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I could've been a game show contender - Clay Wilson

Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matt. 7:1). A valuable admonition; one I too often find myself forgetting.

I used to watch the TV game show "Jeopardy!" and find myself thinking, "How did that guy get on there?"

I would shake my head as some poor schmoe got the academic tar kicked out of him on national TV, certain that, if I were on that stage, I'd show them how it's done.

"For ? with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matt. 7:2).

Little did I know that one day, I would be on that stage, and I would put in a performance that would make me wonder, "How did that guy get on there?"

For readers who don't know, I made my national television debut Jan. 16 on "Jeopardy!" I flew out to Los Angeles in November to tape the show, and it aired two weeks ago.

But readers who may have caught the show know it wasn't a pretty sight. Although I got a good start right out of the gate, my momentum quickly died, then actually reversed itself.

I ended up coming in third, which I suppose doesn't sound too bad n until one considers that there are only three contestants on each show.

Fortunately, another book of the Bible, Proverbs, says repeatedly that a wise person learns from his mistakes.

Not that I claim to be a wise person, but here's what I learned: "Jeopardy!" is not as easy as it looks on TV.

I don't want this to sound like sour grapes. I don't even want it to sound like I'm just making excuses (although there's no way around it n ultimately, this is an excuse).

But the honest truth of the matter is, the buzzer system absolutely killed me.

When one is watching "Jeopardy!" at home, it appears that whoever knows the "answer" (in the form of a question, of course) first and buzzes in gets the points. But that's not necessarily so, my friend.

What they don't tell viewers is that the period in which contestants are eligible to ring in is carefully timed.

Contestants must first wait for Alex (Trebek, the host) to finish reading the question. They must then wait for a guy offstage to press a button "arming" the system so they can ring in.

The catch is that, if a contestant tries to ring in early, he is locked out for a fraction of a second. And that is just enough time for one of the other two contestants to press his or her little button once the system is armed.

Over and over on Taping Day, I experienced the longest fraction of a second of my life. For many of the answers, I knew the questions, but I just could not get the buzzer timing down.

It was into the almost imperceptible gap between when Alex finished the question, the technician armed the system and Frank or Carolyn buzzed in at the right time that all my hopes of big money and "Jeopardy!" fame vanished time and again.

Based upon my experience, I've come to the conclusion that in many games, all three of the contestants know the answers n it's simply a matter of who rings in at the right time. I suppose that, as a consoling friend put it, that's the "game" element in "game show."

But despite the fact that I didn't win enough for that trip to Hawaii (I got $1,000 just for appearing, though), I had a great time on the show.

All the contestant coordinators did a great job making me as comfortable as possible. One of them even tried in vain to help me get the buzzer timing down. On that point, though, I was incorrigible.

But I shouldn't be on the larger lesson of the dangers of game-show smugness. I hope the next time I see someone floundering on the "Jeopardy!" stage, I'll cut him a little slack.

I mean, I've felt the measure I used to mete out to those folks, and I didn't like it one bit.

Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.