December 16, 2019

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Winnipeg Jeopardy! contestants for $200, Alex...

Local history professor blew his shot on 2017 episode of syndicated TV ratings juggernaut and wrote a fringe festival play about it

Today’s Final Jeopardy! category is TV Ratings Winners. You will have 30 seconds to write down your answer. Be sure to phrase your response in the form of a question. Here’s your clue: in the first six months of 2019, this long-running TV game show often averaged more daily viewers than The Big Bang Theory, Game of Thrones and NCIS.

Da da da da da da da...

Earlier this year, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek revealed he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.</p>

SETH WENIG / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Earlier this year, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek revealed he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Jeopardy! has been in the news a fair bit lately.

First, longtime host Alex Trebek announced in March he’d been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, an aggressive illness with a less than 10 per cent survival rate. Two months later, the five-time Emmy Award-winner for outstanding game show host and 2017 recipient of the Order of Canada made headlines again when he revealed that, following treatment, some of his tumours had shrunk in size by half and that he appeared to be on the mend.

Second, James Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas, became a household name when, beginning April 4, he embarked on a 32-game winning streak. Nielsen ratings for the show, which first aired on NBC in 1964, shot up 50 per cent in some markets during Holzhauer’s run, second only to Ken Jennings’ historic 74 victories in a row in 2004.

TWENTY QUESTIONS...

During Jeopardy!’s decades-long run, Winnipeg- and Manitoba-centric clues have come up time and time again. As listed on the J! Archive website, here are some of the clues folks from our neck of the woods woulda-coulda-shoulda considered easy as pie.

GEOGRAPHY (Feb. 7, 1986)

From Cree words ‘win nipee’ meaning muddy water, it’s the capital of Manitoba, Canada

 

FAMOUS CANADIANS (Oct. 30, 1987)

Born Edna Mae Durbin in Winnipeg, she was in One Hundred Men and a Girl — as the girl

 

BALLET (Sept. 12, 1989)

This Canadian province is home to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

 

ANAGRAMS (April 12, 1996)

The name of this Canadian province is an anagram of ‘main boat’

 

THEY ALL PLAYED HAMLET (Jan. 7, 1998)

Fans from around the world sped to Winnipeg to see this Speed star play Hamlet there in 1995

 

GEOGRAPHY (Feb. 7, 1986)

From Cree words ‘win nipee’ meaning muddy water, it’s the capital of Manitoba, Canada

 

FAMOUS CANADIANS (Oct. 30, 1987)

Born Edna Mae Durbin in Winnipeg, she was in One Hundred Men and a Girl — as the girl

 

BALLET (Sept. 12, 1989)

This Canadian province is home to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

 

ANAGRAMS (April 12, 1996)

The name of this Canadian province is an anagram of ‘main boat’

 

THEY ALL PLAYED HAMLET (Jan. 7, 1998)

Fans from around the world sped to Winnipeg to see this Speed star play Hamlet there in 1995

 

60s ROCK (May 28, 1998)

This group’s 1969 hit These Eyes featured Randy Bachman, later of B.T.O., on lead guitar

 

WORLD HODGEPODGE (June 15, 1999)

Assiniboine Park in this capital of Manitoba boasts a miniature railway

 

MANITOBA (Sept. 8, 2000)

More than half the province’s people live in this city known as ‘The Peg.’

 

ZOO-OLOGY (Feb. 6, 2001)

You’ll feel like Santa when you ride a sleigh pulled by these animals at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg

 

SPORTS & MUSIC (Dec. 1, 2003)

It’s traditionally heard before games between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

 

BORN NORTH OF THE BORDER, EH? (March 1, 2004)

Let’s Make a Deal with this host who hails from Winnipeg, Canada.

 

CELL BLOCK CINEMA (Dec. 6, 2006)

The scenes of Perry Smith being interviewed in jail in this 2006 film were shot in Manitoba, not Kansas.

 

OFFICAL CANADIAN PROVINCE THINGS (Feb. 13, 2008)

It’s great, it’s grey, it’s nocturnal, it’s the provincial bird of Manitoba

 

CANADIAN CAPITALS, EH (Oct. 6, 2010)

Winnie the Pooh was named after a bear owned by a WW1 soldier from this Manitoba city

 

FROM THE HALLS OF MANITOBA (Oct. 6, 2010)

“With one of the largest denning areas for them nearby, Churchill is the world capital of these Arctic carnivores.”

