This past Monday, Loyola High School teacher Joshua Parr lived the trivia dream and competed on the wildly popular game show Jeopardy!, effectively becoming one of the last Canadians to answer in the form of a question for the foreseeable future.
Coming within a dollar of dethroning then-three-day-champ Tim Kutz of Ogden, Utah, Parr took second place and basically broke even on his expenses with the $2,000 compensation prize.
Parr, who also holds a law degree and has always been involved in live theatre in one capacity or another, is more sweet on the experience than bitter, and with that in mind, he answered a few questions for Cult MTL’s readers to fulfill our curiosity about what it takes to share oxygen with Alex Trebek.
It must be stated that Parr and the author are very old friends. We actually viewed his episode together. And that smarts even more because I was all set to ask for a loan.
Without further ado, this is Jeopardy! according to Parr.
Darcy MacDonald: How long had you wanted to be on Jeopardy!?
Joshua Parr: Hard to say. I think I’ve wanted to be on Jeopardy! for a very long time but only started doing something about it five years ago.
It was a kind of a thing where I finally said to myself, hey, I need to stop just privately clucking to myself that I bet I could get on that show if I wanted to, and prove it.
DM: You told me a bit about the audition process but I think readers would be really interested to know about that stuff. What makes a good Jeopardy! contestant, as per the producers?
JP: They’re actually looking for a few important logistic necessities that have to do with making their jobs easier. You need to be able to speak loudly and deliberately, and they need you to be decisive. When it’s your turn to pick a category and question, they don’t want you standing there for any time at all saying, “Hmm…what a conundrum…so many possibilities to choose from…hmm…”
You can also see from watching the show that the cross-section of contestants that they invite on to the show is not representative of the demographics that apply. Your typical applicant is a 30-40 year old white male, so if you cannot be that, your chances go up a little bit.
DM: Elephant in the room: what was Trebek REALLY like? Come on, dish!
JP: You don’t see him except when he comes out on stage. His dressing room and access to the studio are on the other side of the studio from the contestants, so we only see him when the announcer, Johnny Gilbert, says his name at the beginning of the actual taping, and he walks out on stage — the same way you see him at home.
During the commercial breaks, he re-does any clues that he mis-read or that had other audio issues, and when he has free time, he walks over to the edge of the stage and takes questions from the audience. When I was there, he talked about his knee surgery and how long and painful the rehab had been — he was still walking gingerly during my taping. Beyond that, I’m afraid I don’t have any other exciting stories about him involving thousands of brown M&Ms or anything like that.
DM: Three-time champ Tim was a machine, but you managed to chase him all the way down to a $1 difference between his or your victory. (Third-place contestant) Mary was no slouch either.
In retrospect what might you/could you have done differently? As you look back do you see any particular moments or possibilities for a different outcome, if something had gone a little different for either of you?
JP: Argh. Tim was very good. I realized early on in the day that I would have a big problem with hand-eye coordination, and I hadn’t really had a chance to measure how good I would be at precision buzzing, which is actually a huge part of gameplay. You’re not allowed to buzz in before Alex finishes reading the question, and if you try to, you get locked out for a while, so you’re trying to be very precise in not buzzing too early but still being the first one in.
It’s why you see players waving their arms around during some games — they’re so frustrated that they know the answer but that they can’t get their timing exactly right. Tim was destroying me on that front.
I think my studying/cramming before the show actually prepared me about as well as could be hoped for the material that would come up — I knew about three-quarters of the answers — and I would have been well-served by sharpening up my hand-eye skills through ping pong or something. As it was, I was able to buzz in first on fewer than half the questions I knew.
DM: Are you into other game shows? Have you caught the bug or was this a once-in-a-lifetime deal?
JP: (I like) Survivor, though I’m not even sure I would call that a game show. And I don’t think I would ever want to participate, I just love watching it. It’s fascinating. Jeopardy! is really the only game show that moves fast enough — I don’t like the ones where they hem and haw over a question for five minutes before answering. I’m pretty sure this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. ■