Andy Baggarly loves his job, covering the Giants for Comcast Sports Net. He also loves the television quiz show “Jeopardy!” and had always aspired to be a contestant.
His dream to be on the show almost got sideswiped by the Giants’ dream season in 2010, however.
Baggarly, Baseball America’s longtime Giants correspondent, had been trying to get on the game show for about 10 years. Becoming a “Jeopardy!” contestant is a multi-step process. First, you take a 50-question test. The show picks people from the pool of those who pass the test to come in for more questions and in-person auditions. If you pass that hurdle, you’re in the contestant pool and can get called for the show.
“I’ve always wanted to get on ‘Jeopardy!’ because I have all this random information in my head that’s of no use to anyone otherwise,” he said.
Baggarly had passed the initial test twice before, but had never gone further than that.In 2010 he passed the test again, and this time he got called back for an in-person tryout in November. He didn’t think anything of it, but a friend noted that his tryout date would also be the scheduled date for Game Seven of the World Series.
It was mid-summer, and while the Giants were in contention, Baggarly thought, “What are the chances they’ll be in the World Series?”
Pretty good, as it turned out. As the Giants hurtled toward a World Series title, Baggarly made contingency plans in case Game Seven and “Jeopardy!” collided.
Things worked out, though, as the Giants did him a favor and won the title in five games over the Rangers. So Baggarly covered the crowning game on one night, a victory parade the next, and then had his audition.
After making it to the audition, however, he still wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the show. That just placed him in the contestant pool for 18 months. But in February this year—15 months after the audition—Baggarly got word that he would be on the show the next month.
Baggarly not only got on the show but also ended up being a three-day champion, winning a total of $61,402. Not only is that a nice reward for four days’ work, but it also gives him an outside chance at qualifying for the show’s tournament of champions for this season.
Having a certain level of knowledge is obviously a prerequisite to performing well on the show, but Baggarly said knowing how to handle the buzzer—or in “Jeopardy!” parlance, the signaling device—is nearly as important.
In the television studio, contestants can see a set of white lights that are illuminated when host Alex Trebek is reading the question. Contestants can’t buzz in until those lights go out, when the question has been read. Obviously the contestants are anticipating the moment, so hitting it perfectly can be the winning edge.
“The buzzer rhythm is really the hardest thing about the show,” Baggarly said. “It’s almost like shooting free throws.”
Baggarly got in good rhythm with the buzzer in his three wins, feeling like he was in the zone. He also proved to be a savvy player, wagering just the right amounts on Daily Doubles or Final Jeopardy categories, and allowing him to pull out wins in tightly contested games. The run finally came to an end on day four when he missed the Final Jeopardy question about the Olympics—which, interestingly enough, was the only sports question he got during his run.
The question asked about a sport played on an elevated square that had been added to the Olympic program, and Baggarly answered sumo wrestling. The correct answer was trampolining, prompting people across the nation to say, “Trampolining is an Olympic sport?”
“I felt like I knew more of the clues than any of the other games in the game that I lost,” he said. “I just got beat on the buzzer a lot and missed the Final Jeopardy question.”
Still, Baggarly walked away with a nice payday, a huge step up from the giant chocolate bar he won as a consolation prize from his only other game show appearance: during youth week on “Card Sharks” when he was a kid.
Then, perhaps, came the hardest part of all, as he had to keep mum about the results of his appearance until the shows aired in July. He could tell people that he had been on the show, but obviously he couldn’t even tell them if he was on for a day or a week, because that would give away how he did. His family had been in the studio audience, so he had to swear them to secrecy as well.
When the time finally came that the shows were broadcast, Baggarly said the size of the “Jeopardy!” audience really hit home for him, as he got well wishes from people he hadn’t heard from in years.
“It’s been pretty fun, especially with how people have received it,” he said.
Now comes one more wait, as the show doesn’t hand its contestants their winnings until three months after the air date. But as with all of the other waiting Baggarly has done throughout this process, this one should be worthwhile.