The Winter Garden resident tried her luck at all things trivia on a popular game show, and although she didn't win, she did know the Final Jeopardy! question.
Had Erin Matherne been able to tell the story she had practiced, it would have gone something like this:
“Well, Alex, I’m a huge horse-racing fan, and my husband — who was my boyfriend at the time — called me right as the horses at the Kentucky Derby were breaking out of the gate. I answered the house phone and immediately hung it up. I thought, ‘The race is only two minutes long; can’t you wait?’”
The Winter Garden resident was a contestant on the Feb. 14 episode of the game show “Jeopardy,” nearly two years after she auditioned. Although she came in third place, it was an experience she said she never will forget.
“It was a good bucket-list item; definitely something I wanted to do,” Matherne said.
A FAN OF KNOWLEDGE
Information and trivia has always fascinated Matherne, a self-proclaimed elementary school dork who participated in Quiz Bowl tournaments as a child.
Her interest in “Jeopardy” was piqued when she had back surgery after high school and watched hours and hours of old game shows on television while recuperating.
She continues to watch it regularly today.
Matherne had always talked about going on the show, and she started the process in July 2015 after taking a 50-question test that is offered online every 12 to 18 months.
“You have about 12 seconds to answer each question,” she said. “If you’re a slow reader, you’re out.”
A month later, she was invited to the regional tryouts in Tampa, where she took another 50-question test, this time with about 60 other people in the room. After all the tests were scored, the contestant hopefuls randomly were selected in groups of three to play a mock game, complete with a “Jeopardy” buzzer.
“They want to see if you have a personality,” Matherne said. “The producers were really good at boosting our energy.”
About two hours later, they all learned they were being placed in the contestant pool, which meant they were in the running to appear on the show for about 18 months.
“PACK YOUR BAGS”
Matherne received “the call” last November and was informed that she would need to fly to Culver City, California, the Sunday after Thanksgiving and be ready 7 a.m. Monday to begin taping the show. She and her husband, Andy, would have to change their plans, which were to travel to New Orleans to spend the holiday with family.
“People were telling me, ‘This is your dream. You’ve wanted to do this since you were in elementary school. This is a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity. You have to go,’” she said.
To prepare for her “Jeopardy” debut, Matherne “studied like mad” for weeks, she said. She concentrated on the categories she thought were most likely to show up, including inventors and inventions, Shakespeare, literature, presidents, European history, world geography and potent potables.
“I was a history major in college, so I felt pretty good about American history, or history in general,” she said. “But if you asked me who composed a certain opera, I would be like, what?”
During the taping, Matherne and the other two contestants were presented with first-round categories such as Mexican history, U.S. geography, “Saturday Night Live,” Thomas Edison and Man Booker. Accurately answering “Magic 8 Ball” in the Decades of Classic Toys category garnered Matherne her first time on the board with $600.
She admitted she had difficulties with the buzzer, and by clicking it too early, she missed several opportunities to buzz in and answer.
“If you buzz in before Alex finishes, you’re blocked for a quarter of a second,” she said. “It’s about figuring out the timing of the buzzer.”
She managed other correct answers, but the buzzer continued to give her issues.
“The one that really killed me was they showed Dippy Dawg, which evolved into Goofy,” she said. “I’m a big Disney fan, but I think I rang in too early because I was so excited to see a Disney-related question.”
Matherne was hoping to interact a little more with Trebek, and she admits she’s now less of a fan of the host.
“You look at him and see him on TV, and he’s sophisticated and debonair, and he knows his stuff,” she said. “But there’s no interaction before the taping. … You really didn’t get to meet him or talk to him until the first commercial break. He was not personable at all. I was so disappointed.”
Prior to the taping, contestants are given a packet and asked to answer a list of questions about themselves to prepare for the brief one-on-one with the host. Instead of sticking with the script — so Matherne could tell the Kentucky Derby story she practiced — Trebek asked her to pick one horse that typifies the very best in thoroughbred horseracing.
“You cannot choose anything other than Secretariat,” she answered. “That horse cannot be denied.”
And then he moved to the next contestant.
After the Jeopardy! Round, Matherne was in second place with $1,600. Following Double Jeopardy!, she was in third with $3,600.
When the Final Jeopardy! category — Hit Songs of the ’90s — was announced, Matherne was ready to wager $3,500, nearly all she had.
“The title of this dance hit, No. 1 for 14 weeks in the ’90s, can refer to a Seville, Spain, neighborhood or a woman from there.”
All three contestants gave the correct response of “Macarena.” Matherne finished in third place with $7,100, earning her the $1,000 prize. She said she will receive the money in about three months.
She also estimates she and her husband spent about twice that much on airfare, food and transportation in Culver City.
Overall, it was a positive experience for Matherne, and she is grateful for the opportunity to make an appearance on her favorite game show.
“People were telling me, ‘Good for you for going for it and getting on there,’” she said. “Maybe 75,000 people take the test, but only 400 get on a year.”