May 1, 2010
Ghosh on Jeopardy, Part II
[Yesterday Shubha Ghosh, U. Wisc. law prof, appeared on Jeopardy! and was kind enough to share his tale. Here's part 2. -- Alan.]
The trip from the hotel to the Jeopardy studios consisted of a twenty minute shuttle tour of Culver City, a wait in the studio parking lot (not too far from where, I was told later, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind were filmed), and an escorted tour through metal detectors and into the green room in the sound stage behind the actual Jeopardy set. My spouse could not come with me past security and had to enter separately as an audience member when taping began at 11:00 am. In fact, my fellow contestants and I were sequestered from all human contact except for the members of the Jeopardy crew for the rest of day. Our day would be structured around trips from the green room to the set with a break for a lunch at the commissary, escorted by a contestant coordinator, until our name was drawn to be a contestant and we either lost or moved on as champions. The whole experience was new for me and completely unpredictable. And so I did what I usually do when dropped into foreign situations: I focused on trying to learn more about the people.
The first people I encountered were the contestant coordinators, some of whom I had met from the auditions, and other background workers who make the show happen. The contestant coordinators checked our ID’s and social security cards (we were asked specifically to bring those and would be disqualified if we did not), made sure we looked over and signed the requisite releases, and informed us of the rules of the game: phrase your answer in the form of the question, answer only when Alex calls your name, buzz in only when the timer lights around the board go off or you will be locked out for 3 seconds, and so forth. At various points during the green room briefing, each of the contestants was called into a side room for make-up. Our make-up artist also does Vanna White and had just come back from a shoot in the Philippines with the hostess and famous right of publicity plaintiff. Between applications of powder and eyeliner, I learned that make-up artists in Los Angeles are all free lance and look around on a day by day basis for gigs like the one in Jeopardy. I wish I had more time to talk with the make-up artist, and not only about how better to highlight my features. Labor history, especially in Hollywood, has always interested me, and the plight of make-up artists is another example of how another craft gives way to professionalization, guilds, and more readily commodified types of work.
In addition to Hollywood labor battles, our morning rounds also touched on the checkered history of the game show. A bouncy and over the top contestant coordinator soberly reminded us of the quiz show scandals of the 1950’s. As a result, the background rules for Jeopardy also included an extensive audit by an outside firm (not the same one that does the Oscars) to ensure that no one has access to the questions. Contestants are picked randomly by the outside auditor to determine their order of play during the day. Furthermore, the judges would be right there to ensure fairness and accuracy with one of them connected to the Internet to doublecheck responses. To reassure us even further, the outside auditor, a friendly gentleman who reminded me of an older William Frawley or a grandfatherly neighbor on a Sixties sitcom, walked into the green room and told us that he was looking out for us, to make sure everything was fair for contestants. I was going to ask him whether he was our attorney and whether I could have his card. But I reminded myself this is just a game show, for entertainment purposes, for fun and games.
Primped and primed with the how to’s of the game, well fed with bagels, fruit, and sweets from a deli tray probably picked up that morning from Von’s Grocery by a flunky, the cohort of Jeopardy contestants was finally shown the Jeopardy set in preparation for the first game, scheduled to be shot only an hour later. I have to admit my heart skipped several beats as the door was opened and a short walk down the hallway revealed the Board and the glaring neon blue and silver of the contemporary Jeopardy stage. Recent repeated viewings of the broadcast had imprinted the design, totem-like, on my brain. The set had a familiarity beyond the television viewings. It reminded me of the subdued background lighting and bright colors of a casino, images from Las Vegas and my direct experiences of visiting the casino in Niagara Falls once upon a time. All it needed was an all you can eat buffet, cocktail waitresses, and a lounge act. Then it slowly dawned on me: we contestants who are about to play are the lounge act. [end of part 2]
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