It's much easier to play "Jeopardy!" from the comfort of your living room couch than it is to actually compete on the show. There's no studio audience, there's no harsh spotlights, and there's certainly no Alex Trebek standing a few yards away, awaiting your responses with his impenetrable, all-knowing gaze.
Perhaps nobody knows this better than "Jeopardy" champion Julia Collins. As the second-winningest contestant in the show's history (after Ken Jennings), Collins has spent more time behind a "Jeopardy!" podium than almost anyone else on Earth, dominating 20 consecutive games between April 21 and June 2. Her remarkable run netted her $429,100 in winnings, and cemented her status as the highest-earning female player in the show's 50-year history.
Needless to say, Collins knows a few things about America's Favorite Quiz Show® that the average "Jeopardy!" junkie might not.
In a recent "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit, Collins invited fans and hopeful contestants to ask about her experiences on "Jeopardy!" and ended up answering questions on everything from her buzzer-ringing technique to her Banana Republic cardigans.
Keep reading for some of Collins' most interesting responses, or visit Reddit to read her AMA in its entirety.
What's one thing that surprised you about the show when you first appeared on 'Jeopardy!'?
"The dimensions of the space are a bit different than they look on camera, and actually seem very similar to 'Wheel of Fortune' from some pictures I've seen of that set. Also, I'd never been on a show set before, so it was odd to see how many people there are around. (Obviously, I know that it takes a lot of people to run a TV show, but when you're watching at home, it seems like there's Johnny, Alex, and the three contestants. It's a lot more bustling in person.)"
How many shows do you tape in one day? How long did it take to tape your 21 shows?
"Five shows a day, so four full days, and a bit of a fifth! I took three separate trips to L.A."
How much of a factor is buzzer speed in Jeopardy games? Can you give us the lowdown on the efficacy of your buzz-in style?
"[Buzzer speed is] a big factor, but it's only a factor because everyone is so ready to respond. Being quick on/getting the hang of the timing of the buzzer confers a real advantage. Sometimes you'll be the only one ringing in, but usually not. Plus, getting shut out with the buzzer psyches a fair number of people out, so that compounds any advantage … Everyone has to figure out his/her own technique. I listened for the last word of the clue and buzzed in then. Other people looked for the lights that come on along the sides of the game board. I think I got lucky that I got the hang of it right away."
Sometimes Alex pauses after a contestant gives an answer to see if the judges will accept it. Can you hear what they're saying, or does Alex wear an earpiece so only he hears?
"Only Alex can hear that. When a score has been changed after a commercial break, the contestants are usually told that something is being reviewed. Sometimes they replay the tape if it's a question of correct pronunciation."
Is Alex Trebek's small talk as awkward in person as it looks on TV?
"It got less awkward the more times I did it. I learned that the best response to anything he said was some form of "yes, and … " Just like in improv. The interviews, unlike the rest of the show, are often edited pretty heavily. I had at least one that was WAY more awkward in real life than on TV, so thank goodness for some kind editing … Also, coming up with ideas for that portion of the show is probably the hardest thing about being on the show (right up there with filming the promos)."
How long before you get paid? Is it lump sum or do you get payments over a period of time?
"I think it's a lump sum. I won't get the money until the end of the summer. They wait 120 days after your air date to pay, but I assume they're good for it. Otherwise, I think we would have all heard from Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings!"
What do you plan on doing with the money?
"I don't have the money yet, and won't for a while, but I went on a lengthy trip to France with some of my savings, which I wouldn't have done if I didn't have my 'Jeopardy!' winnings coming along. I rented an apartment in Paris for a month. I wanted to do something I would never have done otherwise, and that was what I picked. It was wonderful!"
How stressful was the whole experience? Did you feel a sense of relief when it was over, or would have preferred to keep going?
"I 100-percent would have preferred to keep going. It's tiring but not particularly stressful. You're playing a game with the potential to win a lot of money, so there's no downside. It's really a lot of fun. My feet got really tired by the end of every day, but I would have loved to have kept going. I was sad to be done, because it was an unqualified wonderful experience."
Do you have any tips for the aspiring future 'Jeopardy!' Champions among us?
"For tryouts, try to be as relaxed and energetic/enthusiastic as possible. Be friendly with everyone, including the other hopefuls. I think that the contestant coordinators notice. If you get called to be on the show, studying does help. I didn't think it helped a ton, but probably enough that it made a difference in the outcome of the game at least a little bit. Mainly, it helps make you feel like you're in control of a situation where you don't have much control, which helps."
I love your sweaters. Where do you get them?
"The sweaters are almost all from J.Crew, except for a few of the cardigans, which are from Banana Republic."