From Cullowhee to Culver City, staff member appears on “Jeopardy!”

(“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek and Jennifer Cooper. Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Cooper.)

On Friday, Nov. 1, Western Carolina University was represented to a national audience on ABC through the Emmy award-winning show “Jeopardy!”

Jennifer Cooper, associate director for Western Carolina’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, filmed the episode on Aug. 27 along with contestants from Los Angeles and Canada.

Cooper’s entire journey started in the spring when she met up with some friends who regularly watched the show. They discussed winner and sports better James Holzhauer, who had a 32-game winning streak totaling $2,464,216 of winnings from April to June of 2019. This made Cooper curious, so she decided to try one of their online tests that are offered periodically. She finished the 50-60 question test in the required 20-minute timeframe then received a call requesting to meet in person.

“I went to Nashville back at the beginning of the summer, and for that, there were two written tests,” Cooper said. “There was a fake game where they brought you, and two of the other competitors out there, and an interview like they sort of do on the show. At that point, they say okay, we’ll have you know that there are thousands of people going through this stage of the process, so we might or might not call you at some point over the next 18 months.”

With Cooper’s luck, she received a call from Culver City, California, a month later asking her to appear in a taping within the second week of the semester. The whole roundtrip lasted 32 hours, with her being the fifth and last taping of the day.

“You’re out there for the whole day,” she said. “The first part of the day, you fill out some paperwork, it’s all really boring, and they actually have you do a couple of practice games, so you’ve kind of gone through what is. You’re up there with the cameras and the lights and all that kind of thing. They tape five games in one day, so you don’t know when you’re going to get drawn to be one of the new contestants.”

Within 32 hours, she was able to see a limited amount of sights that California has to offer, including The La Brea Tar Pits, which has housed the bones of trapped animals for many centuries, as well as the Santa Monica Pier.

“I didn’t do a lot since I was there for such a short period of time, but I really like dinosaurs, so I went to the La Brea Tar Pits, so that was pretty cool,” Cooper said. “I thought that was pretty close to the Hollywood sign, and as it turns out, it is not. I went up toward Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard, all that kind of stuff which was a super long walk at but kind of saw the Hollywood sign. Then it was time to go to bed, and the next day after we taped everything, I went to the Santa Monica Pier. They had some really good break dancers, so that was cool.”

Sadly, the show did not end as Cooper had hoped. With the Final Jeopardy clue being, “This denomination takes its name from the day, as told in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles,” all contestants incorrectly answered, “Seventh Davy Adventist,” with the correct answer being “Pentecostalism.” However, Cooper says the “Jeopardy!” crew became nervous during the commercial break once they realized all contestants had answered incorrectly and could’ve possibly made “Jeopardy!” history.

“You put down your bets and then click the button, and you can’t see it anymore, and then you have the 30 seconds to put down your final answer,” she said. “After, they stopped and looked to see what all of our answers were, and then they actually stopped taping for a minute when they realized that we all have the same wrong. They looked to see our bets because if everybody bet everything, it would be zero for everyone, and apparently, they’ve never had that situation happen, and it didn’t this time either.”

In the end, Cooper and the Los Angeles contestant bet all their money, so they had lost it all. The defending champion from Canada only bet $8,201, which resulted in a profit of $6,599. Even after their loss, the second-place contestant gets $2,000, and the third-place contestant gets $1,000 as a consolation prize.

Reflecting on her appearance, she really appreciated the kindness that the contestants and staff displayed while she was on set, along with some of the interesting behind-the-scenes experiences TV viewers don’t normally get to see.

“If you look at the three people they showed at the same time, everyone’s the same height,” Cooper said. “Everyone is not actually the same height. One of my competitors was probably 6’3. I’m 5’7, so they have moveable platforms that you stand on to make the camera angles look better. Also, I didn’t realize that they did five shows in one day. They tell you to bring three outfits, so since they tape five in one day, assuming you’re one of the first people to go out there, you wear your first. Then if you win, you get to put on your second outfit again, and if you win again, you put on your third outfit. If you keep winning, they tell you to go back to the first one since it’s going to be from Monday to Thursday. Nobody’s going to be paying that much attention to what you’re wearing.”

During this three-month gap between filming and her air date, it was a little difficult not to tell others about the outcome.

“I told two or three people how it all came out,” she said. “You have to sign a whole bunch of paperwork, a non-disclosure agreement, and everything. I put the picture of Alex Trebek and I on my Instagram. I did have somebody that kept asking me over and over, ‘How did you do? I want to bet on this, how did you do?’”

When it comes to advice for future contestants, Cooper recommends studying or even go to trivia to refresh your mind on topics you could know more about or do not know at all. She admits that much of your advancement on the game show has to deal with the buzzer.

“When I knew that I was going to go on, I knew I should study and see what other people have done, and a bunch of previous contestants said it’s really all about the buzzer, which is so true,” she said. “You can’t buzz in until they finish reading the question, or you’re going to get locked out for not too long but a second long enough to let someone else be able to get it. Even in practice games, you can really tell a difference. Some people just had the knack of that, and some people were not as good. I don’t know how much you can tell when it’s on TV, but pretty much all of us for I would say at least three-quarters of the questions were trying to get it and really is about the person with the fastest thumb.”

Cooper’s experience certainly hasn’t deterred her from possibly appearing on another game show in the perceivable future.

“When I was a little kid and got sick, I always like to watch “The Price Is Right.” I don’t know that would necessarily be in my wheelhouse. I’m not sure if I could tell how much everything costs, but that would be fun.”

“Jeopardy!” airs every weeknight at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.