When I was a Jeopardy contestant

Uwe Hook
Uwe Hook
Mar 20, 2018 · 3 min read

Sometime in the 90’s, all these silly game shows made it to Germany. Having lived in the US before, I tried to get in on the action and applied for Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. After filing an application, a weird guy showed up at my house and tested me for Wheel of Fortune. I failed because I answered all the questions correctly. You see, Wheel of Fortune doesn’t want to have semi-smart people. They want semi-dumb people that are still wondering what letter they should buy when the board says: I love -ou.

So, Jeopardy it was. They chose me and I showed up in a small TV studio, met 30 other contestants and became part of the machine. We started shooting at 9am and my turn was at 1pm. While sitting in the Green Room aka Cafeteria, we watched the other contestants and we all knew better. Of course we would have known this answer, would have bet the farm, would have joined the Jeopardy Hall of Fame. I was in my 20s, so I spent the 4 hours wait reflecting on how to spend my winnings. A motorcycle would be nice, a new car. The typical stuff. And then it was my turn.

My other contestants were a mother of 6 adopted children and a professor. We liked each other, there was no animosity. We were just participating in a pub trivia quiz on a TV set.

When I walked on the set, I tensed up immediately. My resting bitch face got even bitchier and I tried to relax in my cheap suit and Peek & Cloppenburg Paisley tie. The host said a few words and the game started. Within a few minutes, I was down 200 Marks (There was no Euro at that time.). You see, Jeopardy is not a knowledge game. It’s a buzzer strategy game. You need to push the buzzer before you are certain of your correct answer. I wasn’t ready for it. Before my brain acknowledged I knew the answer, the other two already buzzed in. At the end of the first round, I was down 600 Marks. My opponents were up around 5,000 Marks. Devastating.

The host talked to me about my sad life as a student and former Disney employee and we started all over again. This time, I was on it. I buzzed in the moment the question was asked, didn’t know two answers but answered the rest correctly. At the end of the game, I was at 10,100 Marks, one opponent had 10,200 and the third one 6,000. We bet it all in Final Jeopardy, we all knew the answer and I lost by 200 marks.

In the end, you need to know what game you are playing. I thought I played the “Who is the smartest person in the room” game. In reality, I was playing the “Who pushes the buzzer without knowing the answer” game. Who trusts their knowledge to override natural instincts of only pushing the button when they know they are right? Who is ok with being possible embarrassed by buzzing without knowing the answer? I lost that game in the first round. When I saw the losing result, I changed strategy and came back.

The mother of six adopted children won 20,400 marks and she won two more rounds. I received the German version of the Jeopardy board game. And left it behind in the train on my way home.

Uwe Hook

Written by

Uwe Hook

German born, raised globally. At the intersection of technology, business, and humanity. Goal: Change the world. And be a good person.