The Mystery of Contestant Selection

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Stanislaus Jacob
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The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by Stanislaus Jacob »

I had been meaning to start a thread on this subject for a few days now but waited until I had a large block of free time to do it. In the meantime, Randy G. and Dr. J announced their webinar, which sounds like a wonderful idea. I wondered if that made this thread redundant, but I decided to post anyway. Also, although I did sign up for the webinar, my audition for this year has already come and gone, so my questions are somewhat different.

I know there are also past "What exactly are TPTB looking for?" threads in the archives on this board, most of which conclude with "How can we really know for sure?" - but I still thought I could start some potentially fruitful discussion.

I guess my number one question (probably everyone's number one question) is: What exactly do they want in the personality interview? What sorts of things stand out, and is there a certain threshold of boringness under which you have no chance? Is it a good or a bad sign if they ignore your written personal anecdotes during the interview? How is it weighted compared to the test or the buzzer practice?

(I would like to say parenthetically that I had no problem with Arthur Chu's gameplay or strategy, but I did dislike his statement to The A.V. Club that "the freak shows really come out on Jeopardy! It's all the nerdiest, most awkward people in America." Everyone at both my auditions (2008 and 2014) seemed perfectly nice and normal - except for one guy in 2008 who announced that he was a professional gambler who made all his money from online poker, and who seemed to have the unpleasant personality to match. I can't claim I've never missed an episode, but I'm pretty sure that he never came within a million miles of appearing on the show.)

My other major thought is more unusual - why do they still take a break and grade the test onsite? It seems like a relic of the days when those who failed the test were actually dismissed on the spot. It makes me wonder if there is actually some seeding being done during the mock games. Do they put three 46s together to see which one has the best buzzer speed? Or would they pair a 46 with a 38 to see if the guy weaker on paper (literally) actually has the better reflexes?

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nightreign
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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by nightreign »

I don't think buzzer speed has anything to do with whether you're selected or not. At my audition, they were calling us randomly in the mock game. However, I was called in the first group and paired with the guy who ended up being our alternate. (Nobody else from my audition made the show.)

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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by Magna »

People on this board have speculated about most of those things from time to time. As for the written test, iirc the conventional wisdom is that if you do badly on that, it suggests either that your online score was a lucky fluke or that you cheated, and you won't be selected to be on the show. We don't know if "badly" means below a minimum score, or significantly below your online score. No one recently remembers anyone being dismissed from the audition because of the written test, though. So possibly they leave you in the audition but just rank you so low that you're not going to make it on the show.

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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by Tigershark »

I came away from my audition thinking that my odds of getting picked were slim, and I ended up being a contestant, so go figure. I was in one of the middle groups for the mock game. At one point during the mock game, I rang in too early because I was a bit nervous. The contestant coordinator actually whispered to me that I had rung in too early, and I whispered back that I knew I had. When the contestant coordinators called on people, it didn't seem to be based on buzzer speed. I think they were looking to see how different people responded when called upon. I recognized at least one person from my audition group on a recent Jeopardy episode- in fact IIRC, she was in the same mock game as I.

There was definitely one guy at the auditions who was the poster child for what not to do at an audition. The contestant coordinators asked that people not click their pens during other peoples' mock games, and this guy could not stop clicking his pen. Every time he answered a question, he had to qualify it with a cute comment like "Wow I got that one" or "I like that category." He also took forever to select a new category after answering a question. I don't care how many he got right on the written test, he will not be on the show.

Weird random things that were mentioned that go into the selection process. I remember one of the coordinators said that how you do on the written is the primary factor they use, which was good for me because I knew almost every answer. They don't want an episode with two people with the same first name on an episode, so they make sure of that when they are calling people. Since they can't be 100% sure who will be the returning champion from week to week, they probably won't reuse a name for about a month, meaning you have a slightly better chance if your name is not too common. There were a ridiculous number of lawyers in my audition group, and I think something like that can factor into it as well. Given that I'm a lawyer with a pretty common first name, I'm shocked I got on at all.

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zakharov
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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by zakharov »

This is as good a place as any to ask: have boardies who were on the show acknowledged their JBoard membership on their application? Not sure if it's gonna hurt my chances.
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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by econgator »

zakharov wrote:This is as good a place as any to ask: have boardies who were on the show acknowledged their JBoard membership on their application? Not sure if it's gonna hurt my chances.
The Head Archivist has been on and I believe he said he used an entire separate page to list all of his J! references.

So, unless you're related to Alex/crew/Clue Crew, your chances won't be hurt in the slightest.

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zakharov
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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by zakharov »

Thank you, I feel better now!
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periwinkle
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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by periwinkle »

I think I was told at the time that I only needed to list people I'd met in person, not just interacted with on the boards.