 

A PLACE I’VE NEVER BEEN (May 9, 2011)

Wapusk National Park, in this province one east of Saskatchewan

 

CANADA’S WALK OF FAME (Feb. 28, 2012)

In 2000 the walk honored Joni Mitchell & this other Canadian music icon who had a Heart Of Gold

 

CANADIAN PROVINCIAL FLAGS (Jan. 1, 2015)

This mammal of the plains that provided food & clothing for Indigenous peoples is depicted on Manitoba’s flag

 

THE HILL, HULL & HALL OF FAME (April 13, 2016)

In the NHL this Golden Jet scored 610 goals; in the WHA he added 303 more

 

FUN WITH TEAM NAMES (Sept. 25, 2018)

A game between these two NHL teams was described as a West Side Story clash

 

(Answers, in order: What is Winnipeg? Who is Deanna Durbin? What is Manitoba? What is Manitoba? Who is Keanu Reeves? Who are the Guess Who? What is Winnipeg? What is Winnipeg? What are reindeer? What is O Canada? Who is Monty Hall? What is Capote? What is an owl? What is Winnipeg? What are polar bears? What is Manitoba? Who is Neil Young? What are bison? Who is Bobby Hull? What are the Winnipeg Jets and San Jose Sharks?)

source: j-archive.com

 

Next week, Jeopardy! will again become a topic of discussion, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. That’s when university professor George Buri debuts his one-person play I Lost on Jeopardy! at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival (Venue 7, July 17-28).

Buri, a history instructor, knows of what he acts. In the spring of 2017, he travelled to Los Angeles to try his luck on Jeopardy! after completing a lengthy audition process. During his episode, which aired in July 2017, Buri was in the lead heading into Final Jeopardy!, $2,400 ahead of Justin Vossler — cue announcer Johnny Gilbert — "a high school history teacher from Homer, N.Y., whose one-day cash winnings total $27,100."

"I was so deathly afraid I was going to make a mistake with my math that when it was time to write out my Final Jeopardy! wager I was literally shaking," Buri says, nursing a cold one on the patio at Carlos & Murphy’s, a few blocks from his home in Osborne Village. "The producers actually asked me to rewrite it, so they could make out what it said, exactly."

One problem: the Final Jeopardy! category that day was Americana, not particularly well-suited to a person who grew up in Brandon, he says with a chuckle.

Upon hearing the clue, "This official U.S. government song traces its roots to a song about Roderick Dhu, the leader of a Highland clan," he immediately drew a blank. And as you may have guessed from the title of his play, his response "What is America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)?" which he wagered $12,001 of his $16,800 on, failed to match the correct answer, "What is Hail to the Chief?"

Never mind that a reported 100,000 people try to get on Jeopardy! every year, and that only a tiny fraction of them are successful. Also never mind that Buri was one of the chosen few and how, in the end, he pocketed $1,000 for finishing second. For months, he beat himself up thinking, "(bad word), that could have been me," every time somebody was announced as a returning champion.

"I started writing I Lost on Jeopardy! two years ago, almost immediately after the show was over, scribbling things down so I wouldn’t forget," he continues.

"It’s a play that’s funny, but also has some seriousness to it. I’m hoping audiences will find it fascinating to learn a bit of what goes on behind the scenes of Jeopardy!, while also leaving the theatre thinking about things like competitiveness, failure, taking chances etc., some of the ideas I explore in the show."

George Buri finished second when he appeared on Jeopardy! in 2017. Buri will debut his Fringe Festival play, I Lost on Jeopardy!, next week. </p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

George Buri finished second when he appeared on Jeopardy! in 2017. Buri will debut his Fringe Festival play, I Lost on Jeopardy!, next week.

According to the unofficial Jeopardy! fan site J! Archive, which tracks the results of thousands of Jeopardy! games, only six people who’ve called Winnipeg home at one time or another — Buri, Derek Rolstone, Amanda Steadman, Dr. Lewis Targownik (a two-time winner in 2000), Kathy Brice and Ashleigh Banfield, a television personality who appeared in a celebrity version of the game in 2004 — have competed on the show since its inception, 55 years ago.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with three of them to discuss everything from when they started watching Jeopardy! to what they and Trebek chatted about during the perfunctory, tell-us-a-bit-about-yourself part-of-things to how difficult it is to master the buzzer.


Derek Rolstone, Season 13 (airdate: Sept. 28, 1996)

As pick-up lines go, the following may go down as one of the all-time best.

In 1997, Derek Rolstone, at the time a 27-year-old human resources consultant, was out with buddies at a popular watering hole on Portage Avenue near Polo Park. After spending a couple hours chatting with a gal named Barbara, he proposed heading somewhere else for a nightcap.

