Monday, September 22, 2008

Click here to begin

All of you faithful reader out there know how much attention I pay to commercials, even with my DVR, which I have not previously mentioned. I have a DVR, and it has kind of changed my life. Kind of. I still watch them. I still judge them. I still love the Sonic commercials, regardless of what one of my friends might think. Microsoft has made a big splash lately. They've got Bill Gates running around with Jerry Seinfeld. They've got Bill Gates running around with all sorts of other pcs. I guess he has a lot of time on his hands nowadays, now that he's no longer running the world from his evil throne. (Notice that I have not made a judgment about Gates; just his throne. Or did I?)

I don't know how I feel about the Seinfeld commercials. They're weird and avant-garde and memorable, but I can't say that they're funny. They're just weird for the sake of weird, and since they are both famous, people notice. The question, though, is when did Seinfeld stop being funny? Actually, Gates isn't too bad. But that's because he's Bill Gates on a tv commercial telling Jerry Seinfeld that he doesn't wear his clothes in the shower. That's weird for the sake of funny.

The other one is the answer to the Mac vs. PC commercials. It isn't that funny either, but that's not really what they're going for. It's actually a pretty cool commercial, except it's like 5 years too late. The Mac vs. PC commercials are ridiculous now (although I did laugh at the pizza one) and not really that relevant anymore. Where have you been, Microsoft ad people? Or Windows ad people? I don't really understand what the companies are anymore.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What is the best party story ever?

I think everyone loves Jeopardy, whether they freely admit it or not. There is something lovable about Alex Trebek and his feigned sympathy when somebody confuses Hirohito and Akihito. Everybody feels the same way about the inane stories people tell in the middle of the Jeopardy round, mostly how much more interesting we are than the people on the show and their stories about their cats and proposing to their wives at football games. Last week, I drove to Savannah to try out for the chance to tell my inane cat stories to millions of people all over the country, right before or after Wheel of Fortune.

It all started about eight months ago when America’s favorite quiz show put out its annual online online qualifying test. I had been waiting on this moment for a long time; probably since the very first time I heard the category title “Potent Potables.” This would be my time to shine.

Before the 8:00 pm start time, the 50 question exam could he about anything, from Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” to the reign of Tiberius Caesar or this year’s Best Picture winner. I do not remember a lot of the details, and since they kept most of the details hush-hush, they kept my score a secret. It reminded me a lot of “the permanent record” that teachers kept in elementary school. They also tell you that there is an element of randomness involved, I assume to keep your ego in check enough not to go around to your friends and discuss how you knocked the test out of the park. You cannot get on the show with out a little luck. In fact, you cannot even make it past the first cut.

Last month, though, I got word back. After eight months of waiting on pins and needles, I got an e-mail telling me to arrive at a hotel in Savannah. The only warning, the only preparation really, they offered me was to arrive prepared for a written exam, a personality interview, and a mock Jeopardy round. I expected the written exam to be a lot like the online test, and it was, and I had seen enough of the show to kind of know what to expect from a simulated game, but personality interview? What does that even mean? Do they have a personality type in mind? Are they worried I am going to arrive in an oversized hat? It is television, after all, and you never really know what it is they are thinking. They could be thinking something like, “His head will look huge on camera.” Oh they did have one more suggestion that I forgot: have fun!

When I got there, they gave us a little history of the show and explained how the trick is as much about timing as it is about knowing the answers to Alex’s Questions. Or questions to his answers. Or whatever.

The written exam was another 50 questions with eight seconds for each. It was just as tense as it sounds, since the questions about opera are just as hard in Savannah as they are from your couch. After it was over, the discussion was just like the ones that happen after tests in school or a after a poker game: obnoxious. I do not care if you knew who created Daisy Buchanan, this is competition. This is deathmatch. This is Thunderdome.

The next step was the mock game and the personality interview (they happened together). They ask you about your inane cat stories and your job and what you would do with the money. The trick, though, was that they did it at a rapid, television pace to catch the unwitting civilians off guard. Everyone did ok, unfortunately. The herd was not thinned that much at this stage.

They insisted that the mock round would not be “graded,” but I am a little skeptical. I think it was an effort to try to diffuse the nervousness, and every wrong answer was really black mark on our secret Jeopardy permanent record. It is a bit intimidating, there’s a lot to think about: wait for the question to be read completely, think of the right answer, buzz in, answer loud, smile, and please oh please do not forget to answer in the form of a question. This is all while you are standing in front of the other Jeopardy gladiators. One question sticks out in my mind – to which dynasty did Mary, Queen of Scots belong? I knew the answer, and kept saying in my head, “It’s Stuart, do not say Tudor.” Yet, invariably, I buzzed in and said, “What is Tudor?” Wrong. That is a black mark on my Jeopardy record forever, I just know it. I did get other questions right, but Mary, Queen of Scots will haunt my dreams.

They told us that they keep us on file for eighteen months. So, anytime between next week and a year and a half from now, I might get a phone call (hopefully from Alex himself) saying, “Mr. Hathway, we need you in Los Angeles right away.” Then I can start bragging to my friends about how I knocked the Jeopardy tests out of the park, and hopefully, will not fall on my face on television after doing so. Luckily for you guys, though, I do not have any cats.