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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by BADuBois »

My experience, for what it was worth...

I dressed exactly the way I dressed for my show appearances: snappy bowtie, blue blazer, giving the New England preppy look, which I think made a bit of an impression.

I also sat as close as I could to the front, and responded enthusiastically to the questions and comments from the coordinators (mine were Glen and Maggie).

As to the 50-question test, I always thought it was a way of weeding out cheaters... i.e., did you really play the on-line audition game by yourself, or did you have three or four friends in there, helping you along?

But most of all, remember what they're looking for. They're not looking for smart people. They're looking for smart people who look good on television. So be smiling, upbeat, cheerful, and someone that they want to represent "Jeopardy!", even if it's for just one appearance. So speak loud, confidently, and look like you're having fun.

Oh, and when my audition was over, I did something nobody else did: I made sure to go up to Glen and Maggie, shake their hands, and say thank you. Another way of being remembered.

My audition was in April. I was told that they would be making The Call beginning June 1st.

I got The Call on June 1st.
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Stanislaus Jacob
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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by Stanislaus Jacob »

The part about names seems like such an obvious consideration now that it is pointed out to me. I just went through J-archive and counted seven Jameses or Jims (my real-life name) who appeared in regular competition in the two seasons after my 2008 audition - and six of the seven won at least one game, including superchamp Jim Stevens. So a) clearly James is a name for smart people :D and b) I was going up against pretty tough competition.

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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by Lefty »

Tigershark wrote:Weird random things that were mentioned that go into the selection process. I remember one of the coordinators said that how you do on the written is the primary factor they use, which was good for me because I knew almost every answer.
I've heard this before, and it may be true in the sense that if you don't make the minimum score, you have no chance at all to be called. Beyond that, it seems to be BS.
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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by davey »

BADuBois wrote:
As to the 50-question test, I always thought it was a way of weeding out cheaters... i.e., did you really play the on-line audition game by yourself, or did you have three or four friends in there, helping you along?
The beauty part of giving the test in person - besides tradition, from the beginning, and efficacy - is that they don't have to worry if anybody cheated or not, something they can't determine in any case. They have the evidence that you have passed the test - or not - right in front of them!
Remember that there used to be no pre-audition screening at all. The only thing that everyone in the audition room was sure to have in common was the desire. Now they have screened out probably thousands who can't get a passing grade, so everyone in the room can be assumed to have the knowledge threshold they expect. They don't have to send people home after the written test, as they used to, because now nearly everyone passes. Those who don't, I assume, are still eliminated, but that can be ascribed to bad luck. There's no reason for anybody to say, "That person must have cheated at home!"

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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by Robert K S »

econgator wrote:The Head Archivist has been on and I believe he said he used an entire separate page to list all of his J! references.
I think I listed all the people I met personally who had been on the show or who I knew were in the pool, but I didn't list handles of people whose names I didn't even know.

When I got there, unbeknownst to me, one of the people in my contestant group was someone who I might have said I knew quite well, except for the fact that I had no idea what his name was, what he looked like, or any other personally identifying detail about him. But he figured out who I was and alerted TPTB. As a result, we didn't play each other, and I sat on the sidelines waiting until his run ended. After my (much shorter) run ended, he revealed himself to me. It was an astonishing moment.

But, yeah, I would guess that candor is what TPTB want. They're not going to disqualify you just because you know a hundred former champions. They may (though who really knows) find reason disqualify you if you knowingly conceal that fact with the intent to mislead them. J! is a high-standards operation. I imagine they don't want any more Jeff Kirbys.

What do TPTB want? I think there are many things that are necessary but not sufficient. Trivia talent gets you in the door; presentability takes you to the next level. But these things aren't enough, because they're also trying to put together a puzzle of diversity, and I don't mean just in terms of race, gender, or age. They're also looking for geographical diversity (of hometown), diversity of occupations, and perhaps other types of diversity as well. And I think they try to work it out such that they can put together groups that are internally diverse in these ways even within the (roughly) ten new contestants invited to appear each taping day (or twenty each taping week). If they didn't actively try to map out diversity in these ways, and instead just took whoever appeared talented and presentable, we'd very likely see weeks where half the contestants were white middle-aged attorneys.

Presentability, as I see it, refers to all the things that lead them to believe it will be safe to put you on television as well as entertaining to do so. They're looking for people who give some care to their appearance in terms of grooming and attire; who seem like they'll be able to tolerate, psychologically, the pressures of high-stakes public performance under the lights and on camera without cracking up or storming off; who will be able to take lost clues and games with good sportsmanship, and who, conversely, will be able to show enjoyment at getting a Daily Double or Final Jeopardy! right; who will find pleasure in the occasional humor of the clues; who won't obnoxiously interrupt Alex or otherwise disrupt the game; who won't outrage viewers with inappropriate remarks or distracting mannerisms; who have a sufficient diversity of interests and/or life experiences to fill at least five contestant interviews; who will be able to smile when Johnny Gilbert introduces them.

