Alice Ciciora, a researcher who lives in Rosslyn, had taken the Jeopardy qualifying test quite a while ago but wasn’t notified until February that she had been chosen as a Jeopardy contestant. The show wouldn’t be filmed until March so she spent the next month immersed in the Jeopardy website archives, watching a lot of Jeopardy and studying the laminate study guides for subjects like poetry and history. She says preparation is all up to the contestants, and they don’t receive any briefing material or big black notebook full of facts ahead of time.
Ciciora says when she appeared on the show May 26 she was hoping to get a football category or, “I’m pretty good with flags and geography and sports in general.” Ciciora definitely didn’t want the opera category. “Nobody wanted that category. We all called it the dreaded opera category — it was a joke.”
Ciciora flew into Los Angeles on a Wednesday and was at the studio early the next morning, about 7:30 she remembers. “We sat in the Wheel of Fortune Sound Stage located on the same complex as the Jeopardy stage where we were briefed on the rules of Jeopardy for a couple of hours.” For instance, you can’t bet less than $5 on the Daily Double.
As instructed, Ciciora had brought several changes of outfits with her in case she won for several days. “They give you general guidelines of what won’t appear well, too shiny or too busy.” Jeopardy must approve what you have chosen to wear. For her it was her blue-gray sweater. Before appearing on the show the contestants sit in a chair where she says they apply make-up and then you move to another chair so they can fix your hair. She doesn’t remember much about what they did but, “I think if a hair is out of place they comb it back into place and spray a little.”
She says Jeopardy films five episodes a day so the contestants for all five shows sit on the sound stage with the other contestants waiting their turn to be on the show. Then three contestants are randomly selected from the group for each episode. “It has something to do with legal standards of the game.”
She says one of the best parts of the whole experience was sitting there before the show and talking to the other contestants. “We got along very well.” She says, “it isn’t really a competitive atmosphere; people are very supportive of each other.”
It’s 11 a.m. and their time to go for the filming. The three contestants walk to the Jeopardy Sound Stage. Diandra and Jesse line up with Alice behind the podium, buzzers in hand. As is traditional the host of the show, Mayim Bialik, introduces each contestant with an entertaining anecdote from their past. She tells the story of Ciciora who wanted to be a horse. Ciciora’s teacher was worried and called her mom who said, “She’s 4; she’ll figure it out.”
Ciciora says they ask you ahead of time for a couple of ideas for these stories, “and we all know what they like to do.” So each contestant submits some ideas, and Jeopardy decides which one to use. The contestants also get some questions to jog their memories and help the contestants come up with a good idea.
The categories tonight include World Cities, Technology, Quotes, You Just Made That Stuff Up, That’s Adorable. She chooses “That’s Adorable” and identifies a picture of a red panda for $1,200. A little later the Daily Double flashes up and the question is about a distinctive part of a sloth. She answers “what is a toe?”
“No,” says Bialik. “The answer is ‘what is two toes.’” In thinking back about it Ciciola realizes she misunderstood the question.
People always want to know if she was nervous. “I was more excited than nervous. I had to focus and the time went by so fast. I wanted to have fun.” When it was all over, although Ciciora wasn’t the winner, she declares she had so much fun. She says she has always wanted to do this since she watched Jeopardy as a kid in the suburbs of Chicago after school.
Ciciora’s parents had flown out to LA to watch the filming and on Friday the family spent a little tourist time at the La Brea tar pits and the Academy Awards Museum before Ciciora took the red eye flight back Friday night.
“It was a great experience. Everyone working on the show is so dedicated to the show. Everyone loves and respects it, and they do it every day they film. And one of the best experiences was meeting my fellow contestants and getting to know them.”