Three-time champion Andrew Baggarly (BSJ97) discusses Jeopardy! experience
July 30, 2012
Andrew Baggarly (BSJ97) finally fulfilled a longtime dream by appearing on Jeopardy! this past week. Baggarly, a sportswriter who covers the San Francisco Giants for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, not only appeared on the popular game show, but became a three-time champion. He took a few minutes to share what his experience on the show was like.
How did you get on the show?
I spent a little more than 10 years trying to get on the show. The first time I took the test was 11 years ago. Back then, the first round was a written test. Now the first round is an online test, so I did that in January 2010. I thought I did OK. Then I got an email that August. I was scheduled to try out for round two on Nov. 4 in downtown San Francisco. I told a friend about it and he reminded me that the tryout was the same day as game seven of the World Series. Thankfully, the Giants won it in five games and then there was a victory parade the day before the tryout, so my first day off in two months was spent trying out for the show. You’re in the contestant pool for 18 months, so it wasn’t until February 2012 that I found out I passed. If I hadn’t made it, I would’ve tried out again.
How did you prepare?
I started preparing basically after they gave me a taping date. You have three or four weeks. I went to Barnes and Noble and bought reference and quiz books. What helped the most was the books used by people who home school their kids. I tried to study it all. I memorized my Greek and Roman gods. I tried to get my basic knowledge going to pick up as many answers as I could. It’s so hard to retain that stuff because you’re more or less reviewing what you already know as well as learning new things.
What was Alex Trebek like?
Alex only interacts with you on set and on camera. You don’t see him at all until he steps out on stage. For compliance reasons, he knows all the clues and he can’t have any contestant interaction with us beforehand. He’s very involved in it. It was interesting for me to find out that when we’re rehearsing, during that time, Alex is back there with the writers and they go over all the questions, make sure the wording is right. They don’t want everybody to know all the answers and make it a contest of who can ring in first, but they don’t want to make it impossible.
Were you surprised by any of the questions?
I was really thrown by one. It was a Daily Double, referring to a statue outside a courthouse in Louisville. Because of how the question was worded, I didn’t know if they were talking about Libra or the scales of justice, so I said both. You are allowed to change your answer, as long as you do it in time. They had to stop tape to look back to see if I started my second answer before Alex said it was wrong. The answer was justice, and I got it in time.
There was also one question I missed that was frustrating, because it was something I had studied the day before. The category was about books with numbers in the title and the answer to one question was A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I had just studied a list of Dickens novels the day before, so I knew the answer, but I didn’t click the signaling device in time.
The Final Jeopardy question in the show when I lost, that was frustrating too. It was a question about an Olympic sport added in 2000 and I had no idea what it was from the clue. The right answer was trampoline. The contestant who won, he and his wife are really into the Olympics, so he was the only one that got it. That was also one of the only sports questions I got in four episodes, and I got it wrong.
Did you have a feeling you would win?
I’m definitely not a Ken Jennings. Every game was so close that I had to keep getting Final Jeopardy each time to win. All the contestants were very sharp, so it was tough. Because I won multiple times, I was hoping to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, but I might not have won enough. Some people make it with only three wins. We’ll see.
Do you think your background as a journalist helped you on Jeopardy!?
I’ve done a fair amount of television work. A big part of my job at Comcast SportsNet is doing TV. I figured that whole element wouldn’t throw me, so I may have had a leg up there. What I think really helped wasn’t just my experience in front of the camera, but my experience of 14 years working for newspapers. I’ve worked so many game stories on deadline. You’re covering a game and someone hits a home run in the ninth inning to win it, you have to rewrite your story quickly. Having to think very quickly on my feet, and deal with things as they come at you, that really helps. Journalists are trained to figure things out and solve puzzles. You might not always know the answer, but you have to divine it with what the clue is. Being a journalist means you know how to do that, so it definitely helped.