Lori Goodman holding bag with Jeopardy! logo.
Lori Goodman holds some swag from her time as a contestant on the Jeopardy! television game show. Goodman said she was struck during the auditions by how few women were there. (Contributed photo)

This is the second 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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I get too many mass emails. Every day my inbox fills with information about nonprofit management, invitations to trainings and requests to buy something that will make my life better.

As a result, I begin each day by quickly deleting emails. Fast. So fast, that I deleted one that I actually wanted to see.

The one that said something like, “You’re invited to audition for Jeopardy!” in the subject line.

Fortunately, right after I hit “delete” I realized what I had done, recovered the email and quickly clicked it open.

I was invited to audition in Culver City at 10 a.m. on July 19, 2017. I quickly put the date in my calendar, mentally checking that I could reasonably move anything that was already scheduled on that day, and replied by accepting my invitation.

I was actually going to try out for Jeopardy! Time to panic.

I think of myself as someone who is aware of gender bias. Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I was an inheritor of the second wave of feminism.

My mom and dad told me that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be. I fought for the Equal Rights Amendment and even had a T-shirt that proclaimed, “A Woman Without a Man is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle.” (Remember those?)

Despite my feminist mindset, I didn’t consider trying out for Jeopardy! It was a man’s game. Men were successful. Women were rarely represented.

Looking back, I realize that I am an excellent example of why it’s important to have diversity in leadership. Because I didn’t see anyone like myself in the role, I had never even tried. 

In recent years, Jeopardy! has made a real effort to diversify the show. A quick review of contestants over the past five years or so indicates that 50 percent of contestants are women.

In recent years, we’ve seen more contestants of color, more openly gay, more with gray hair, and even a few contestants who identify as transgender.

Unsurprisingly, people of all genders and identities have been able to succeed at Jeopardy! The quality of game play remains high, and I imagine the audience has diversified as well.  

Back to my audition. 

I felt very nervous. I was certain I would be exposed as a fraud. I was a living, breathing example of “impostor syndrome.” And, I was demographically an outlier.

Despite Jeopardy’s efforts to diversify, as I looked around me, those auditioning were predominantly white and male. In the few weeks I had to prepare, my goal was to improve my score by one or two points.

I’d like to say I did this by learning vast amounts of new information, but the truth was that the most helpful thing I did to prepare for the test was completely random. I re-read one of my favorite books from childhood, “A Wrinkle in Time.”

As it turned out, that book helped me answer two of the questions on the written test!

The in-person audition is fun and simple. Contestants are welcomed into a room at the Doubletree in Culver City. Everyone takes a 50-question written test. It’s similar to what is given online and designed to ensure that contestants didn’t cheat on their online test.

Afterward, there is a mock game and interview. Jeopardy! hopefuls are instructed to come dressed as you would to play the game and to bring a sheet of paper with five facts about yourself.

This part is often the hardest for contestants and was certainly difficult for me.

As an introvert, I prefer to learn about others and ask them questions. But for this section, I had to come up with not one, but five amusing, short and interesting stories about me – not my kids, not my work, me.

At the audition, we discussed my first date with my husband. We went to a Giants-Dodgers baseball game at Dodger Stadium. At the time, he was a Giants fan and I was a Dodgers fan. It’s remarkable we ever bridged that gap.

Spoiler alert: Alex asked me about the same story on air and I got really flustered. 

I had a great time chatting with the other contestants, playing the game and, yes, even taking the test. (Actually, I’m one of those nerds who has always loved test-taking!)

And then, when it was done, they informed us that we were in “the pool.” Jeopardy! could call us any time in the next 18 months. Or, Jeopardy! could not call at all.

Thank you very much. Goodbye.

I figured that was the end of my story. And, I vowed to myself that the next time the online test was available, I would take it again.

This experience was fun. I figured that was the end of it. I had a great experience and one more story to tell. Within a few months, I forgot all about Jeopardy!

Until March, when the phone rang.

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