I don't think it's much of a factor whether you've auditioned once before or a dozen times, although it might make for a good interview story. I don't think they say to themselves, "We didn't call him/her the last six times, why would we extend an invitation now?" Not getting called in previous years may be attributable just to not fitting within the diversity puzzle.

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Volante
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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by Volante »

periwinkle wrote:I think I was told at the time that I only needed to list people I'd met in person, not just interacted with on the boards.
When I went they asked who you were in contact with; I just wrote I was a frequent on the jboard. (I haven't been on yet, but it was my 1st audition and it was 3 yrs ago)
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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by Spaceman Spiff »

Trivia talent gets you in the door; presentability takes you to the next level.
Something I heard at one tryout -- not sure if it was Maggie at the J! tryout, or for another game show -- that hit home was "everyone here is probably the trivia champ of their block."

Translation -- They already know you're smart! (OK, cheaters who flop on the in-person test excepted.) The trick is to show them what else makes you TV material. And the other folks here have said what to do. Or definitely what not to do (i.e., not following instructions won't get you on the show!)

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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by debramc »

I submitted several pages of various categories of boardies and/or archivists separated into categories. I don't remember exactly the categories but I distinguished between screennames I recognize, real names , people about whom I have formed opinions, people I think "know" me, etc, and made sure it was clear I'd never met any of these people in real life. It was probably overkill but I figured too much info was better than too little. I did get the call, so I guess they decided it was not insanely detailed!
And out of three auditions, I think the majority of them were ordinary enough people, but there were a few nutcases at each one.

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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by trainman »

Spaceman Spiff wrote:Something I heard at one tryout -- not sure if it was Maggie at the J! tryout, or for another game show -- that hit home was "everyone here is probably the trivia champ of their block."
At the auditions I've been to, the coordinators do the "raise your hand if you always win at Trivial Pursuit when you play with your friends," and everyone raises their hands. A couple times, I've yelled out, "My friends won't play with me!", which has gotten a mild laugh. (Hasn't helped me get on the show.)

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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by OrangeSAM »

trainman wrote:
Spaceman Spiff wrote:Something I heard at one tryout -- not sure if it was Maggie at the J! tryout, or for another game show -- that hit home was "everyone here is probably the trivia champ of their block."
At the auditions I've been to, the coordinators do the "raise your hand if you always win at Trivial Pursuit when you play with your friends," and everyone raises their hands. A couple times, I've yelled out, "My friends won't play with me!", which has gotten a mild laugh. (Hasn't helped me get on the show.)
My family has tried giving me every other word in the question, and then every third word.
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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by dhkendall »

Spaceman Spiff wrote:
Trivia talent gets you in the door; presentability takes you to the next level.
Something I heard at one tryout -- not sure if it was Maggie at the J! tryout, or for another game show -- that hit home was "everyone here is probably the trivia champ of their block."

Translation -- They already know you're smart! (OK, cheaters who flop on the in-person test excepted.) The trick is to show them what else makes you TV material. And the other folks here have said what to do. Or definitely what not to do (i.e., not following instructions won't get you on the show!)
This ties in with one of my favourite quotes (one that I made up, and use as my .signature on the Learned League discussion boards), "Too dumb for Mensa, too smart for Densa", it's a reference to how, for most of my friends, yes, I am "the smart guy", and constantly get lobbed trivia questions at me by my friends, or a "oh, you should know that, Dave, you're smart!" after some fact is mentioned, (if I'm being introduced to someone for the first time, it's sometimes followed by a "see, I told you he's smart!") But, when I play trivia games with boardies, it is very apparent that I am to them what my non-trivia friends are to me. (Which is okay, because I appreciate not being the smartest one in the room sometimes). (The quote is literal too, as every time I take the Mensa test I'm a few percentage points away from the threshold, but enough in that I've stopped taking the test.)

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Re: The Mystery of Contestant Selection

Post by tyg »

Way back when, after pass #6 or so (now up to around 15; I've honestly lost track), I hung back after and asked if they could tell me if I was doing anything horribly wrong. While they didn't specify any behavior on my part, they did say I had pretty much the worst demographics in the sense that for every criteria they looked at, I was in the subgroup with the most passers (this was prior to the online tests). In particular, they said five professions blew the test curve more than others...and I qualified for three of them as someone whose job involved writing and teaching about computer topics. The other two were lawyer and librarian.

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