Iago's JEOBIRDY! Experience

(A Real-Life Jeopardy! Contestant Story)



That's right, I was on JEOBIRDY! Zazu has been trying for years to worm his way onto the show, but as we all know, he's stiffer than the Maltese Falcon. And that kind of persona just doesn't cut it on TV! Ya gotta be loosey-goosey and just a little bit cuckoo to make an impression on those showbiz types, know what I mean? So, when I heard they were having auditions in Atlanta in May of 2001, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me to strut my stuff. I signed up online to try out for the show, and they contacted me to set up a testing date.

I arrived early at the testing location, which was in a fancy schmancy hotel. As a matter of fact, I was so early that there was nobody else around, and I sat by myself for about a half hour, studying my list of world capitals, which I had cleverly taped to the inside of the latest issue of Playbird, so I wouldn't forget where I put it. Anyway, after awhile, some other potential contestants came up to the waiting area, and eventually the place got pretty crowded. I checked out the competition, and it was obvious that I was the best-dressed guy in the room. I had decided to go with a basic black suit, which was not only slimming, but set off my brilliant red feathers dramatically. Okay, so I admit the suit was slightly used. Sometimes it comes in handy to have friends who are penguins. I don't think anyone even noticed the herring smell.

Just before the testing time, I worked my way to the front of the crowd, and when the doors opened, I flew right to the front of the room and plopped myself down in the first row of chairs. Not only was this intimidating to the other JEOBIRDY! wannabes, it also ensured that I wouldn't have to sit on someone's head to see the TV screen where the clues would be displayed.

We were each given a sheet with blank spaces numbered 1 through 50, to write down our answers. They did not have to be in the form of a question. Alex TreeBeak came on the TV, and read the clues just like you see at home. I knew I was gonna do well when the second clue was "This is the capital of Latvia." I had memorized that particular answer because "Riga" was on my world capitals list, right near the staple on Miss June's bellybutton, and I had to keep moving the stupid list out of the way to see --

Where was I?

Oh. Right. The test.

So anyway, the clues weren't too hard. There was one where the category was "The Letter S," and the clue was "This 8-letter word can precede "beauty," "bag," or "sickness." I knew instantly that the answer was "Sleeping," 'cause the last time I asked Princess Aurora for a date, she had to use one of those sickness bags. So it just clicked for me. Anyway, we finished the test, and the JEOBIRDY! contestant coordinators left the room to grade them. They came back a few minutes later and announced that 9 candidates out of 75 had passed with a score of 35 or higher. And Yours Truly was on the list. Not only that, but I was on the list, too! They wouldn't tell us our exact scores, but after I got back to my penthouse nest, I was able to remember 46 out of the 50 questions, and I narrowed down my score. As far as I can tell, I got something between 38 and 42. I'm not positive. I stopped at Hooter's afterwards, and I may just have the numbers "38" and "42" stuck in my head for some other reason.

Okay, so after all the LOSERS left the room, we got to play a mock game. I knew I would be good at that, because I've had lots of practice mocking Zazu. I mean, I'm a regular mockingbird. So we went up in groups of three, and they gave us buzzers, and we called out categories and made up dollar amounts. Glenn, one of the contestant coordinators, seemed to like my energy. It all went very well, and then they took our pictures with a Polaroid camera. That's when I knew I would get picked to be on the show. Who could resist this face?

For some strange reason, it took them almost 7 months to get around to calling me. Not that I was thinking about it or anything. I know there are some of you out there who would get paranoid, and think that the JEOBIRDY! people had lost your telephone number, and your email address. Or that the Polaroid picture showed that you had a big piece of spinach caught between your front teeth, and they were now using your photo as a dartboard in the green room. Or that the statement "Good energy!" by Glenn was actually a secret code for "This loser wouldn't even make it on Animal Planet as some predator's lunch, plus he's got toilet paper stuck to his tailfeathers."

But not me! No way. When that call finally came around the middle of December, I was totally expecting it. What I wasn't expecting was some crazy rule about parrots needing human proxies to play the game for them, because birds are too short to see over the top of the podium, and they can't put anyone on a box taller than two feet, because of insurance regulations, yada yada yada. Sheesh! I think they were just making all that stuff up. They told me that I had to be available for taping in Los Angeles on Tuesday, January 29th and Wednesday, January 30th. There was no guarantee that I would actually get on the show, and I had to pay my own way. (This is sounding more appealing by the minute, isn't it?) But I went along with it, 'cause I really had no other choice. My agent, William (of the William & Morris Agency), hasn't exactly been getting me a lot of work lately, and I needed the exposure. Not to mention the possible big money. Sure, the last time I exposed myself for money, things didn't work out too well, but I digress.