Derek Rolstone appeared on Jeopardy! in 1996, finishing second. Twenty-six years later he still has a framed collection of images that he keeps as a reminder.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Derek Rolstone appeared on Jeopardy! in 1996, finishing second. Twenty-six years later he still has a framed collection of images that he keeps as a reminder.

"We ended up at Earls on Main Street where, at some point, I asked if she wanted to go back to my place to watch my episode of Jeopardy! on VHS," he says with a laugh. "To my amazement, not only did she say yes, we eventually ended up getting married, as well."

Rolstone grew up in Charleswood. He started watching Jeopardy! in the mid-1980s, he guesses, right around the time he made the Reach for the Top team at St Paul’s High School, a squad that won the provincial championship in his senior year.

He returned to Winnipeg after attending Western University and the University of Victoria. From time to time he would head out with friends to play Buzztime, an interactive, pub trivia contest staged in watering holes such as Chi-Chi’s and East Side Mario’s.

"The rule was if you won a game, you received a free round for your table. Let’s just say I did well enough that lots of times, we had to call somebody to come give us a ride home," he says with a wink.

In February 1996, Rolstone and his then-girlfriend took a trip to California. One of the things they did on their way to San Diego was make a pit stop in Los Angeles to visit a television studio that hosted once-a-month Jeopardy! tryouts.

"There were about 100 of us there, seated in this big room," he says. "They gave everybody a sheet of paper with 50 questions on it, all bottom-of-the-board questions, all pretty tough, and you had maybe five seconds to answer each one. When we were done they took the sheets to another room to mark them, old-school like. An hour or so later, they returned, saying, ‘We’d like the following people to stay behind.’"

After hearing his name, Rolstone turned to his girlfriend, who didn’t make the cut, and said, "I guess I’ll see you back at the hotel."

Four months later, Rolstone believes it was on Canada Day, he received a call from someone associated with the show. The fellow told him he had passed Step 2, an on-screen audition he took after acing the written test. Furthermore, Jeopardy! producers wanted him to return to L.A. in a month’s time.

"Because I’d obviously rather go to California when it’s cold out in Winnipeg, like a jackass I asked if I could come in the winter instead. He just repeated, ‘Can you come in a month?’" (Good plan: to prepare for his appearance on Jeopardy!, Rolstone spent an hour each day for the next four weeks lounging in his apartment block’s sauna while his girlfriend peppered him with questions from the Trivial Pursuit board game.)

At the end of the first round of his game, when the show takes a two-minute commercial break, Rolstone was well out in front. After nailing four out of five questions in the category Rock Guitarists and doing equally well at Delicacies, despite mispronouncing pate de foie gras as "What is pate foie de gras?" ("We are accepting it," said Trebek, after consulting with the judges), he had $2,500. The two people he was up against had $700 each.

In his head, he was thinking, this is so easy, there was no way he wasn’t going to win. Then Trebek unveiled the categories for the Double Jeopardy! round, among them, Gems & Jewelry and Art & Artists, not exactly his strong suits. "OK, maybe this won’t be so simple, after all," he muttered to himself.

Despite correctly answering the Final Jeopardy! clue ("An estimated 925 million of these were exchanged in 1996, the No. 1 recipients by far were teachers." What are Valentine’s Day cards?), Rolstone finished second, $1,101 behind the winner.

He received several parting gifts — his parents still have the set of china he won— but being a competitive sort, losing didn’t sit well with him.

"At the end of the taping, instead of sticking around to chat with the other contestants, I was like, I’m outta here," he says, recalling that during the show he and Trebek brought up something they had in common, they’d both been torch bearers in the leadup to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. "I’m not going to lie, I was pissed. Not because I didn’t win the money, which obviously would have come in handy for a 26-year-old, but because I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to play again. That’s what I wanted more than anything else."

These days, Rolstone, a management consultant, tunes in once in a while, usually when his two daughters, ages 9 and 16, are in the room. Does he ever remind them that, 23 years ago, their father came this close to winning Jeopardy!? Or that he was first Winnipegger to ever appear on the show?

"Oh, sure, but you know how kids are, they’ve got their own stuff going on, they’re pretty hard to impress. On the other hand, it does state on my resumé that I competed on Jeopardy! and that’s one thing that will never be coming off."

"Right, nicely done..." is a catchphrase often used by Trebek, when a contestant answers correctly. Listed are a few categories, wagering amounts and clues for which Rolstone was on the receiving end of Trebek’s "Right, nicely done."


