Th game show “Jeopardy!” first aired in 1964. From the recognizable chimes of the Final Jeopardy question to its iconic host Alex Trebek, people know in order to be a guest on the show, you have to be smart. On Wednesday, Oct. 23, Wellington resident Allyson Samiljan will show off her knowledge by competing as a contestant on the show.
“I have watched ‘Jeopardy!’ since the 1960s when Art Fleming was the host, and have watched it pretty much continually,” said Samiljan, who works for the YWCA of Palm Beach County. “When I was raising my two sons, Adam and Chad, we pretty much watched it every night during dinner, and my son said I should go on.”
Back in March, the show did a contestant search in the West Palm Beach area, and Samiljan decided to discretely take the initial online 50-question test and see if she could make the cut.
“Without telling anyone, including my husband Steve, I sat on the bed with my laptop and took the online test. I thought that would be the end of it,” she said. “A couple of weeks later, I got a call saying they would like me to come in for an interview, and I said, ‘Absolutely!’ The interview turned out to be two additional handwritten 50-question tests.”
After that, Samiljan participated in a mock game using the actual buzzers from the show. Since she felt pretty good about the first test, but doubtful on the second, Samiljan decided just to relax and have fun.
“There were only 20 people who qualified, and I played against two of them. I walked out of there feeling that would be the end of it,” she said. “I figured I could say I made it to the contestant pool. However, in July, I was in a YWCA board meeting and saw my phone buzz. I couldn’t answer it. I called back and they wanted me to come out to Los Angeles to film on Aug. 26 and 27.”
While Samiljan cannot share details about the show, she was able to provide some insight on the process. For instance, contestants have to pay their own way, including airfare and hotel. The show films five episodes each day, so Trebek actually only works two days every two weeks.
“I was instructed to bring three outfits, so if you happened to win, you would change your clothes before filming the next episode,” she said. “Since my episode was to air in October, I was told not to wear clothing for spring or summer, to make it seem like it was October. It’s pretty strict, no small prints or stripes.”
While Samiljan knew the answers to maybe 95 percent of the questions, getting the timing on the buzzer right enough to beat her opponents was tricky. “If you buzz early, you are blocked out for a fraction of a second. It can be frustrating not to be able to answer the questions you know,” she said. “My main goal was not to look like a total idiot and have people wonder, ‘How did that woman get on the show?’ I’m pretty sure I met that goal.”
Another iconic part of “Jeopardy!” is the quirky category titles.
“I saw a category called ‘Stans,’ and I was thinking, ‘OK, what Stans do I know? There is Stan Laurel, Stanley Livingston and Stanley Kubrick.’ When I saw the first clue, I realized it was actually a category about countries,” Samiljan said. “It was so fast I don’t even remember many questions or categories. I’m anxious to watch the show because it will be like seeing it for the first time.”
From the moment she learned of her selection to be a contestant, Samiljan became a nervous wreck.
“I had nightmares for a month — my buzzer wasn’t working, or my voice wasn’t working. I had that song by Weird Al Yankovic ‘I Lost on Jeopardy!’ stuck in my head,” she said. “On the way to LA, we had a layover in Nashville and stopped for dinner. Then the song ‘Our Love’s in Jeopardy’ by the Greg Kihn Band came on, and I found it such a strange coincidence.”
Samiljan was able to share that she did play against a lawyer and an aerospace engineer — two very different professions than her own.
“I do communications and special events at the YWCA. Most of the work is in support of Harmony House, which is a shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence,” Samiljan explained.
With the airing less than a week away, she plans on having a watch party with family and friends, and she has a little advice for those who ask how to prepare for such an intensely knowledge-based competition.
“Read as much as you can. Look at maps. Do crossword puzzles. You can’t really ‘study’ for it,” she said. “I think mostly just watching the show is helpful. You get an idea what they do with double entendres and you learn to read into the clues they give you.”
New episodes of “Jeopardy!” air on WPBF Channel 25 at 7:30 p.m. Samiljan’s first episode airs on Wednesday, Oct. 23, and the only way to know how many episodes she appears in is by watching the show.