'What is the meaning of life, Alex?' 'Jeopardy!' fans say, to play the game

March 31, 1995|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Staff Writer

They came to Towson in pursuit of a dream: to meet Alex Trebek and, even more importantly, to win oodles of money on "Jeopardy!"

They were 150 strong -- housewives, teachers, students, police officers and therapists -- all those annoying people in your life who always seem to know the answer to every question.

For a couple of hours yesterday they left their real lives behind to prove they knew more obscure facts than anyone else and win a coveted chance to be a contestant on the popular TV quiz show.

"I'm so excited," said a beaming Cathy Glassman, who made the initial cut by answering at least 35 of 50 questions on a written exam. "I watch the show all the time, so all those little facts just stick there in my head. And I read a lot so I never forget this stuff. That really comes in handy for this game."

Another crowd of know-everythings is expected in the Towson Sheraton Hotel ballroom today as the nationwide search for "Jeopardy!" contestants concludes its two-day run here.

Many would-be contestants, like Ms. Glassman, are repeaters. And for manyit's a family affair.

"This is the second time I've taken the test and passed it," said the part-time journalist and full-time mother from Owings Mills. "So I'm hoping to make it on the show this time. My brother was on the show once and won $25,000 and watches and a camcorder. He's going to be my coach if I make it."

Like the show itself, the written exam covered subjects ranging from psychology to planets, European capitals to the American Revolution, scientists to authors, fashion to furniture.

Fifty tough questions whizzed by on a blue screen, backed by the disembodied voice of host Alex Trebek. Contestants had eight seconds to write down each answer.

Joe Riley, a waiter-bartender-aspiring actor who left quite a few answers blank, was slightly chagrined because he didn't pass. His excuse?

"My pen wasn't working," said Mr. Riley, 23, a recent Towson State University graduate. "I was so frazzled because of it, I just couldn't concentrate on the answers."

"Jeopardy!" officials gave him another chance at today's session.

Charlene M. Curry, a Bel Air office manager who also failed to make the cut, left with no hard feelings. She's been watching the show since "back when Art Fleming was still the host, not Alex.

"I'm a little disappointed I didn't win," Ms. Curry said. "But I'm going to try again. There's nothing lost by taking the test. I still love the game. My family, between the hours of 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., does not answer the phone. If it rings, the machine picks up."

Contestants who failed can re-take the exam after six months at any testing location, according to Susanne Thurber, the contestant coordinator.

"These people are all avid 'Jeopardy!' fans," Ms. Thurber said. "They are avid readers who remember everything they've read. They've also watched the show for years and have all dreamed of being on the show."

At the end of yesterday's trial, only seven remained -- Ms. Glassman, two active teachers, a retired history teacher, an auditor, a radio station news director and a government worker.

Steven Boyd, a Latin teacher from Hagerstown, knew he would make it. He had the family background to prove it.

"My younger brother played in 1989 and won $1,500 worth of dining room furniture," Mr. Boyd said. "My older brother played in 1992 and won $40,000. I've got to win."

Those who made the cut got to participate in a practice show, talking about themselves, demonstrating stage presence and showing their knowledge of the rules. They learned how to ring the buzzer, keep the game rolling and -- most importantly -- frame their answers in the form of a question.

Not all players who passed the exam will get the chance to appear on the actual show.

Their names will be placed in a contestant pool and if they're lucky enough to be chosen, they'll pack their bags for Hollywood, where the show is taped.

Many of those who didn't make it, like Tony Hall, a Pasadena communications consultant, said they'll try, try again.

"I'm getting married in October," Mr. Hall said.

"If I had been selected, we would have spent our honeymoon in Hollywood taping the show. That would have been great. But like the woman said, six more months and I'll be back."

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