Washington Week

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“I’ll take ‘Washington Week’ for $1,000”: WW’s Roey Hadar appears on “Jeopardy”

Want to find out what it’s like to be on “Jeopardy?” Our “Washington Week” production associate went on the show. As his episode airs this Wednesday, we gave him the chance to run through his experience on the long-running quiz show.

My name is Roey Hadar, I’m the Production Associate on “Washington Week” and I’ll be on “Jeopardy!” this Wednesday, July 17.

Wow, that’s cool! How do you even get on “Jeopardy?”
You start by taking an online test that anyone can sign up for. I took mine right as I was finishing college and gave it a shot along with nearly 100,000 others. If you do well enough, they call you and a few thousand others for one of their in-person auditions, where you take another test, get interviewed and play a mock game. If they like you, they’ll call you back, usually within 18 months. In my case, it took a little longer than that—nearly two years—but while most contestants have about a month’s notice after being told they’re going on the show, I had just two weeks from when I was notified to my tape day. This week’s shows were taped back in late March.

There’s so much they could ask about. How do you prepare for something like that?
First in high school and then in college at Georgetown University, I played eight years of quiz bowl, which tests your knowledge of random academic trivia and requires using a buzzer, much like “Jeopardy!,” and that helped a lot. Many friends, opponents and even at least one teammate of mine who I met through it have also gone on the show. Former “Jeopardy!” champ Ken Jennings has dubbed the game the “Jeopardy! minor leagues,” and it’s relatively true—why not take a hobby and try to turn it into a small fortune?

In middle school, I tried my hand at the spelling bee and the geography bee—in the latter, I made it to the national competition that just so happened to be hosted by Alex Trebek. Even before that, I always had an interest in memorizing facts—stats on the back of baseball cards, Trivial Pursuit answers, world capitals on maps, etc.

In the two weeks I had to prepare before my taping, I re-watched old episodes and used an archive of old clues. They don’t tell you any categories in advance, so I knew I needed to brush up on a wide swath of knowledge.

I reviewed those after work (and very secretly during work a little more often than the producers might have liked!) and made sure to keep current on news (which is easy to do at “Washington Week,” especially as I usually curate the Washington Week-ly News Quiz.) Working for this team requires coming in every day with a wide set of knowledge about news and current events. When preparing to brief our moderator Robert Costa ahead of each edition of “Washington Week,” I have to make sure I’m ready with knowledge on everything from the latest immigration statistics to the history of U.S. relations with Iran to remembering the number of people running for president. It wasn’t really all that different to prepare for “Jeopardy!”

What’s it like to be on the show? And what’s Alex Trebek like?
It’s kind of surreal. I’ve watched “Jeopardy!” for years and it’s so odd to actually be on the set. When you’re at the podium, you also see the game from a reverse angle and the rhythms of the game are also different from watching at home. The biggest differences are that you have to call the clues out yourself and that you have to wait to respond at the end of the clue. You have to also time the buzzer right and not ring in too early (which locks you out for a fraction of a second) or too late (when someone else will have beaten you.) You have to anticipate the lights that signal that the buzzer is unlocked to ring in first.

You have to wait several hours until you play and since they tape five shows in one day, you could be there a long time. You also get to watch the games before yours, which can help you familiarize yourself with how the game is played and who the champion you’ll face will be but it could be intimidating if you end up facing a player like recent record-breaking champ James Holzhauer. And even if you win or lose, the producers of the show do a great job at fostering a friendly environment. There’s a lot of bonding that goes on and I’ve already connected on social media with several people who were there to tape their episode on the same day.

You don’t learn too much about Trebek while you’re on the show. You only see him during games and you only really interact with him while you’re playing and in the brief small talk they show as the credits roll. Once the cameras are off, he’s gone, in large part to avoid accusations that he’s getting too friendly and playing favorites with contestants. But during commercial breaks, he takes questions and engages with the audience. It was through that that I got an update on his condition—he had announced his diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer just a few weeks before—and learned that apparently, despite his diagnosis, he’s still working on DIY projects at his house (although he did not tell us whether or not he was wearing a wig.) It was amazing and truly moving to see him host despite his condition and power through it. In the few months since, Trebek has said that his cancer has gone into “near remission.”

But come on, how did you do?
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that yet! Because of federal laws surrounding game shows that date back to the 1950s quiz show scandals, as well as the show’s own policies, contestants have to sign paperwork that prevents them from doing anything to suggest the show could have been fixed or making anything public about what happened during the game until it airs. I’m allowed to tell you all about what it was like to be there, but I can’t tell you anything about what happened in the game—not the result, the clues, the categories, not even my little anecdote that Trebek asks me about—or else I risk forfeiting my winnings (and I promise, that’s not a spoiler. Even losing contestants get up to $2,000 as a consolation prize, while winners get to keep what they won on the show and come back the next day.)

If you want to know how I do, you’re going to have to watch for yourself. You can find out where and when “Jeopardy!” airs in your area by searching your ZIP code here. I hope you can watch Wednesday and cheer me on. Thanks in advance to all of you!