The television game show Jeopardy! has a special place in Albany resident Miranda Prince’s life.

She grew up watching the popular TV quiz show every night with her father in the 1980s.

In July, Prince, 41, got what she calls the “chance of a lifetime,” becoming a contestant on the long-running game show created by Merv Griffin that attracts nearly 10 million viewers nightly.

Prince and her husband, Charlie, flew to southern California, where she was one of 14 contestants who fielded answers in six categories from host Alex Trebek. Unlike other game shows in which the host asks a question and the contestants respond with an answer, in Jeopardy! the host provides the answer and the contestants have to answer in the form of a question.

Prince’s journey started with an online test that she took last October.

“It was 50 questions long and I think I got at least 40 right,” Prince said. “No one is sure about how many it takes to qualify, but we think it's about 35 or so.”

More than 100,000 people take the test each year — although about 300,000 register — from which only 3,000 are selected for an audition. Auditions are held in six cities across the country, Prince said.

“I chose to audition in Detroit, Michigan, because that’s where my mother lives,” Prince said. “The program doesn’t pay for anything, so I thought I would tie in some family time on the trip.”

Prince’s audition was in April.

“It was fun and everyone from the show was very nice,” Prince said. “It was a little strange because I’m usually always the best at trivia among my friends, but I was in a room where everyone was very good at trivia. It was kind of humbling.”

The audition included taking another 50-question test, plus practicing with the buzzer used to determine which of three contestants gets to respond to Trebek’s answers from several categories. The trick is to be the first after Trebek completes talking because buzzing in too soon will lock out the buzzer for about one and a half seconds, giving the other contestants a big advantage. 

 “They kept telling everyone was to speak up, be louder and to smile,” Prince said. “I used to be involved with theater, so I know how to project my voice and I usually smile when I’m nervous, so I was fine.”

Prince said she was notified three weeks after the audition that she would be on the program which is shot on a sound stage at Sony Pictures in Culver City, California.

During the interim, Prince studied up on popular topics such as American presidents and African geography and she practiced providing her answers in question form with her husband.

The Princes flew down to Los Angeles the day before production.

“They provide a shuttle from two hotels,” Prince said. “We had to be there by 8 a.m. and producers have it down to a science. They were all very nice and supportive. It could have been scary, but it wasn’t.”

Prince said producers immediately begin briefing the contestants, encouraging them to relax and have fun.

Contestants’ names are drawn to determine their order of appearance.

“Until you get on stage, you sit with the audience,” Prince said. “I brought knitting, but never got to it.”

Prince said she was in the third round of contestants, which she said was good, since it allowed her to work out her most of her nervousness. She said the introduction when the camera is focused singularly on each of the contestants as their name is announced, was a bit stressful.

After the first commercial break, Trebek talks with each of the contestants and asks them a question usually from background material they have provided the show with.

“We had already filled out an information sheet of fun facts about us,” Prince said. “The producers brief Alex Trebek, but he may ask you anything he wants.”

Prince said she kept telling herself “to not choke. I just really wanted to be able to hit the buzzer first. You can’t buzz in until Alex has completed talking. If you do, it locks you out for about a second and a half, which is an eternity.”

Prince said there were 14 contestants in her group.

“The show is produced on Tuesday and Wednesday every other week,” Prince said. “They shoot five shows per day, so even if you are a big winner, you may only be there for two days.”

Prince said she was a bit surprised that the Jeopardy! set is smaller than it appears on television, but it is very colorful.

“You don’t see Alex Trebek until shooting starts,” Prince said. “He doesn’t hang out outback. Again everyone is very friendly.”

Prince said the approximately 22-minute show flew by “like 22 seconds.”

Although she can’t talk about the categories that came up during her time on stage, Prince said there were some that popped up and she thought, “Uh-oh, but then I did far better than I thought I would.”

Jeopardy! has been on television since 1964.

There are six categories with five questions each and ascending amounts of money associated with each question. In the first round, contestants can earn up to $1,000 on the top question in each category.

In the second round — called double Jeopardy! — values double, up to $2,000.

Following the two rounds, there is Final Jeopardy!, in which a single answer is given and contestants can wager nothing or all of their earnings thus far. The champion earns whatever amount they win that day and proceeds to the next day’s show. Second and third place winners receive $2,000 and $1,000 respectively.

Prince couldn’t say how much money she won or how many shows she was on, but she feels like she did well.

She is especially proud of an official Jeopardy! hat that was given to each of the contestants.

“I didn’t make a fool of myself, and I had a wonderful time,” Prince said. “Jeopardy! is a show aimed at nerds. It’s written by nerds, played by nerds and watched by nerds, but it is so much fun.”

Mid-valley residents can find out how Prince did by watching Jeopardy! at 7 p.m. on Sept. 27 on Channel 2 KATU Portland.

In addition to watching Jeopardy! faithfully, Prince also enjoys being on the Sick Town Derby Dames roller derby team where she is known as Dixieskullpopper.

She also works at Color Song Yarn in Philomath.

“I would encourage anyone who thinks they would like to try being on Jeopardy! to take the test,” Prince said with a big grin on her face. “It’s truly a once in a lifetime experience.”

Visit www.jeopardy.com to learn more about testing dates.

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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