By Karen Billing
Carmel Valley resident Barry Cohen, a long-time “Jeopardy!” viewer “sofa champion,” appeared on the real TV game show on March 22, finishing second and winning $2,000.
Cohen admits answering the questions in your living room without cameras, lights and the studio audience is a lot easier than being on the actual show and competing against “30-something reflexes,” but he still had a great time.
“It was terrific,” Cohen said. “A tremendous amount of fun.”
The 10-year Carmel Valley resident, originally from Nashville, Tenn., has worked for Kaludis Consulting, a higher education consulting firm headquartered in Washington D.C., for 32 years.
For years people told Cohen he should try out for “Jeopardy,” especially his wife, Patricia Hall, and son David.
“They were my boosters, encouraging me to continue going after it,” Cohen said.
Cohen has tried out for the show twice, once in 2000 (he did not make it) and the second time in 2009. Potential contestants are given a series of questions, with a new one appearing every nine seconds, to see how many they can answer correctly. They also do some simulated game play with the buzzer.
At the end of the day, Cohen was told that he would be in the pool of eligible contestants for 18 months. A year went by before Cohen was called, traveling to Culver City’s Sony Pictures lot for the taping back in November.
“Jeopardy” tapes five shows a day, two days a week, with tapings beginning at 9:30 a.m. The contestants get very little interaction with host Alex Trebek, save for their anecdotal stories at the first break. The rest of the time Trebek entertains the studio audience and Cohen said he was very personable.
Waiting in the audience for his name to be called for a game, Cohen watched as the two-time champion Tom Kunzen won three more games; by lunchtime, Kunzen had become a five-time “Jeopardy” champion with earnings of $133,000.
Cohen was called for the fourth game of the day, against Kunzen and Megan Barnes.
“I was hoping for the categories of sports or colleges and universities,” Cohen said. “British monarchies would have been one I’d not have relished.”
Cohen said doing well on “Jeopardy!” comes down to three key factors: luck of the draw on categories; quick reflexes to get control of the board; and hitting well on the Daily Double.
Cohen hit the Daily Double early in the first round so he had very little money to wager.
The game went by in such a blur that afterward Cohen said he couldn’t remember a single category or answer except for the Final Jeopardy category, which was “Garments of the World.”
At that point Cohen was in a “distant third” with $11,000.
“My only hope was if they bet a lot and got it wrong and I bet a lot and got it right,” Cohen said. “I didn’t want to end with a goose egg so I bet all but $2.”
The clue was: “The custom of Hijab, Arabic for 'veiling,' can include this garment, mentioned by Kipling” and Cohen said he had a total brain freeze, writing “What is …” on his screen. He ended up with those $2.
Kunzen bet it all and got it wrong. Barnes correctly guessed “burka” and won. She went on to become a three-day champion, winning $103,000.
Those two dollars ended up being the difference between Cohen placing second instead of third, and winning $2,000 instead of $1,000.
For now, Cohen will continue to play from his couch, but he wouldn’t rule out playing another TV game show — he said he would consider taking a spin on “Wheel of Fortune.”