Right, nicely done: Correct responses by Rolstone

1961 for $100 

This sovereign visited several Commonwealth nations, including India, Pakistan & Ghana.

(Who is Queen Elizabeth?)

 

Islands for $200

"Material for the giant statues on this Chilean island was quarried from a crater called Rano Raraku."

(What is Easter Island?)

 

 International actors for $400

Born Nigel Neill in Northern Ireland, this star of Jurassic Park & The Piano was raised in New Zealand.

(Who is Sam Neill?)

 

Rock guitarists for $500

He played lead guitar on such Led Zeppelin hits as Stairway to Heaven."

(Who is Jimmy Page?)

 

Assassinations for $600

Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, an outspoken foe of the Samozas, was gunned down in this capital in 1978.

(What is Managua?)


 

Amanda Steadman, Season 29 (airdate: April 25, 2013)

In December 2012, hours before leaving on a weekend shopping trip to North Dakota with three of her girlfriends, Amanda Steadman was contacted by one of Jeopardy!’s staffers, letting her know she’d made the cut and was being officially invited to Los Angeles to compete on the show.

A few hours later, Steadman, a policy writer at the time, was travelling on Highway I-29 with her pals, when they found themselves in a virtual whiteout.

Amanda Steadman was a contestant on the game show Jeopardy in 2013.</p>

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Amanda Steadman was a contestant on the game show Jeopardy in 2013.

"The weather when we left Winnipeg was fine and the forecast for Fargo was good, too, so I don’t know how we suddenly ended up in this crazy blizzard," Steadman says, seated in a coffee shop in St. Vital. "I was the one driving and the only thing that saved us was getting directly behind this semi, whose driver seemed to know what he was doing. But for about an hour I was madly clutching the wheel, thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to die in a snowstorm on the same day I found out I’m finally going to be on Jeopardy!’"

Steadman, now retired, grew up in Niagara Falls. As a youngster she watched Jeopardy! on a regular basis with her parents and four siblings, back when it was hosted by Art Fleming. Her family moved to Winnipeg at the start of her Grade 12 year. She and her sister both successfully tried out for Vincent Massey Collegiate’s Reach for the Top team, Steadman quickly becoming the unit’s go-to math and science whiz.

She pretty much forgot about Jeopardy! until 1984, the year Trebek began hosting a reboot of the program. Fans of Trebek, her parents began tuning in religiously, she says, often leaving messages on her answering machine whenever one of them correctly guessed that day’s Final Jeopardy! question.

In March 2012 she took an official online Jeopardy! quiz. (Since 2006, interested parties have been able to take a 50-question, online exam instead of traveling to California to write the test in person. Cheating, while not impossible, is difficult; contestants have only seconds to answer each question. That and using the Internet to search for answers isn’t going to help you much if you make it to the next level, when there are judges in the room.)

Steadman with Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.</p>

Steadman with Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.

Five months later she received the phone call she’d been waiting for. The voice at the other end of the line said she’d done exceptionally well on her test, and asked if she’d be available for a live audition a few weeks later.

"They gave me a choice of four different cities where auditions were being held. The closest, Chicago, also happens to be a city I enjoy very much, so that’s the one I picked," she says, pointing out potential contestants are on the hook for all expenses associated with auditioning for the show, as well as traveling to Los Angeles if they make it that far.

Steadman’s episode was recorded in December 2012. Before going on stage, she was given a five-minute tutorial how to use the buzzer, to answer questions.

"You can’t see it from home but there are lights on the side of the Jeopardy board that go on, when you’re able to buzz in," she explains. "Press your buzzer before they come on and you’re locked out for a couple seconds. Wait too long and somebody beats you to it. People who’ve done exceptionally well on Jeopardy! have talked about recreating something similar at home, which probably would have helped me. Because when I saw who I was up against, two younger guys who probably play video games and have a better reaction time than I do, I thought, that’s it, I’m screwed."

Steadman finished third, a result she’s totally at peace with. She did her best, had the time of her life and returned home with $1,000 and a framed photo of her standing next to Trebek.

"In 2015, my mother, who passed away recently, moved into a personal care home where she immediately put that picture on full display," she says, smiling. "I swear, there wasn’t one person who visited her room through the years who didn’t hear the story of the day her daughter appeared on Jeopardy!."

While acknowledging a person must possess "a certain degree of intelligence" to make it on to Jeopardy!, Steadman feels the ability to "quickly connect the dots" is equally advantageous.

