Jan. 22, 2007

Cokato man to play on Jeopardy! Wednesday, Jan. 31

Nate Metcalf to play on popular TV game show

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Nate Metcalf, who grew up in Cokato, will be on Jeopardy! Wednesday, Jan. 31.

Metcalf, who now lives in St. Paul and writes shows, directs and develops print material at the National Theatre for Children of Minneapolis. He is the son of David and Linda Metcalf of Cokato.

Metcalf is a 1991 graduate of Dassel Cokato High School. He was taped Nov. 27 for the show in Los Angeles.

Metcalf can’t divulge the results of the game, but he can tell what it was like being on TV, meeting Alex Trebek, and what it takes to get on the show, he said.

Being selected as a contestant is not easy. About 10 years ago, Metcalf auditioned for the college tournament. He passed the test, but never made it onto the show.

In April 2006, Jeopardy! held an online contestant search. “So being a lifelong fan, I took another shot at it,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf logged into Jeopardy.com and 50 questions from 50 different categories flashed on the screen for 15 seconds each. It didn’t seem as if he had done very well. Metcalf was sure he gave wrong answers for at least seven of the questions, he said.

“The problem is, that after the test, they don’t tell you your score. You just have to sit and wait,” Metcalf said.

At the end of May, Metcalf finally got an email saying he had passed. Metcalf then took another test, this time with pen and paper, at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. In this test, he had time to think and fix answers he had missed earlier.

Contestants also participated in a mock game and interviews. The final question was “What would you do with the money if you won?”

Metcalf was surprised how many contestants answered, “travel.”

“Seriously, people, after the first 10 people give that as their answer, shouldn’t you think of something a little more original? . . .That’s not going to make you stand out in their minds,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf said he will put the money into his wedding fund he and his fiancee, Jolene Kerschner of St. Paul, are collecting.

Six months later, Tony Pandolfo, head of contestant coordination, called Metcalf and offered him a slot on the show.

Metcalf studied the last month before the taping by reading the “Dummies” and “Complete Idiot’s Guide” series. He also was informally tutored by friends and Kerschner. Metcalf tried not to cram.

“I didn’t want to make myself crazy,” he said.

The night before, he, his family and Kerschner flew to Los Angeles, Metcalf was very stressed, he said.

All contestants have to pay their own way to LA, and for their own hotel rooms. Everyone on the show wins some money, though. Third place gets $1,000, second place gets $2,000, and the winner keeps what he makes.

Metcalf pointed out, though, that there is no minimum for the winner. It is possible a second or third place finisher could win more money than the winner.

Jeopardy! tapes five shows every Tuesday, and five shows every Wednesday. Contestants bring three outfits that are interchangeable. That way by the fourth day, no one can remember what you wore the first day.

Once Metcalf and the other contestants were on the studio lot, they were bombarded with rules, meetings and paperwork.

They also went over their “talking points.” In the beginning of the show, Trebek chats with contestants before the actual game begins. Each contestant plans five talking points, indicating which of the five is his favorite. Metcalf’s favorite was “I once sang ‘Do Ron Ron’ in Hungarian at an audition and got the part,” he said.

Also, the announcer had trouble pronouncing “Cokato,” correctly and had to practice a few times to get it right. Trebek also skipped over it later when introducing Metcalf, and just said Metcalf was “from Minnesota.”

When the contestants walked out on to the set, Metcalf was excited.

“This was it. This was the momen of ‘Wow’ for me. It was literally awesome. I was in awe looking at it. Everything was shiny and immaculate, including the highly polished, intensely blue floor,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf noticed right away the camera makes the three lecterns where the contestants stand seem at an angle to the board. The lecterns face the board directly, though.

Also, it’s smaller than it looks on TV and less homey. This was an advantage for Metcalf, though, he said.

“It felt like I was on stage again. And when that happened, Regular-Nate left the building and Performance-Nate kicked in. It was amazingly relaxing and reassuring,” he said.

The top of the lecterns are covered with a soft flannel, so if contestants get sweaty hands, they won’t drop the buzzer.

Also, the camera doesn’t zoom in on the answers for contestants as it does for the viewers watching the show. Above the board with the answers is a scoreboard the TV viewers can’t see, Metcalf added.

A man at the judges’ table manually arms the signaling devices, and a series of “go-lights” appear that are invisible to TV viewers.

When the “go-lights” appear, contestants hit their signaling devices. However, if contestants hit their signaling devices too soon, they are locked out for half a second, Metcalf said.

“When you learn that the difference between contestant responses is milliseconds, it’s an eternity,” he said.

If the contestant waits to see the lights, though, it’s too late. Contestants need to anticipate when the signaling devices are armed, Metcalf said.

After a rehearsal, an audience of 100 comes into the studio and takes their seats. Friends and families of the contestants are separated from the rest of the audience so they can’t send signals to the contestants.

The two contestants who go against the champion are selected randomly, as well as the categories they play.

For the commercial breaks, the studio actually records dead air, so the TV stations are sure to put the commercials in the right places, he said.

Metcalf’s mom was amazed at Trebek’s poise and ease in re-entering the show after commercial breaks. Also, Trebek rarely flubbed the clues, maybe only three times all day, Metcalf said.

For the final Jeopardy! question the contests are given privacy panels, and are urged to do all their math on scratch paper before they write their wagers. They also write down “What is,” in advance to save time for thinking and writing the answer.

At the end, whether Metcalf wins or loses, he and the other contestants walk to center stage to make small talk with Trebek.

“Either you’ve just been defeated, or you’ve just won a bazillion dollars and you still have to pretend to be interested in whatever Alex is saying,” Metcalf said.

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