Friday, April 30, 2010

Guest Series by Shubha Ghosh, Wisconsin Law Prof and Jeopardy! Contestant Yesterday

[Shubha Ghosh (Wisc., Law), who with Jeff is the most well-read guy I know and a frequent blogger elsewhere, has graciously agreed to write for us a series on his very recent experience playing Jeopardy!  He is coauthor of the casebook Intellectual Property & Business Organizations (LexisNexis 2006) and a book I believe my 1Ls will read this fall, Acing Tort Law. Since he's prolific, I will cite more of his work later... BTW, he is very friendly, though maybe not the day they sent a photographer to his office. Here is part 1. --Alan Childress]

                                        When Jeopardy Attaches

One morning earlier this year, eleven people congregated in the lobby of the Culver City Radisson waiting for the shuttle bus to take them to the Sony Studios to film five episodes of the gameshow Jeopardy.  As those familiar with things L.A. know, this happens almost every week, with eleven different strangers, all filled with anticipation and adrenaline, from all over the country and lucky enough to pass tests of knowledge and of personality.  That morning I was one of the chosen eleven.
         Many lawyers, law students, and law professors have appeared on Jeopardy and other gameshows.  Ghosh_-_shubhas_choice_2008

Some speak negatively of the experience.  Others publicize it proudly on web sites.  I am pretty sure I have seen an AALS FAR include Jeopardy victory under “other accomplishments.” Motivations vary. For me, it was a long time interest, cultivated by high school trivia shows and modest cash bounties, converted into liquid, won at pubs.  I was also curious how it all worked:  the lights, the camera, the ambition to convert inert facts into hot cash all through the push of a buzzer. Appearing on Jeopardy is my flirtation with publicity. To quote the film maker John Waters, I always wanted to sell out but no one wanted to buy me. 

      I used to watch Jeopardy regularly.  My early memories from the Black & White Sylvania my family had in the late Sixties include the moonlanding, news coverage of Bobby Kennedy being killed, anchors reporting on what I heard as gorilla warfare, and three intense people sitting  in front of an array of mechanically displayed clues valued anywhere from ten to one hundred dollars and phrasing their answers in the form of a question. The show went away for a while, but it returned in the mid-Eighties, the board jazzed up and question values appreciated. Now, in 2010, people talk about the Jeopardy web site and the boards, sharing tips on how to buzz in and what to say to Alex Trebek, the host.  Sometime in the shifts of marketing and branding, I stopped watching. 
          Out of whim I tried out for the first time in New York City in 2001, passed some of the hurdles, but never heard back to actually appear on the show. An email announcing an online test escaped my spam filter in January, 2009, and again on a whim I took the test. In May, I was invited, based on the online test, to an audition in Chicago. The audition consisted of another written test and a question and answer session with the two contestant coordinators who were judging  personality and poise on the show. At the end of the ninety minute audition, twenty of us were told that we would be on an invite list for the next eighteen months. All this was the same as my experience in 2001. This time, however, my phone invite came about six months later, shortly after the new year. The call was from the contestant coordinator at my 2001 audition who happened to remember me. You see, there are folks who try out a dozen or more times before the call comes. Luck had it that I was called my second try.
       A panic surged through me as I realized there were only two weeks until taping -- and over two hundred countries whose capitals and major geographical landmarks had to be committed to relatively long-term memory. I also had to start watching the show again. The program guide on the Jeopardy web site indicated that the show aired at the same time accident attorneys, payday loan makers, and diet doctors advertise on the airways, and I set the DVR accordingly. The show used to be on after dinner, a nice way to end the day and begin the evening.  Re-engaging with Jeopardy, I asked myself: What had I committed to by agreeing to be a contestant? Was I a part of a desperate franchise?  Such thoughts were put aside quickly as I worked through, among other lists, the countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the names of people who would succeed President Obama.  VP, Speaker of the House, Secretary of State, and so forth.  . . .    [end part 1]

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Dare I toot my own horn and point out that I am one of those may law professors you mention who did a stint on Jeopardy!? I was a one-day winner, and a five-minute hero to my students. . . . then blew it the next day on a geography question. It was a great experience, though.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | May 3, 2010 1:00:52 PM

The appearance on Jeopardy!, Paul is way cool. Link to your blogging on the experience, please. The phrase "toot my own horn" then loses you all cool points.

I think I smell an AALS panel that everyone would want to attend here.

Posted by: Alan Childress | May 12, 2010 2:56:59 PM

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