Jeopardy tapes College Championship

?I?m just going to do my best,? declared junior ECE major K. Elliott Fleming before being pulled away by a Jeopardy! stage manager and surrounded by cameramen and photographers.
Wearing a gray Carnegie Mellon sweatshirt with rolled-up sleeves, Fleming answered a barrage of questions in a soft-spoken and confident voice, emphasizing that while slightly nervous he was still ?definitely pumped about [appearing on the show].? Competing alongside him at the Petersen Events Center this Saturday were 14 other students from various colleges. Each contestant eliminated in the first week received $5000, semi-finalists were awarded $10,000, and the winner was to receive a specially designed trophy and a total cash prize of $100,000.
Fleming, a member of CMU?s College Bowl team, considers himself ?fairly literate,? especially in the Southern classics, but sees his major in ECE as a ?distinct disadvantage? because of the time he devotes to concrete activities pertinent to his studies. Yet ?Jeopardy! is a game of finesse rather than speed,? explained Fleming, pointing out that fast buzzer skills are an asset. According to the rulebook, players who ring in too early are penalized with a 250-millisecond delay.
Before taping began, students were shown how to use the buzzers, sat for make-up applications, signed contracts, filmed on-air promotions, and donned microphones for a rehearsal game run by Jimmy McGuire, a Clue Crew member. Rehearsal questions were intentionally easy, to account for the distractions caused by the crew team vacuuming the floor, the light tests, the two jib arm cameras swinging back and forth, and the news personnel snapping pictures only a few feet away. Occasionally, the famous Jeopardy! theme song would blast through the studio, a space enclosed by thick blue curtains and capable of seating 3000 people.
The audience was selected from a pool of 30,000 people, some of whom applied through special promotions and others, labeled ?Jeopardy! fanatics? by announcer Johnny Gilbert, who began lining up at 5 am. Typically, about 15 million viewers watch each episode from home. ?We tape five shows a day and approximately six days a month,? added Gilbert, justifying the four wardrobe changes host Alex Trebek has to make during his eleven-hour working day. Taping occurs only twice a week.
Between rounds, Trebek interacted with the spectators, cracking jokes about his impersonation by Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live, his ex-wife, and his clean-shaven face, quipping, ?I shaved my mustache because I could do it.? He dodged questions about his age and election forecasts, claiming that ?only a fool would risk making a prediction? about the winning candidate. Yet when directly asked about the possibility of a robot Jeopardy!, Trebek said, ?Gosh, I hope not, because that will mean that there?ll be a robot host.? He denied being a robot himself; but allowed as how if he were forced to choose a fruit, he would be a ?chardonnay grape.?
Responding to the same question, Fleming declared that he would be a ?coconut, because they are hard on the outside and creamy on the inside.?
Claiming that he doesn?t ?understand cubism and [has] no interest in it,? Trebek advised CMU students to ?get a good liberal education? and warned against ?specifying too early? in a certain area of study. He said that he uses his degree in philosophy to ?keep life in perspective? and, if he were to invent a religion, would name it ?Pacificum.? Trebek speculated that the affinity for the show is due to the competitive nature of Americans, who are searching for ways ?to compare themselves with bright people.?
Already into its 21st season, ?the ultimate family show? reached into even more homes this year with the popularity of contestant Ken Jennings, a software developer from Utah who began his domination of the categories in June.?I really like Ken Jennings,? said Trebek.
Most audience members watched the events on two gargantuan screens mounted on either side of the room.
Set designer Naomi Slodki explained the stage design as a movement ?from the old to the new,? highlighting the visual transition between the University of Pittsburgh imitation-Cathedral backdrop to the Petersen Center?s metal and glass video monitor enclosure. It took about one month to construct the set, which was shipped in pieces to Pittsburgh. Executive producer Harry Friedman praised Pittsburgh as a ?city with a great past and a vibrant future ? rich with distinctive neighborhoods and filled with hometown pride.?
Fleming agreed, describing CMU and Pittsburgh as ?representative of the average American and solid values.?