Buzz Skilled

The key to winning on this show: instant reflexes.

December 2023

Reading time min

A group of people nervously watching the TV where someone is on Jeopardy!

Illustration: Marcellus Hall

Spoiler alert: I lost on Jeopardy!

In 1984, Weird Al Yankovic recorded a parody song by that name. This past June, he was a $1,000 answer on Jeopardy!—and, as one of the three contestants, I was eager to call it out. But a competitor beat me to the buzzer.

My biggest challenge turned out to be buzzer mastery, not knowledge. I was up against a speedy three-day champ. I nailed the $1,000 question in the “S-less Chaps” category and could have swept “Books & Authors,” but my competitors buzzed in ahead of me for every question but one. Having scrambled to a momentary second place, I nailed the final question but still lost the game. (The champ missed it, ending his streak.)

Appearing on a game show had never been on my bucket list. But during the pandemic lockdown, my teenage sons and I watched Jeopardy! daily, playing along and keeping score. At the end of every episode, the show prompted aspiring contestants to take a test online. In 2022, fighting both COVID and boredom, I took the test, clicked submit, and forgot about it.

Months later, after another test and an audition, I was shocked to get selected. I’d watched many contestants who had not been weaned on video games struggle to buzz in and worried I’d have the same trouble. But once I decided to put myself out there, I genuinely wanted to have fun. I leaned on five of my stylish Stanford soul sisters to help me choose what to wear—we settled on an iris-blue silk blouse and cardigan, more librarian than business casual—and then I focused on amplifying my strengths. When I practiced along with the show, using a click-top pen as a buzzer, my husband (Doug Boeschen, ’92, MA ’93) prompted me to relax my shoulders, to smile, to be myself.

Knowing the outcome, I felt some regret over my lack of gameplay savvy.

Two months later, I debated throwing a watch party. I would be seeing my episode for the first time, and, knowing the outcome, I felt some regret over my lack of gameplay savvy. But I was able to let that go when so many of my friends and family asked to share the experience and join me in watching the show.

Across the country, my family and childhood friends gathered around TVs. The episode aired hours before I could watch it in California, and texts poured in, many with photos of my supporters celebrating with glasses of wine from my husband’s vineyard. In my own small town, at a bar showing Jeopardy! on all three of its TVs, a joyous roar went up whenever the buzzer went my way, and the crowd heckled my competitors with good-natured glee. In truth, my victory on Jeopardy! was this: the immense encouragement and big-hearted love of those who mean the most to me. 

I certainly scored big in the fun category. Did I mention I didn’t win?

Deborah Claymon’92, is a writer who lives in St. Helena, Calif.

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