My big decision at that point was who I was gonna choose as my proxy. I needed someone big. Someone intimidating. Someone who didn't need no steenkin' boxes! I needed Ronnie O'Rourke.

Ronnie is my biggest fan. She's the only person in the whole world that I would consider for such an important task. I can't say enough good things about her. She's like my right wing. She helps me with this website. She's honest, dependable, smart, and funny. She's kind, caring, and beautiful.

Okay, let's be honest. She's the only person I knew with enough frequent flyer miles to get me to L.A.

And the luggage compartment really wasn't that bad.

She also got a great deal on a hotel through Priceline. We stayed at the Sheraton Four Points Barcelo in Culver City for $30 per night. The room was nice, but there was only one bed. So I said to Ronnie, "Where will you be sleeping?"

As it turned out, the bathtub wasn't really that uncomfortable. She even gave me a pillow.

We tried to relax the night before the taping. We went to Sizzler's and had dinner. We both felt sort of homesick, and Ronnie missed her family. She said she was having serious misgivings about the whole venture. She thought we were going to embarrass ourselves. She thought we'd win a trip that would have to be forfeited so we wouldn't have to pay taxes on it. She thought we'd be out a few hundred dollars on the trip to California, and we'd feel like big failures for not winning a game. She said she was just being realistic.

I finally had to smack her.

So then we went back to the room and watched JEOBIRDY! and Wheel of Fortune. Actually, I wanted to watch one of those in-room movie thingies, but Ronnie hid the remote. But Wheel of Fortune was pretty funny. Some guy guessed "urgent massage" instead of "urgent message," which not only made us laugh, but also gave me a brilliant relaxation idea.

So Ronnie had to smack me.

We studied The Cultural Literacy Trivia Guide for awhile, and then we went to sleep. It's exhausting trying to be smart.

The next morning, room service delivered a really awesome breakfast of pancakes, sausages, orange juice, and coffee. Ronnie told me to lay off the sausages, because she didn't want any rude noises or funny smells emanating from our podium.

So I sneaked one while she was blowdrying her hair.

We had to take a cab to Sony Pictures Studios for the taping, and a nice lady at the front desk (whose name I think was Vivian) called the cab for us. When Ronnie told her that we were going to be on JEOBIRDY!, Vivian rubbed some kind of good luck stone that she had, on our behalf. I thought that was very nice of her. I told Vivian about that funny "urgent massage" story, and I asked her if she was aware of the ancient Arabian belief that rubbing a red parrot was lucky.

So Vivian had to smack me.

We got to the studios, and the security guard directed us to a bench, where we were supposed to wait for someone from the show. The other contestants started drifting in, all carrying their extra clothes, in case they were lucky enough to play more than one game. Ronnie had been so sure that we were going to lose that she thought we may as well leave her garment bag in the room, and travel light. I told her that was a bad idea, and that she had to be more positive about the whole thing. Actually, I just wanted her to bring the garment bag so I'd have someplace to hide if she made a complete idiot of herself on national television. Who wants to be seen with a loser?

Eventually, that guy Glenn showed up and had us all get into a van to go to the soundstage. I tried to board the van as energetically as possible, so he would remember me, but I don't think he did. I probably should've stuck some toilet paper on my tailfeathers, but I didn't think of it. Besides, Glenn was in kind of a giddy fog, 'cause his wife had just had a baby. He told us it was a boy, and that he weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces. Ronnie had to open her big mouth and say, "That's the same thing I weighed when I was born!" Glenn got kind of a horrified look on his face. I was about to tell him that I was pretty sure his kid wouldn't grow up to look like this middle-aged fat woman, but Ronnie threw her garment bag on top of me before I could get the words out. I think Glenn said that he'd named his kid Alex, which was probably a requirement if he wanted to keep his job, but I'm not positive, 'cause it was hard to hear what was going on while I was buried alive under ten pounds of plus-size pantsuits.

