GSI: First off, how does Jeopardy!
compare to appearing on Millionaire
in 2001? Prize money aside, which one was the most fun to play?
Ellyn: I don't know how to compare the two experiences. If I had not done
Millionaire, I would never have considered trying out for Jeopardy!. They
are the only games on TV right now I would call quiz shows rather than
game shows. On Millionaire, you have no clock, and the correct answer is
in front of you. But if you miss one question it's over. On Jeopardy!,
you look at 61 questions, but if something comes up you don't know, you
can just wait until that category is gone (except when it is that 61st
question!). I don't want to call either of them easier or harder than the
other. Both games have appeal to the home viewer, who can get some
answers right, and can marvel at the ones they can't get right.
GSI: Going up against David
Madden, currently a 14-day champion,
certainly looked like a challenge and you gave him a serious run for
his money. What were some highlights in your Jeopardy! stategy?
Ellyn: My plan was to be aggressive, no matter who I played against. I was
alarmed that morning when they introduced David to us as a nine-game
champion. We all know most of the same stuff - if you pass that test, you
know enough to be on the show. The rest of it is about gameplay. The
problem for a lot of contestants is that they do not know to do some
homework and some strategy planning. They do not know it is smart to
consider wagering strategies, category strategies, and stuff like that.
Having all that worked out ahead of time helped me a lot. I did the same
thing for Millionaire, figuring out my risk tolerance for different
dollar amounts, so I wouldn't have to be making decisions in the chair.
Here's a specific tactic: the first round has $18,000 points available,
if you don't count the Daily Double and if nobody misses anything. A
well-played first round ends with the three contestants holding $15,000,
in my view. So my share of the first round points is $6000, using that
$18,000 mark. I decided that if I found a Daily Double in the first round
and my total was $6000 or less, I would make it a true double, regardless
of the position on the board or the category. If you miss it, you can
catch up in the second round. Bet big in the first round. That's my
thinking, anyway. Since I had as much clicker problems as everyone else,
I didn't get to choose that many clues, and I didn't find any doubles, so
I never got to put it into practice.
Another strategy that many players don't pay attention to is how to
choose the categories. Shoud you pick one you like early, and build up
some cash? Or should you save it for a late run? There are often word
categories on the far right column in both rounds - consider if you like
those, or not, and whether to attack them early.
All of these questions can be answered by future players just watching
the show. I would stop the tape now and then, and figure out what wager
to make, or what category to go to. We all can do that at home.
The Final Jeopardy wagering strategies can be complex, which I hated, so
I simplified them to this: wager enough to cover the next person behind
you if they double. If you are in second place, assume the leader will do
this, and act accordingly, though the third place player may muddy the
waters. But if I have to choose between covering third place's double,
and betting enough to beat first place's anticipated wager, I will deal
with the first place player. I am there to win the game, not to fight
over finishing second or third.
GSI: Do you have any regrets in your gameplay, or something you wish
you had done rather differently later on?
Ellyn: Late in the second round we started a Biblical Quotes category. Oscar
called for the $800 clue, and I thought I knew the answer, but was not
confident enough to ring in. If I had, I would have gotten control, and
called for the next clue, which was a Daily Double. I would have been
leading the game but would have made it a true double anyway, because it
is a great category for me. Instead Oscar got that one, and missed it. I
am surprised he could not hear me saying the right answer between gritted
I got 15 answers right and 3 wrong, so yes, I guess I wish I had not rung
in on the 3 wrong ones. One of them was not a horrible guess (a Disney
song lyric), and one of them was very close to the right answer; I just
misspoke (silica dust instead of silica gel). The third one I did not
know but was trying to cash in on a rebound.
GSI: What was the best part of your Jeopardy! experience?
Ellyn: Getting the call. My audition went great, and I enjoyed it very much.
was the second time I was called from an audition where I was going on
less than two hours of sleep. Should another show come along in a few
years, I will have to make sure to audition on no sleep; it seems to be
my good-luck charm.
Getting the call to come play is the recogntion that you are show-worthy.
Only one in three can win the game, so being chosen is a victory in its
GSI: After Jeopardy!'s season hiatus, do you think David Madden will
continue his reign towards the ranking of another Ken Jennings?
Ellyn: I think David is a worthy Jeopardy! champion regardless of how
he wins. He has a good breadth of knowledge, quick recall, and a sound
strategy. He has also had the right kind of luck when he needed it. I
look forward to seeing him in Season 22 and in a future Tournament of
GSI: Thanks for sharing your
Jeopardy! story with us! It's been a pleasure.
Interview conducted 7/26/05