'I'll Take Boston For $200, Alex'

Category: Game Shows

Clue: On this popular program, contestants must answer in the form of a question.

Answer: What is "Jeopardy!"?

Julie Raines has always been good at Trivial Pursuit. The young administrative assistant from Alexandria, Va., figured she has a lot of "useless knowledge" that would come in handy someday.

So, she reasoned, why not try out for her favorite TV quiz show, "Jeopardy!"?

Eight years and three tryouts later, she was finally chosen as a contestant on "Jeopardy!" for a taping in Boston in September. The Boston shows began airing Monday and concludes next Friday.

Ms. Raines tried out at an audition in Washington. "The test is hard because you've got opera followed by sports and history," said Ms. Raines during an interview before the taping. "Even if you pass, it's not guaranteed that you'll make it on the show."

"Jeopardy!" has been on the air for 15 years and has remained television's No. 1 game show. What's the secret?

"Generations can play it," explains Susanne Thurber, the show's head contestant coordinator. "A whole family can play it. People love to pit themselves against bright players. They see these bright contestants and they want to see if they can do as well."

The trip to Boston isn't the first time host Alex Trebek has quizzed contestants away from the popular game show's home in Los Angeles. In the past year, "Jeopardy!" has traveled to Stockholm, Washington, and Berkeley, Calif. Here in Boston, enthusiastic crowds of 4,000 showed up at the Wang Theater for Friday afternoon and evening tapings, and again on Saturday morning. Overall, 10 shows were taped over the two days.

More than 100,000 people requested to be in the Boston audience, but only 12,000 were granted tickets. (In Los Angeles, only 200 people comprise the audience.)

Generally, game shows don't go on the road, but after producing the show for 14 years in its Los Angeles studio, the "Jeopardy!" team thought it was time for a change of scenery.

"Our set makes [travel] difficult because we have nine different computer systems and the set costs $1 million to make," program announcer Johnny Gill told the audience.

For the Boston taping, gold and brown leaves adorned the stage. Replicas of Boston landmarks, such as the Paul Revere statue, Old North Church Steeple, and State House with its gold dome, made for an eye-catching set.

Between tapings, Mr. Trebek and Mr. Gill encouraged audience members to ask questions.

"How smart do you have to be to make it on the show?" asked one man. "My son was a merit scholar and failed the test."

"That happens to a lot of people," Trebek replied. "Our test has 50 different questions, which represents 50 different categories, six in each round, then the final jeopardy. So you have be very bright."

Most contestants who do make it on prepare for their appearance seriously. Ms. Raines studied for weeks. But contestant Chip Hicks, a law student, showed up without opening a book or logging onto the Internet.

"If I win, that's great, but I'll be richer for the experience, either way," Mr. Hicks says. "I started law school a month ago, so I haven't had any time to prepare. I figure I'll just come in with what I've got in my brain already."

Ms. Thurber, the contestant coordinator, says that each contestant decides how best to prepare. What makes a good contestant is that "they understand how to play the game, to ring in, to answer in the form of a question," Thurber says. "If they play it like a game, and have fun with it, that's what makes them really great."

Meanwhile, back on the set, contestant Hicks says there is a downside to be able to retain so much information and recall it at a moment's notice.

"No one will play trivia games with me because they figure that I'll win," he says. "You have to find someone else who has what it takes to retain all this useless information, and sometimes they're few and far between."

* For more information about "Jeopardy!" check out www.jeopardy.com

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