So we arrived at the JEOBIRDY! building, and Glenn herded us all into the green room, which is where the contestants hang out. We got to meet Maggie and Susanne, the other two contestant coordinators. Susanne had been at my testing in Atlanta, but she pretended not to recognize me, so the other contestants wouldn't get jealous. There was so much to do before we taped the show! We had to show our Social Security cards; sign our lives away on a bunch of forms; have our makeup done; think up a "Hometown Howdy," which is an advertising spot for the contestants' local TV stations; and after all that, we would get to see the set and test out the buzzers and stuff. But the best thing that happened in the green room was that we found out that the prizes for second and third place were changing to cash, instead of trips, effective with the third game taped that day. So all we had to do was lay low and avoid getting picked until the third game or later, and we were guaranteed at least a thousand dollars for the third place prize.

Oh, we also had to go over our "one liners" in the green room. Those are the little stories the contestants submit, to give Alex something to discuss in the interview segment. Some of the "one liners" were pretty interesting. One guy had been locked in a Czechoslovakian bathroom for 5 hours. One of the women had been in Julia Child's kitchen. Another woman said she had slept in a lot of beds in Washington, DC. I was about to ask for her phone number when she explained that it was because she worked as a pet-sitter. I was disappointed, but then I realized, parrots are pets! But by then, Maggie had gotten around to me and Ronnie, and our "one liners," so I never did get that phone number.

I thought for sure that Maggie would pick one of the fabulous "one liners" I had submitted, like:






but she completely ignored my stuff, and zoomed in on one of Ronnie's submissions instead. It was the one about the LIB, which is short for "Loin Inspection Board." Ronnie had only thrown that one in to give the contestant coordinators a laugh. She never thought they'd want to use it on the air. But Maggie thought it was hilarious, and she actually wanted Ronnie to discuss loins with Alex TreeBeak! At that point, I realized it was a good thing Ronnie had brought that garment bag for me to hide in.

Let me explain about the LIB. The whole thing started when somebody on a Disney newsgroup wrote a trip report about visiting Animal Kingdom, and seeing the "loins." Of course, this was just a typo, and the person meant "lions." But certain ladies reading the report thought it would be very funny to set up a panel of experts to certify male loins as suitable for public or private display. That's how the LIB was born.

So Ronnie had to talk about the various levels of registration, starting with the Loiner's Permit and working up to a Master Registration. She even mentioned that the LIB has a bumper sticker that reads: "Got Loins?"

Finally, we got to go on the set and practice our buzzing and all that jazz. The set looks a lot smaller in person than it does on TV. Then I made a horrible mistake. I told Ronnie they must use some kind of wide-angle lens to make everything on the stage look bigger. It's a good thing those animal rights people were hanging around the set to make sure that no parrots were harmed in the making of the show.

At last, it was time to tape the games! Ronnie and I put on our best "blending-in" faces, which admittedly was easier for her than for me, and we avoided getting picked for the first game. But the pet-sitter babe, whose name was Elizabeth Mouzon, and a guy named Scott Hatton, were chosen to play against the returning two-day champ, Ben Sternberg. I was really rooting for Elizabeth, 'cause I prefer to date rich women. And she did great! She was making that Ben guy work for every dollar. They were tied with one clue left on the board, and Sternberg nailed it to go ahead by $2,000, even though I was giving him my best evil parrot eye from the studio audience. The Final JEOBIRDY! clue was about Southern writers, and it was so easy, even Ronnie knew the answer. All three contestants got it right, and Ben even went for the tie, but Elizabeth bet everything except one dollar, and it cost her the game. She ended up with $38,399 to Ben's $38,400, which set a new one-day record. I was crushed. Then I realized that Elizabeth had won a trip for two to Jamaica. Liz, if you're reading this, I've got my Speedo all packed and ready to go!

Then something terrible happened to interrupt my dream of lying on the beach, having Liz rub oil on me. One of the contestant coordinators was pointing to me and Ronnie and calling us out of our seats. Oh my God, we had been picked for the second game! And we had to play that record-setting Sternberg guy, and we'd probably win a trip to Hoboken. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

To find out what happened next, and see some photos from the game, just click here.

If you couldn't care less what happens next, but you like to watch JEOBIRDY!, click here to check out the answers and questions from my April 30th game.