By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — For the first time more than seven years, Niagara Falls had an opportunity to say "This Is Jeopardy!" Just like the popular game show's tag line.
Contestant searches were held inside the Sheraton at the Falls Thursday as the wildly popular show prepares to produce its 30th season. Senior Contestant Coordinator Glenn Kagan said the show's well-rounded cast doesn't just come out of nowhere.
"First, would-be contestants need to pass our online test," Kagan said. "Then, from those, their names are randomly selected to go on to the next round. From there, we look for people who are knowledgeable but also have a personality, people who are excited and having fun on our show. We're looking for the type of person the home viewers can cheer for and they have to be having fun themselves for that to happen."
Niagara Falls made the list of cities the show recruited in this year, one of roughly 13 the casting crew visits. Kagan said the crew usually sticks to much larger metropolitan areas – he said his next stop is Manhattan – en route to recruiting about 400 successful contestants.
Jeopardy is one of the only game shows on television which offers contestant searches outside of the primary production location, which Kagan said allows the show to recruit more people to participate. It keeps travel to a minimum on the part of the candidates and forces its recruiters to live a partial life on the road.
"It's so the people don't have to go to Los Angeles, we go to them," he said. "And we even travel overseas with the USO, try to get service people involved. (Host) Alex (Trebeck) goes with us and we try to have as much fun as possible."
One way the group of recruiters gets to enjoy the audition process is having a little fun with the people who wander in through the doors, wherever they are. They joke around with the participants, get them to come out of their shells and pay close attention to the answers they give.
Plus they get to grade a Jeopardy-worthy quiz, which has featured some interesting answers.
"We try to make this as personable, fun an experience as possible," Kagan said. "For us, it's not just seeing thousands of people, it's about getting to know them as well as we can in such a short amount of time. We want to get to know them."
It's not known whether any of the individuals who tried out Thursday will make the final cut and get the call to the show's Culver City, Calif. studio. But reaching the stage they did grants them all entry into the show's database, where their application, photograph and audition tape can sit for up to 18 months.
For Meg Murphy, a school nurse from Bloomfield, N.Y., and Laura Geryk, a middle school math teacher from Springfield, Mass., simply auditioning at this level was worth everything they went through.
Geryk, especially, almost never made it to Niagara Falls. Not because she nearly failed the test, but because she almost never read her invitation email she got months after taking the online preliminary quiz.
"I got the notice long enough ago I forgot all about it," she said. "Of course, after you take the online test, you get the junk mail, and it was set up to go to that folder. When the email came, I thought it was junk mail and I deleted it. I went, 'Oh, wait, that's not right' and went back and found it."
Murphy, unlike Geryk, had experience with this level of tryout before. But not her own. a few years ago, her daughter auditioned for the teen tournament the game holds each year and made it to the second round herself.
Her daughter never made the show, and to make matters worse, she said, there was very little in terms of guidance about the experience when she asked.
"I thought she'd help me out," Murphy said about her daughter. "But when I asked, she said it was hard. That's it. But when my daughter tried out, they had the process open to the parents, we got to see what was expected."Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.