Game show contestants tell all

Louise Clemens of Waterford, second from right, smiles as she talks about her experiences as a contestant on
Louise Clemens of Waterford, second from right, smiles as she talks about her experiences as a contestant on "Jeopardy." Clemens and other area residents talked about their experiences as game show contestants during a program at the Waterford Public Library Saturday. The other contestants are, left to right, Mary Anna Martell, Meredith Robinson, both of whom appeared on "Jeopardy;" Dianne Houlihan, who appeared on "Chopped," and Judy Liskov, who appeared on "Eye Guess," "The $25,000 Pyramid," "Price is Right" and is currently in the contestant pool for "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

What happens on set during "Jeopardy" commercial breaks? Why would "Chopped" blindfold contestants? What recourse would you have if your "$25,000 Pyramid" partner was, well, not very good?

There were many answers to be had Saturday when five game/reality show alums talked about their experiences in a program titled "So You Want To Be A Contestant" at Waterford Public Library.

When Louise Clemens of Waterford competed on "Jeopardy" in 1990, the contestants had to turn their backs to the board during the commercial breaks — and they couldn't look at the audience at that point, either, or they might get tossed out of the game.

Things are different now, according to those who have made recent "Jeopardy" appearances. Host Alex Trebek takes photos with the players and answer questions from the audience. Sometimes, too, he uses the time to re-record an earlier answer to, say, correct his pronunciation.

Here's a commonality among these programs: they all like to keep certain things secret. On the Food Network cooking contest "Chopped," for instance, the chefs were blindfolded on their bus ride to the Queens warehouse where the episode was filmed so they wouldn't know where exactly the site was, recalled participant Dianne Houlihan of Waterford.

People are also supposed to stay mum about the results until their episode airs, although Clemens said, "Oh, I blabbed to everybody," prompting an eruption of laughter from others at the session.

Clemens actually has been on "Jeopardy" twice, first in 1965 — when Art Fleming was hosting — and then in the senior tournament in 1990.

She went to New York to try out the first time and remembered playing a game.

"One of them said, 'Two cups.' I said, 'How many cups of flour in a cake.' But the smart one next to me said, 'What's a bra,' " Clemens said.

Funny, sure, but Clemens was the one who made it onto the show. One backstage tidbit she mentioned Saturday: "Jeopardy" had "minders" to accompany players to the bathroom — presumably so no cheating could go on.

Of everyone at Saturday's session, Judy Liskov has been on the most game shows. Liskov, who is Waterford Public Library's assistant director, first competed on "Eye Guess," which aired on NBC in the late 1960s. It was a rather successful stint: she won her honeymoon trip, Italian knit sweaters for her fiance, cookware, a variety of small appliances, and one of the first Radar Ranges ever. ("After that was delivered, we would invite people over and we would watch water boil," she said.)

Later, she was on "The Price Is Right." She and a fellow competitor named Virginia never made it onto the stage, though, and host Bob Barker was "really sweet," Liskov said, and joked about its becoming "The Virginia and Judy Show."

When Liskov competed on "The $25,000 Pyramid," she made it to the winner's circle with celebrity partner Sandy Duncan and won $800 or $900. She recalled, though, that the other celeb guest, Frank Gifford, was "the kiss of death." When players were paired with him, they inevitably lost.

"We as a contestant group got together and agitated to somehow make things right," she said.

The producers, though, wouldn't change anything.

Most recently, Liskov qualified via tests for "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" — but that doesn't necessarily mean she'll be called to be on the show.

She and her husband did, though, travel to New York to watch a "Millionaire" taping, which was a 9-to-5 proposition as they filmed five episodes. During one, a contestant "just froze. He could not make a decision," she said.

A producer came over to speak with him, and the contestant asked to be given another shot. But the second time, he froze again, and so he was off the show.

Liskov has been trying to get on "Millionaire" for three or four years, and it's the same approach one should apparently take when it comes to making it onto "Jeopardy," too: try, try, and try again.

Mary Anna Martell, who lives in Waterford, recalled all the tests, auditions and mock games that competitors have to get through in their quest to be on "Jeopardy." She took her first test in 2007 and got onto the program in 2011. She ended up a one-day champion and spoke about her moment of realization: "To look up after Double Jeopardy and realize they can't catch me — holy cow." Being on "Jeopardy," she said, "was a blast."

Meredith Robinson of Gales Ferry was just on "Jeopardy" last year, but the retired naval officer had her first brush with "Jeopardy" much earlier. That was when the program held a contestant search in Guam when she was stationed there. A second try didn't land her on the show either, but a third go did. In between the time she heard she was going to be on "Jeopardy" and the taping, Robinson studied up on subjects like geography, presidents and opera — and she got at least one question right because of that cramming.

She placed second and said, "It was a wonderful experience — so much fun."

Dianne Houlihan was working at Great Neck Elementary School in Waterford when she competed on "Chopped" in 2011. She said that doing "Chopped" was one of the scariest, most difficult things she has done.

She came in second and said, "Even though I didn't win, I got to do some really incredible things."

Indeed, the participants in that school-chef episode of "Chopped" were sent by the show to the Culinary Institute of America for a week. They also spent a week at the White House, thanks to Sam Kass, who was on "Chopped" and is a personal chef for the Obamas. They even got to tour the White House kitchen and were put up at the posh Willard Hotel.

And Houlihan had said on air that she would have used the prize money, had she won, to take her grandson to Disney World. A loyal "Chopped" fan gave her a check so she could, in fact, take that Disney trip.


Loading comments...
Hide Comments