raea, told us that the online test would be open that time, so I decided to try it with them. All I remember is that the test questions went by quickly. Four months later, I received an automated email inviting me to an audition in Dallas the following month. The timing for the audition was not great, because I was presenting at a conference in Phoenix the day before and would have to fly out very early the day of the audition. Inevitably, I overslept and got to see my plane back away from the gate, but luckily I got on the next plane and was able to grab a quick lunch before getting to the audition site.

There were several parts to the audition. We started by completing interview fact sheets and being photographed with a Polaroid camera by the Jeopardy! staff. Next was another test, this time written. Finally, we stood at the front of the room, three at a time, and played a mock game. In the game portion, I struggled with the buzzer, reaching a point where I just wanted to ring in first. I remember buzzing in at least once with no notion of the correct answer, happy only to get the timing correct. After the game portion, the contestants were interviewed by the staff including one producer, Maggie. I thought I did better on this part (thanks, in big part, to having started Toastmasters three months earlier) but nothing about my game play suggested that I could compete on the actual show. On top of that, I thought I looked frazzled from my travel. I figured that I had no chance of passing this stage. They told us that we would be placed in a contestant pool for 18 months, and if we didn’t hear from them in that time, I inferred that things ended there.

So, 20 months later, in January 2010, I was back from lunch and trying to take a nap on the office futon (remember, I was a grad student at this time). My cell phone resting on my chest started ringing and when I answered the voice at the other end said it’s Glenn from Jeopardy! and I just didn’t believe it. He gave me information on the taping date in L.A. and which hotel to use, and when I still sounded skeptical, he said that he could read me the fact sheet that I’d filled out at my Dallas audition. He read the factoid “started a free food society in college” and I stopped him because he’d proven his point. My taping date was four weeks after this call and again, it was not the best timing. I was working to finish my PhD dissertation and I could not afford major distractions. But seriously, how many times do you get invited to be a Jeopardy! contestant?

In the one-month interval, I tried to fit in studying around my dissertation work. I had played quiz bowl in high school but since then my only involvement with this type of game was the occasional pub trivia in Nashville. I used my old studying method of building lists. Back in high school our coach, Ken Brandt, would give us printed lists with the important names and items starred. I didn’t have those lists but I used Wikipedia to build my own lists, using pages such as Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

At the studio (What you don’t see on tv)

Once in L.A., I reminded myself to not be overawed by the setting. The studio–how else to say it?–is cool! Seeing all the off-screen action that facilitates successfully making an episode–cool! Seeing Trebek in person after all the years of seeing him on the tv set–cool! All the contestants were given extensive time on stage during a rehearsal with a mock game, so by the time you got to play it felt natural being up there. Challengers were drawn at random, and as it turned out, I was not drawn until the last game of the day. In the first few games, the Final Jeopardy questions were on academic topics like Physics and Russian Composers, and I thought, “just watch there be a fluff question in my game.”

What you don’t get to see on tv…

1)  All the contestants are standing on adjustable square platforms.  By moving these, all the contestants appear around the same height on tv.  You have to be careful, if your platform has been raised, to not step back too far or else you’ll fall off completely.

2) For the interview, Trebek is holding a card that lists your hometown, your occupation, and three factoids, selected by the producers from a wider list that you provided beforehand.  In the green room, the producers go over them with you to make sure you don’t say anything controversial. Once you’re up on stage, though, you don’t know which of those five things Trebek will ask about.  I was prepared for all three of my factoids… and of course, Trebek asked me about my occupation of “nanotechnology scientist.”  For you Toastmasters out there… how’s that for being put on the spot with a Table Topic?

3) It takes roughly an hour to film one episode.  All the contestants are asked to bring three changes of clothing.  If you win, you are rushed back to the green room to change outfits.  So when the next game tapes, minutes after your previous game, it appears that you’ve returned the “next night.”

That’s it for this post. In the next one, I’ll describe the experience of being on the stage and playing the game. I will post it after the show airs on July 12. If you want an email reminder, use the link on the right sidebar, “Sign up to receive email notification of new posts!”

[Update: that post is now up!]

Categories: Life Tags:
  1. July 4, 2010 at 10:06 am

    I can’t wait to watch your episode!!! Seriously, so cool.

    • saad a. hasan
      July 4, 2010 at 12:37 pm

      Thanks, Liz! I am sad that I won’t get to watch it right away since it’s not on tv over here.

      • July 13, 2010 at 3:39 pm

        false. you did get to watch it right away 🙂

  2. Danielle
    July 5, 2010 at 7:59 am

    I like the pic…Nice hair!

  3. melissa lemcke
    July 5, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Congrats!!! I will make sure I watch it! It was nice meeting u in LA 🙂

  4. July 6, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    You are so cool, Saad! I’m excited to read your posts. You’re a celebrity!

  5. July 7, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Congratulations on becoming a contestant. My son tried out for teen Jeopardy a few years ago. He rocked the buzzer, but I think got destroyed on the written test. Needless to say, he never made it.

    Can’t wait to watch!

    • saad a. hasan
      July 7, 2010 at 12:19 pm

      Thanks, Kris! I took a look at your blog; the post you wrote about going to college at 18 is interesting to read now that I live in Sweden, where people typically take year(s) off after high school to work or travel, so the typical university student here is mid-20s.

  6. July 9, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    That’s pretty damn cool you got on Jeopardy man! Congrats! That’s a once in a life time experience you can tell your kids and grandkids forever 🙂



    • saad a. hasan
      July 10, 2010 at 9:56 am

      You nailed it, man. By the time I went up to play, I wasn’t concerned about the outcome because just being there and seeing the off-screen magic happen made for an INCREDIBLE story.

  7. July 12, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Saad, I write a blog myself, about Jeopardy! (thejeopardyfan.com) I watched your episode today, and will publish an entry about it tonight.

    • saad a. hasan
      July 12, 2010 at 6:07 pm

      Hi Jeanie,
      I look forward to reading your post. Just fyi- I’ve added the post with my in-game thoughts.


  8. July 12, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Good win! Tough final question too. I thought Portier as well but you got it. Congrats!

    • saad a. hasan
      July 12, 2010 at 6:08 pm

      Thanks! I was thinking Poitier, but… (see new post)

  9. Go MatSci!
    July 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Just saw you rock on night 1. Thanks for getting the word out about the best field out there – MatSci! I bet you do well tomorrow!

    • saad a. hasan
      July 12, 2010 at 6:09 pm

      Haha, thanks! I was put on the spot with that, so I said the first things that came to mind!


  10. Ram
    July 12, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Congrats. I thought it was a tough last question for you and I am glad you pulled it off. Hope you went well beyond the three changes and 3 pairs of clothes:-). Will be back on your blog in 24hrs!

  11. July 15, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Hi saad!!! If you have facebook add me please my email is

    I was looking you into facebook but I found over 500 saad Hassan but I believe you are special and unique!! You are a celebrity!!!! That’s it!!!!! That is what I like about you

  12. Mike
    August 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Hi Saad, I was on holiday in San Francisco watching your performance, I was thoroughly impressed. Good luck on the move to Sweden.

    Mike, from the UK.

  1. July 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm
  2. July 13, 2010 at 4:35 pm
  3. July 19, 2010 at 8:23 am
  4. November 21, 2011 at 6:04 am
  5. December 29, 2011 at 10:20 am
  6. November 30, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: