[Story and photos by Mike Foley: Published originally in the BYU-Hawaii online “Newsroom,” January 20, 2003]
A talent search crew for Jeopardy, the Emmy Award-winning TV quiz show, came to the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Pacific Theater on Friday, January 17th, to select three BYU-Hawaii faculty members and a Kahuku High teacher as possible adult contestants during a morning audition, and five BYU-Hawaii students during a noontime tryout.
From the two auditions, Jeopardy contestant coordinators selected Honors Program Director and English professor Randall Allred (on the left in the picture), music professor David Kammerer (on the right), history professor James Tueller (in the middle), and Kahuku High testing coordinator Joseph Holzman as possible candidates for the daytime show; and BYU-Hawaii students Ryan Alexander (a recent graduate), Daniel Chase, Mitchell Colver, Stefanie Johannessen and Luke Mease as possible contestants on the $50,000 College Championship show.
“The adults will be put into the file and be used throughout the six-month season,” said Ingrid Tate of Los Angeles who has “been involved in the audition process for many years.” Tate, who also works as a consultant for the Polynesian Cultural Center and is a former Jeopardy contestant coordinator, explained the adults have to pay their own way to the Sony Pictures Studio in Culver City, California, where the 19th season of Jeopardy is taped with star Alex Trebek.
“The college tournament is a one-time thing,” she said, adding that the students enter a national pool of several hundred possible contestants from which 15 finalists will be drawn for the show’s annual College Championship match. “The final contestants will be flown to Los Angeles. The ultimate prize is $50,000,” Tate said.
The Jeopardy team selected the local winners from about 75 community residents and 50 students who took a difficult 50-question video test a lá Jeopardy. The test covered a broad range of topics, including biology, music, history, politics, pop music and culture, literature, geography, and even opera and ballet. “It was tough. They covered all the categories,” said Curtis Barlow, a graphic artist for the Polynesian Cultural Center.
While the tests were being scored, each of the hopefuls participated in a mock version of Jeopardy and a brief interview. BYU-Hawaii student Max Burroughs of Laie, for example, nailed the answer, “what is a tetse fly?” in response to a question about an African insect that causes sleeping sickness, but none of the students knew that Dashiell Hammett’s husband-and-wife private detectives Nick and Nora Charles were once characters in a popular series of Thin Man movies.
“I hope you all had a good time playing. Do you notice it’s always a lot easier to answer when it’s not your turn?” said contestant coordinator Maggie Speak. Later, Speak explained the Jeopardy team came to Hawaii before and this is their first stop on a national search tour.
The coordinators dismissed everyone else after the winners were announced, and ran the local finalists through a more realistic practice round of Jeopardy. For example, they learned not to hit their buzzers until Alex Trebek reads the entire question.
“My wife always accused me of having a great deal of useless information floating between my ears, but sometimes that kind of information comes in handy,” joked Kammerer, who also said the tryout was fun, and “I had some free time between classes.”
Contestant Allred said the test was “a lot harder than the show. I tried out for the show a few times when I lived in Los Angeles.”
Asked how he thinks he will do, if called up, Allred responded, “I think I would win.”