Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Lovely Parting Gifts

I went to check the mail the other day, looking forward to ogling the women of the Sears catalog, when I came across a suspiciously plain looking white envelope directed to me. It wasn't from any college and the return address wasn't from Wilmington, Delaware so it wasn't credit card junk mail. It was from Culver City, California and a few moments later I put two and two together and realized that there was only one reason I'd be getting a letter from Culver City, California: Jeopardy!

Yes, the fabulous winnings from my forgettably brief run had finally been processed and sent home. I had just been granted the sweet, sweet rewards of third place and a key to the fantastic lifestyle that accompanies it. After I subtract the cost of flight and lodging to Los Angeles, and the stiff California game show taxes I've earned myself about a couple hundred bucks for the whole experience (of course I'm not factoring in the Jeopardy tote bag, Jeopardy picture frame, and personal picture with Trebek for said picture frame; the combined value of which I deem priceless).

Despite the hint of sarcasm, in the end I'm gracious to have received anything at all and the overall Jeopardy experience was pretty awesome. I kinda wish I could pull a Rickey Henderson and keep it in my room. Looking at this check is definitely a bittersweet experience though. I just wanted to win one game, just one game and I knew I was good enough to do it. Years of college bowl, a childhood of trivia, and a lifetime of people saying "you should go on Jeopardy" had groomed me for that shinning moment and I had blown it all in that critical moment of hesitation during the last notes of the Final Jeopardy theme when I choose Poland instead of Austria in my mind. On top of it all I also went for the blaze of glory betting strategy instead of actually thinking logically about reasonable wagers which could have also helped me out. I can only wonder what the "Sliding Doors" winner Victor would have ended up with. Would he have just blown it in the next game? Would he have challenged Ken Jennings (me verses Ken...yeah right)? How many more zeros could this check have had?

It took me a few months to get over that choke but in the mean time I've had the benefit of winning another game show (a comfort I assume few other Jeopardy third place finishers have) to salve my mental wounds. It will be a Merry Christmas indeed when the VH1 checks comes in sometime by the end of this year. As of now though I've gotten over it, not enough to see that episode again on TV, but over it enough to watch Jeopardy again on TV and spend this money (which will probably go into that insatiable "get Victor through law school fund"...or a Wii).


  1. Well, Victor, don't knock being on "Jeopardy!" Even if you made third place, you at least got on, some folks don't get that far.

    Like you, I was one of the "lucky few" in 2001 got the letter to try out in Atlanta, Georgia (I was originally from Augusta, GA). Thing was, this was my third time.

    1) May 1997: It was the first time that "Jeopardy!" allowed for using the Internet to get into the possible contestant pool. Made it past the quiz, didn't do too well in the mock game.

    2) September 1999: Try out in Atlanta, but couldn't make it. I was starting a new job in Marietta, GA (as a pharmacy intern at Kennestone Hospital), and it would NOT be smart to tell your employer "I know it was my day at orientation, but I couldn't resist the chance to go on "Jeopardy!" I had to blow you off for it." even IF you were potentially a player. So I prayed and crossed my fingers that two years later, I'd get to try again.

    3) May 2001. I got in, breezed the quiz, and kicked butt in the mock game. I had to keep from laughing watching another mock game because of "Before and After" as one of the categories (I knew the answers and got the punch lines. Little did I know that "Whitney Houston, we have a problem" would be more real than expected. Heh.).

    I got the call in January 2002, and flew out to LA and Culver City the next month.

    The 2001-2002 season, if you remember, was when they doubled the dollar values to their current levels of 200-1000 USD for J! and 400-2000 for DJ! (For the qualifying rounds of "Super Jeopardy!" in 1990 the point values were 200-1000 for J! and 500-2500 ofr DJ!).

    It was around when I had my shows taped that they'd had another new rule: instead of usual prize gifts, third gets a grand, second two grand.

    My first show was on the fourth session of that tape day, so I was nervous. I didn't know if I'd even be on. And Jeff Goldfarb, the champ when that show started, was a 2-day champ with $73,999. So he was "THE MAN" if you will.

    I talked to Alex after the opening break about the fact that my sense of humor--and that I too was a 'notorious wisecracker'--like Alex's, but it got me in trouble more than it got me out of.

    He asked me to give an example, since he tried to deny he was a "wisecracker" (he couldn't quite get the word out).

    Back then, the Clue Crew had Sofia and Sarah, two blondes, in the audience. (That tape day the then-four members of the CC were watching in the audience. Now there are five.)

    I told Alex how once I told a "dirty blonde" joke, and that eveyrone told me "Ted, how dare you! I can't believe you SAID that!" (Meaning I can't repeat it since it really was "Drrty" like Christina Aguilerra sang a year or two later.)

    Alex laughed and said, "Yeah...I guess I'm in the same boat!"

    I then went on after the break to go on a tear for J!. Then Jeff and I proceeded to launch into our rushes, although the third player in our trio, Ellen Di Giosia, got me on a few clues on the first two categories (she got two from "The Bible and one from "Signature Songs"--the rest somehow, I got).

    But it came to a FJ! where I will never forget J.K. Rowling as long as I live. If I had things to do over, that would be one of them.

    Somehow by the grace of God, I still had enough to win. I mentally praised Him and felt giddy as I found myself the new Jeopardy! champion with $14,399.

    I then got a few moments to get dressed for the next and last show while I enjoyed being "champ."

    Then, however, I was reminded of something I'd said earlier:

    "Winning a championship's one thing. Defending it's quite another."

    But it was a thrill to be announced by Johhny Gilbert as:

    "And, our returning champion. A pharmacist, from Augusta, GA, Ted Hsu. Whose 1-day winnings total $14,399."

    I got on an okay run on the second show, then made the fatal mistake of saying:

    "I've always wanted to say this, Alex--Let's Make It A True Daily Double."

    But couldn't quite get it out right the first time.

    Alex zinged with "Not that easy to say, now is it?"

    (Which was prophetic since I ended up missing it. When I heard the correct response, I winced like Homer Simpson as I thought "D'OH!")

    But even with a valiant comeback attempt in DJ!, I didn't have what it took in me to win the second show, but second wasn't too shabby either.

    I could tell my friends that I tried, and hope that I made my pharmacy colleagues in Augusta proud that one of their own hit the "big time" on national TV.

    I, too, got my check about a few months after my shows aired July 4th and 5th, 2002, so that helped (I was just starting a new job then, and couldn't have needed the cash at a better time).

    I would later by a nice used car with it, but I still have the picture I had with Alex, the memories of the tapings, and the notoriety being a Jeopardy! champ had.

    In 2003, WXIA, the NBC affiliate in Atlanta, aired the 2001-2002 season about 11 AM. So I got to be greeted with "Hey, Mr. Jeopardy!"

    But you vindicated yourself in the 2007 World Series of Pop Culture, and are ready to take a swing at Grand Slam.

    Go out there and kick some trivia tail, Victor!

    Theodore D. "Ted" Hsu, R.Ph
    Jeopardy! Champ, season 18

  2. With two game shows in less than one year, how did you time your participation, to adhere to the usual spacing rules -- six months between broadcast A and taping B?

  3. It was actually three, but who's counting? The Jeopardy and WSOPC was just fortunate timing. My Jeopardy try out was the year before, I had totally forgotten about the whole experience when they called. There was no formal tryout for Grand Slam, they just invited me a little after WSOPC.