"For whatever reason, I have the type of brain that takes seemingly useless bits of information and stores them away for safekeeping," she says, polishing off the last of her coffee. "For example, if you’re ever watching Jeopardy! and there’s a question about Danish astronomers, the answer is almost always going to be Tycho Brahe. I have no clue who he is or what he did, but I heard his name once and now I’ll never forget it."


Right, nicely done: Correct responses by Steadman

Literary second bananas for $400 

Robinson Crusoe taught him to say yes and no and taught him the meaning of them.

(Who is Friday?)

 

Homeland for $600

Angel Falls.

(What is Venezuela?)

 

The confederate States of America for $800

One of the Civil War’s last battles was fought in May 1865 near the mouth of the Rio Grande in this state.

(What is Texas?)

 

Let’s golf for $1,000

 In 2012, this big Mc won the PGA Championship by 8 shots, the same as his 2011 U.S. Open championship.

(Who is Rory McIlroy?)

 

Actors who sing for $2,000

He did his own singing as rocker Stacee Jaxx in the movie Rock of Ages.

(Who is Tom Cruise?)

 


George Buri, Season 33 (airdate: July 21, 2017)

What’s he’s about to say might sound silly, George Buri cautions, but for as long as he can remember, he wanted to be a contestant on Jeopardy!

"I never talked about it with anybody when I was growing up, thinking it would make me sound like a nerd, but I watched it on TV all the time, I had the board game, it was a dream of mine to get on, for sure."

George Buri

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

George Buri

Buri put Jeopardy! on the back burner while he was attending university. After getting married, he began tuning in again with his wife, Jennifer Cheslock. When the two of them weren’t taking turns shouting out answers, Buri was getting upset with the people on-screen who missed question he considered tap-ins.

One day while they were on the couch playing along, Cheslock turned to Buri, telling him, "You know, you do really well when we’re sitting here, watching at home. You should think about giving it a shot."

Buri got "super-serious" preparing for his chance at fortune and fame. He spent hours studying topics that came up as categories on a semi-regular basis, things such as American presidents, U.S. state capitals and the Civil War. Although none of those subjects came up during his episode, Trebek did ask about something he’d recently learned, specifically, where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented.

"The Raffles Hotel," he states matter-of-factly, when a scribe shoots him a look as if to say, "Hey, you tell me."

Know how Trebek spends a few seconds on each show chatting with the contestants, getting to know them a little bit? Funnily enough, that was one of the moments Buri found most challenging.

"Before you go on, the producers ask you what you’d like to discuss with Alex, so you kind of have an idea of what’s coming. I was so sure he was going to ask me about Ultimate Frisbee, which I played competitively; that was the only question I was prepared for," he says. "So when he said he’d heard I was a Winnipeg Blue Bombers fan, and asked me to explain some of the differences between the CFL and American game, I was so surprised and nervous that I struggled to say anything intelligent. I just muttered something about the bigger field, the extra player and how my dad and I have been season-ticket holders for years."

The evening his episode aired, Buri and Cheslock hosted a viewing party for friends and family at their home.

Buri was originally against the idea, still frustrated he’d finished second. When the end credits began to roll, however, he was elated he’d listened to his wife and agreed to the get-together, after all.

"When it was over and people saw I’d lost, I figured it was going to be this huge letdown," he says. "Except their reaction was the opposite of what I’d been expecting. Everybody was like, ‘Wow, George, you did so good’ and, ‘How did you know the answer to such-and-such?’

"That gave me a new perspective on things and made me proud to tell people I’d been on Jeopardy!, despite the final result. It also made me think about how everybody who gets on the show loses at some point, so I should be pleased I was able to get that far."


Right, nicely done: Correct responses by Buri

Famous lefties for $200

Ask this singer why she’s left-handed & she might quote her song, ‘I was born this way.’

(Who is Lady Gaga?)

 

College stadiums and arenas for $400 

In 1990, after a $5 million donation, this school’s indoor sports facility was renamed Coors Events Center.

(What is the University of Colorado?)

 

Consonant craving (Alex: "We’ll give you a word with all of its consonants removed. You identify the word for us") for $600

Describing a word like honk or boom: OOAOOEIA. (What is onomatopoeia?)

 

Bang that tambourine for $1,200

Suzanne Crough showed her tambourine skills as Tracy on this 1970s family sitcom.

(What is the Partridge Family?)

 

Classic novels for $2,000

In the first chapter of this dystopian novel, "I don’t think so" is the answer to "Aren’t there any grown-ups at all?"

(What is Lord of the Flies?)

 

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Saturday, July 13, 2019 at 9:46 AM CDT: Corrects year Rolstone appeared on Jeopardy!

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