Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 10:02 pm | Fair 52º


Before the Buzzer: Learning and Breathing is What It Takes on Jeopardy!

Lori Goodman, executive director of Isla Vista Youth Projects, shares her experience on iconic game show

Alex Trebek and Lori Goodman. Click to view larger
Contestant Lori Goodman with Alex Trebek, host of the Jeopardy! television game show. Her episode will air Tuesday, Sept. 11, and a fundraising viewing party will be held at the Public Market in Santa Barbara. (Contributed photo)

This is the third in a series of four articles chronicling the behind-the-scenes experiences of local resident Lori Goodman’s recent appearance on the classic hit game show Jeopardy! Goodman is the executive director of Isla Vista Youth Projects and former chief development officer of CALM. In preparing for her taping, Lori says she read every blog post, book and article by former Jeopardy! contestants, and not one was written by a woman. Until now. Read Lori’s take on this top-rated show, leading up to her Sept. 11, 2018 appearance. 

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Many people wonder what it takes to be a viable contestant for Jeopardy! Intelligence? Memory? Lightning-quick reflexes?

Certainly all of those qualities help, but what I think is most important is curiosity and a growth mindset. In order to learn trivia, you have to be interested.  

I am someone who is interested in everything. I love learning new things and I’m naturally curious. I’m not an expert in much of anything, but I know a little about a lot of things.

It turns out this is a good quality for executive directors of nonprofit agencies as well as Jeopardy! contestants.

In late January, I started a new job as the executive director of Isla Vista Youth Projects, (IVYP,) and I loved it. I was spending every minute of the day learning something new.

I learned about my staff members and their strengths. I learned about the families we serve in our child care/preschool, our after-school program and our family resource center. I learned that even though our name says Isla Vista, the majority of the families we serve live in Goleta.

I learned that one of the most urgent needs for families with young children is high-quality, safe, developmentally appropriate infant care – and that Santa Barbara County doesn’t have enough spaces.

I learned that infant care is always a losing business proposition because it simply costs more to provide the low-ratio, high-quality care than the California Department of Education provides.

I learned that that there are a lot of hungry people in Goleta and Isla Vista, and that when we distribute food at our Healthy Pantry each month, people are incredibly grateful for our support.

I learned that most people in Santa Barbara County have never heard of IVYP and that I had my work cut out for me.

In the midst of all this learning, my cell phone rang. It was Glenn Kagan, one of the Jeopardy! contestant coordinators, inviting me to tape Jeopardy! on April 4 – three weeks away!

Glenn explained that I would be an alternate. As a “local” contestant (meaning,  that I didn’t have to fly in to be on the show), I would have a 50-50 chance of being taped on April 4. If I wasn’t selected, I would most certainly be taped at some subsequent time.

Shaking, I noted down all the information he gave me. 

This call could not have come at a worse time. Not only were my thoughts consumed with my new job, but this was right in the middle of Passover. I was hosting a large seder with family coming in from out of town.

My brain was full. How would I ever learn enough to compete on Jeopardy! without embarrassing myself? 

Fortunately for me, the skills we teach children at IVYP to be successful in kindergarten and beyond applied to me and the process of preparing to appear on Jeopardy!

First, and most important, I had to adopt a “growth mindset.”

According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” 

I rose early each morning and studied. Presidents, bodies of water, Academy Award-winning movies, state capitals. I made flash cards and found on-line trivia games. My son, Noah, prepared mock Jeopardy! games that we played as a family. 

I made some tactical decisions. Success at Jeopardy! has several components.

Yes, contestants need to know a lot of information. Equally important is buzzer speed and the ability to remain calm under pressure.

The ability to manage one’s emotions is also an important indicator of success in school and beyond. This important skill is one we actively work on with all of our students.

April 4 arrived quickly. I woke early and headed into the hotel lobby for coffee and some last-minute studying. Soon, the other contestants began to arrive.

Very quickly, word got around that the man sitting next to me, Dave Mattingly, had won the day before. He knocked off a seven-day champion. That was pretty intimidating.

I took some time to evaluate my potential competitors. They were affable, excited, bright and competent. Of course, I felt nervous. So did everyone else. Deep calming breaths and positive self-talk helped me manage my feelings for the day.

Jeopardy! tapes five shows in a day. In any given day of taping, in addition to the returning champion, there will be 10 new contestants. Because there cannot be any possibility of fixing a game, they always have at least one more contestant than they need. 

When we arrived at the studio, all of us filled out paperwork and reviewed the stories that we might discuss with Alex.

Walking onto the set of Jeopardy! is an awe-inspiring experience for those of us who are fans of the show. We entered the studio with reverence. Some of my fellow contestants gasped audibly.

Then we rehearsed. Everyone was able to practice using the buzzer and calling clues. I watched the whole day of taping, waiting for my chance to play.

When we finally arrived at the last game, the other local contestant’s name was called. I was going to have to go through this all over again. What a relief!  I would have the next few months to study, work on my buzzer speed and on controlling my emotions.

Eventually, my tape day arrived. The difference this time was that I knew the returning champion, Rick Terpstra, because we had spent the day together in April.

Like me, he had spent the past several months studying. Unlike me, he had already won $39,800.

Once again, I went through the makeup, legal and tax forms and rehearsal. I watched the taping of the first game. Maggie, the contestant coordinator, told me I would certainly play one of the morning games.

It was hard to concentrate on watching the Monday game being taped, knowing that I could be next.  After the first game concluded, Maggie walked over to the standards and practices people for them to select the next two contestants.

“Lori Goodman and XXXX” It was happening! I was about to tape the September 11 episode of Jeopardy! 

To find out how I did, join me at The Garden in the Public Market on Tuesday, Sept. 11, for a viewing party. The Garden will donate 10 percent of all proceeds that evening to support Isla Vista Youth Projects!

The show airs at 7 p.m. on ABC.

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Isla Vista Youth Projects provides a continuum of care to the children and families of Goleta and Isla Vista. We believe that every child deserves to be loved, valued and respected and that every family should be empowered to reach its highest potential.

To fulfill this goal, we offer high-quality childcare for 130 children ages 3 months to 5 years, an after-school and summer program of academic and recreational support for 160 children who attend Isla Vista Elementary School, and a Family Resource Center which helps families access the services and support they need including but not limited to – food access, health care, counseling, parenting workshops, budgeting workshops and immigration information.

Most of the children and families we serve live in Goleta or Isla Vista, though some come from as far away as Lompoc and Oxnard. Of the families we serve, 89 percent are low income or very low income. We are committed to supporting families so that children arrive at school ready to learn and that families are able to be provide children the safety and security that they need to thrive.

For more information, visit

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