Answer: University graduate student who will compete on Jeopardy! tonight. Question: Who is Bill Westerman? Westerman, a folklore graduate student who said he has been "addicted" to Jeopardy! since his first grade lunch breaks, may have achieved the game-show equivalent of a dream come true. "My grandma used to sit me down and say, 'Watch this, you might learn something,' " Westerman said. "Well, I learned to become a Jeopardy! candidate." But Westerman's account of his hour in the spotlight may very well erode any Jeopardy! addict's glamourous fascination with Alex Trebek's warm smile and polite conversation. "When the credits began rolling, [Trebek] came up to me and said, 'I'm so hungry, I haven't had anything to eat today except for four Oreos, two milano cookies and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,' " Westerman said. "I tried to look as interested as I could." · Westerman's journey to trivia stardom began last year when his friend Bernie McAleer encouraged him to join a contestant search in Atlantic City. But the traffic was heavy, and after driving part of the way to the New Jersey shore, Westerman urged his friend to turn around and go home. He reminded McAleer that he had tried out for the show five years ago but had not been selected. "I kept saying, 'This is ridiculous, let's turn around,' " Westerman said. "But he kept insisting and I didn't even get to thank him on the show." Once they arrived at the tryouts, Westerman took a preliminary test of ten questions, out of which participants were required to answer seven correctly in three minutes in order to advance. Those who passed this portion were asked to return for a second exam. During the next round, the 75 to 100 people who passed the first test sat in a room watching a television monitor where Trebek read 50 answers to the hopeful crowd. Of this group, Westerman said, only 15 continued. The 15 were then brought to a hotel room where they played a mock round of Jeopardy!. This round was designed to judge contestant-hopefuls' personalities and diction, he said. "During this part they shout things like 'Don't forget to put it in the form of a question' and 'More personality' ," Westerman said. "They also ask you to say something interesting about yourself, so I said I was a folklorist." The Jeopardy! selection committee then told each of the hopefuls, "Don't call us, we'll call you." So Westerman didn't call. And this time around, the trivia buff received a phone call of acceptance. "One day, I just came home and there was this message on the answering machine," Westerman said. "It said 'Congrats, it's your dream come true.' I said, 'Who the hell is this?' " Ultimately, on December 7, Westerman said he travelled -- paying all of his own expenses -- to Los Angeles for the filming. He said he brought a 1985 edition of the World Almanac with him to to brush up on his mythology, because for a folklorist, missing a mythological question "would be real embarrasing." He also said he wanted to review the British and French monarchs because he has never taken a Eurpoean history course. When Westerman first arrived on the Jeopardy! set, he participated in a rehearsal and was read the rules, he said. Then the technical crew put make-up on him and before the actual game began, assistants showed him how to operate the pen. "I couldn't get the hang of it -- my name looks terrible and they wouldn't let me rewrite it, and in fact, Alex couldn't read my final Jeopardy answer," he said. "The buzzers were easy to operate, it's just everyone's so damn fast and if you ring in too soon you get locked out for [a few tenths of a second]." Before the show began, the contestants walked out and stood next to each other. "My two opponents were tall, 6' 5" and 6' 7". I'm 5' 10", so they had to bring out a box for me to stand on," he said. "They were enormous." The most terrifying part of the show, however, is not the rigorous competion or Final Jeopardy, according to Westerman. He said everyone agrees it is the personal interview. But when the game finally began, he said, he realized that the actual show is a far cry from the perfected version millions see at home. The game board breaks nearly every episode, and, occasionally, Trebek stumbles over a question. Camera operators film Trebek rereading some of the questions after the show so that the final version will flow better, Westerman said. Sometimes, the board reveals the wrong question, and then the contestants are asked to stop and turn their backs. He added that sometimes the board just goes blank and they have to answer to the verbal question alone. But most of the time he spent enjoying the show in the past few years, Westerman had not seen Jeopardy! on television, but rather heard it on his car radio. "When the screen went blank, I just pretended I was sitting behind my dashboard," Westerman said. "The other two guys stopped playing and I got it." But the graduate student said he did not know what part of the show would eventually get edited out. "For instance, I got a Daily Double in my worst category in a very crucial moment in the contest," Westerman said. "I just said 'Oh, this is a nightmare.' I wonder if they will keep that." Westerman added most of the contestants in the show were pleasant and encouraging, but noted that there were a few arrogant players, whom everyone rooted against. Westerman is not allowed to say if he won on the show since it has not yet aired. But he did note that he will not receive any prizes he may have won, including "departing gifts," for at least another 120 days. His "departing gifts," which are guaranteed to any contestant, include footpowder and margarine. Westerman, an eighth year graduate student, said he plans to write a scholarly article on the folklore of the gameshow experience. In the Philadelphia area, the show will air tonight at 7 p.m. on Channel 6.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.