"Jeopardy!" champ Julia Collins holds the No. 2 spot for most consecutive wins in the show's history. Since her record-breaking run this spring, she's traveled and fielded plenty of calls for interviews.
The Huffington Post caught up with the champ by phone to talk about all the things we've always wanted to know about "Jeopardy!" And, as expected, she gave us a treasure trove of tidbits about what it's like to be on the game show.
Herewith, 13 things Julia Collins discovered as a "Jeopardy!" contestant:
You don't get the money right away.
I don't get my winnings until the end of August, which is roughly 120 days after my first air date.
A week of shows films in a single day.
They're filmed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On Tuesdays, there are 13 people including the returning champion and Wednesdays there are 12. On taping day, contestants arrive at 8:00 a.m. One nice thing about being from a different time zone is that you don’t feel like it’s that early, which is good because I’m not much of a morning person. Everybody gets their makeup done and you have a discussion about what’s going to happen when you’re on.
You don't know what show you'll be on when you show up.
Everybody puts their name on index cards, placed face down on a table and standards and practices -- an outside firm that does all the legal compliance -- and they pick two people five minutes before the show tapes and those are the challengers of that game. So it’s a surprise. You don’t know what game you’re going to play in until basically right before it happens.
There's (potentially) a lot of downtime.
Everybody else who is waiting to play is in the audience during the game [being taped]. Two people get held over to the next day, which is what happened to me; I had watched a full week of games before I played. There's a lunch break after the third game and it's like three, three-and-a-half hours between when you get there and when the first show tapes, so you have a lot of time to talk to the other contestants. I got to know the people who played the week before me because I sat with them all day. I got to talk to the woman that I beat in my first game; I sat in the audience with her, had lunch with her and then talked to her again the next morning. People who want to be on "Jeopardy!" are a self-selecting group so you have that in common, that’s a really fun part of being on the show.
You get to rehearse.
The practice games are super fun because they’re easy so they really build your confidence. You get to write your name on the screen, get the buzzer and get the rhythm and feel for everything. I thought that was a really, really fun part of the show. You get a feeling for what happens and what it feels like to be up there.
Ever seen a "Hometown Howdy"?
They're mostly in smaller markets but mine played a little bit once I won like 15 games. They're kinda funny. Mine was, "Hey Windy City, I’m Julia Collins from Kenilworth, watch me blow away the competition on 'Jeopardy!'" It’s kind of nerve-wracking. That was the scariest thing about being on the show. Everything was less stressful after that.
People -- surprise! -- come out of the woodwork when you start winning.
It’s been a chance to reconnect with people I don’t talk to as much. I’ve had cousins who I’m not in close touch with emailing me a lot. Rosie O’Donnell followed me on Twitter, which was pretty fun. I think it’s hilarious when people take pictures of their faces in front of the TV watching me. John Irving [who was the answer to the Final Jeopardy answer she lost on] sending me "Cider House Rules" was really unexpected and very kind. He made the effort to write this nice note, find my address and go to the post office. It was just very kind. People were very kind. I don’t know what I’d really do that for people I don’t know and that so many people made that effort was very touching.
The other hardest part of being on the show was ...
Coming up with stuff for the interview portion was probably the hardest thing. There's a contestant coordinator who is in charge of coordinating the stories [that you tell at the beginning of the show]. He'd always remind me to think of more stories. I wore this ring most of the time I was on the show that my grandmother gave me and I was like we could talk about that, and he said no, somebody else just talked about this cameo brooch that she got from her mother and he was like, “no more jewelry from relatives.” They try not to repeat the stories too frequently because a lot of people have done the same things. I got a little bit better about how to present something that was going to be okay for the show; you had to have something mildly entertaining.
I made three separate trips to Los Angeles. I went first in mid-January and I was on the second taping day of the week and went home after my first five games, so I had a little break for a couple weeks. Then I went back the first week in February and played 10 games and then went home on Thursday and flew back on Monday to play five more games on Tuesday. That was pretty intense. It’s exhausting. It’s mentally exhausting, standing all day -- which I know people do for their jobs all the time, but I assume people who do that wear more supportive shoes than I did, which I imagine helps.
The panel of judges is just what you'd imagine it would be.
There is a table of people facing the stage, whom Alex calls the judges. At least one person from the legal team is there and then I think some of the writers, but I don't totally know who they are. The only person who the contestants ever have any interaction with is the legal person who comes over and writes down your Final Jeopardy wager. Once you’ve written it on the screen and press enter, the legal person comes over and writes it down in case there is an equipment malfunction so that’s its official.
How to do well at "Jeopardy!"
Learn as much as you can or have learning be an every day part of your life. There’s a lot of stuff I know from “The Simpsons,” which is a very silly place to learn stuff but I don't think I've ever gotten a bad fact from there. Try to learn things any way you can. Before you go on, study the areas you feel you need help in. Try not to get too stressed out. Some people get really frustrated or lose their cool and confidence so they don’t get off to a great start. It’s not the end of the world if you get it wrong.
Alex Trebek is with it ... and helps write the answers.
He’s very good at what he does, which is to make it fun, keep the game going, make sure the contestants feel comfortable, keep it entertaining. You don't really get a lot of time to talk to him, though. He makes jokes, he’s very bright and very sharp. During the game, he gives you much more feedback than what you see on TV. There's a lot more nonverbal interaction with the contestants. What you talk about at the end of the show varies quite a bit. There was a woman from Toronto and they talked about Rob Ford. One man was very into Alex’s suits so that’s what we talked about at the end of the show.
He helps with the answers. He'll sit with the writers and go over stuff. He'll make suggestions about wording to help out the contestants. Most of the writers have been there a long time and he’s been there for a long run so he has a good sense of what’s going to work.
And a bonus: How to remember things better!
It helps me to write down everything, even if I don’t go back and look at the notes, the act of physically writing something makes me a lot more likely to remember it. I’m a big believer in cognitive benefits of hand writing. And I don't know how you develop this, but it helps to remember the context I learn something in. If I don’t have some reason to remember something, I’m a lot less likely to remember it. I was a history major in college; I like history a lot so I know a fair amount about it, so when I learn more history it fits into this broader framework of things I already know.
This interview has been edited and condensed.