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In Jeopardy
May 28, 2009 - 1:37am


Mrs. Churm has a habit of calling out answers for the TV game show Jeopardy, often while I’m trying to eat a perfectly good sloppy Joe sandwich. Back at the end of 2008, our son Starbuck, six years old then and unaware of the cauldron he was stirring, asked her why she hadn’t tried out for the show.

“Because you’re good, Mommy,” he said. “You know everything. You could win.”

“I am good, aren’t I?” my wife said. “But there’s a lot to it. You have to be able to hold up in front of an audience.”

“And to be able to buzz in properly,” I said. “Don’t forget the buzzing, darling.”

“Have you ever been famous for anything, Daddy?” Starbuck asked.

He kept at his mother, and by January Mrs. Churm had agreed to take an online test for the show. If I remember right, it consisted of 50 questions on a variety of topics, with only seven or eight seconds to answer each one. They didn’t tell her how she did—the whole thing seems to be run that way, with reminders you’ll probably never make it at every turn—but in April she got an invitation for the next step: To try out in person with other potential candidates at the Chicago regional trials.

So on Friday, Mrs. Churm will try out for Jeopardy at the Westin while my two boys and I drive from the city to Crazy Larry’s house to pick up hundreds of free collectible toys he’s decided he’ll no longer horde. One must seize opportunities as they present themselves. Then she’ll go shopping in the Loop as recompense for all they’ll have put her through, from another written test, to mock games with fellow contestants, to one of those bantering sessions Trebek does on the show supposedly to keep things light.

She’s already been through a lot—the uncertainty, the wavering confidence, the questioning if this is where an advanced degree leads. Worrying about the gamble in being led onward, the chance of having to choose between paying to fly to LA (and risk not even being asked to be on the actual show), or to pass and thereby miss out on retiring at the age of 37 on winnings (on pretty slim margins, it seems to me). Not to mention reading up on procedure and technique on Wiki and on the Jeopardy discussion forum and the insane archive of previous questions.

We’re pulling for her. Where else will two university employees get that kind of money? Even a child knows the answer to that.


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