Getting to Know You . . . the Jeopardy! Way

Hello, and welcome to the first official installment of “Is it Monday already?”

This is a sample piece that I wrote a few years back to introduce myself when I pitched a research column idea to the local newspaper. For some inexplicable reason known only to the editors, the paper did not pick up my idea. Most of the material in the piece still applies (although I am no longer a substitute teacher and I have another book published), so I’m recycling it here.


I am a big Jeopardy! fan. Besides trying to be the first to blurt out a particularly obscure question, I have also become a connoisseur of the contestant interview portion. Typically, an interview falls into one of three categories: A) that was pretty interesting, B) that was really pathetic, or C) I can’t believe s/he would say that on national TV! I think the best interviews reveal something about the contestant’s personality in addition to offering an amusing anecdote.

A few years ago, I tested for Jeopardy! Part of the application procedure is to supply five interview leads. Coming up with five stories was harder than it first sounded, especially since I wanted each one to fall under category A above. I developed my stories by imagining how my interviews might play with host Alex Trebek:

Day One.

AT:  Sara Hartman is a homemaker, substitute teacher and freelance author from Jefferson City, Missouri. Sara, it says here that you are a published author. What have you written?

SH:  Alex, I write a column for the Jefferson City News-Tribune, along with magazine and web articles. My rhyming Bible storybook for children, Mary Magdalene’s Easter Story, was published earlier this year. Another one, Moses and the Ten Plagues, will be published next summer.

AT:  Do you enjoy writing in rhyme? That can sometimes be challenging.

SH:  Yes, I do. Though rhyming is less challenging than fitting a story like the ten plagues into a 64-line format.

AT:  I can see where it would be. Good luck with your writing.

SH:  Thank you.

(Here viewers would learn that I love to write and could infer that I also love children, given that I am a substitute teacher and write rhyming storybooks.)

Day Two.

AT:  Our returning champion, Sara Hartman, was struck by lightning as a child. Sara, tell us more about that.

SH:  Well, Alex, I was playing outside with my older brother and younger sister while my mother was inside with our baby brother. A lightning ball rolled down a telephone pole and  knocked the three of us senseless when it hit the ground near where we were playing. A neighbor saw it happen and ran for my mother, but we were getting up by the time she reached us.

AT:  That must have been a relief. No lasting effects then, I presume?

SH:  My family and friends might tell you otherwise.

AT:  (laughing) I see. Well, we’re glad to have you here answering questions with lightning speed. Now pick up your signaling device. You have the lead and control of the board.

(Here viewers would learn that I was one of four children, and begin to question just what were the effects of that lightning strike. They might also conclude that I am really, really smart because I am a returning champion and am in the lead with control of the board.)

Day Three.

AT:  Sara Hartman is our returning two-time champion. It says here that your great-great-grandfather had three wives . . . all at the same time?

SH:  That’s right, Alex. Census records show that he lived with a wife and three children in 1850. By 1860, he had left his family with her parents. After fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War, he married my great-great-grandmother. In 1885 he married a third wife. According to family lore, she was the pregnant girlfriend of my great-grandfather. At the time of their marriage, both his first and second wives were still alive, and no divorce records have been discovered. There are rumors of one or two more wives, but so far no documentation.

AT:  That’s quite a story.

SH:  Yes; did I mention that he was also a circuit-riding Baptist preacher?

AT:  (laughing). I’d love to hear more, but it’s time to pick up your signaling device and make a selection.

(Here viewers would learn that I like to research, and that in addition to having being struck by lightning, insanity runs in my family.)

Day Four.

AT:  Three-time champion Sara Hartman’s unborn baby was serenaded by Al Green. Sara, how did that come about?

SH:  Alex, at the time I was the media specialist for the Census Bureau during a special census of St. Louis City. I had organized a media kickoff event that featured Al Green, who had recorded a public service announcement for the census. When we were introduced, Reverend Green sang a lullaby to my belly. He also predicted that I would have a son.

AT:  Was he right?

SH:  No, ten days later I had a baby girl.

(Here viewers would learn that I am a mother. Furthermore, they could discern that I give my all in every job, evidenced by my personal efforts to increase the population of St. Louis City in time for its special census.)

Day Five.

AT:  Sara Hartman appears today in hopes of becoming a five-time champion. I understand that your wedding ring has an inscription from a movie. What does it say?

SH:  Alex, shortly before we became engaged, I learned that my husband had never seen The Princess Bride, one of my favorite movies. Naturally, I invited him to watch it with me, and he was hooked too. When we ordered our wedding rings, he had “As you wish” engraved in mine, and I had “I will never doubt again” inscribed in his.

AT:  The Princess Bride is one of our family favorites as well. Lots of good quotes.

SH:  Yes, our daughter continued the tradition when she ordered her class ring.

AT:  Oh? What quote did she select?

SH:  “Anybody want a peanut?”‘

AT:  (laughing) On that note, let’s pick up those buzzers and return to the game.

(Here viewers would learn that my husband and I are sentimental saps, and might wonder whether the family insanity is affecting the next generation. They would also be reminded that Westley got most of the good lines in The Princess Bride. Buttercup got one measly line suitable for engraving in a wedding ring, and Westley even upstages that one! Fezzik’s “Anybody want a peanut?” is pretty good, but  “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” is way too long to fit in a class ring. But I digress.)


Although I was well-prepared with anecdotes, I am sorry to report that I did not pass the Jeopardy! test. “Inconceivable!” as Vizzini would say. (Note to self: that would fit nicely in a ring.)

Until next time, I highly recommend The Princess Bride to anyone who hasn’t seen it. Sooner or later, Jeopardy! is bound to have a category dedicated to it.


1 Response

  1. I really enjoyed this. As I read it I could actually hear Alex’s perfectly enunciated diction delivering the lines you wrote him. Your after remarks – concise as well as witty. I like your turn with a word Sara.

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