My lovely wife Cathy Markwiese and I always informally and good-naturedly compete when "Jeopardy" comes on.
We live in a small house that lies in the near Jackson Park neighborhood of Milwaukee near both Greenfield and West Allis.
She's an honors graduate of Marquette University with a master's degree from Michigan and I am in possession of a mere bachelor's degree from the fine UW-La Crosse, so I usually come out on the short end.
But my bride took it to a new level on July 27, when she appeared as an actual contestant on "Jeopardy" and was seen nationwide by a myriad number of friends and family.
Treatment for another jeopardy
It was a long story of hope fulfilled and of a dream come true for her.
She is twice a survivor of ovarian cancer and every day is a blessing because of her current good health (even as we go through the trials and tribulations of building a new house, which unto itself is another act of faith).
During her most recent bout in fall 2009, she watched a lot of TV and a lot of "Jeopardy" and decided to challenge herself mentally by taking the 50-question, short answer Jeopardy pre-test.
"I thought taking a test like that might make me feel more like the person I had been," she wrote in an email to friends. "The person I still hoped I was."
About 50,000 people took the test during this round and only the top 5 percent were invited to take part in auditions in one of four cities across the country.
To her surprise, she was part of the 5 percent. In August 2010, when she was feeling stronger and happier, we went to a Chicago hotel so she could compete against 18 others for a chance to meet host Alex Trebek and get on national television.
Passing the audition
There were researchers, doctors and even garden designers in the field. There were people who had been champions on other game shows, including someone who had won $1 million. "Serious pressure," she wrote.
She felt she didn't do well at the audition. The buzzer gave her problems and she kept forgetting to ask for another question.
"At the end we were told that if we were to be contestants for the upcoming season, we would be notified between October 2010 and April 2011," she wrote. "I knew as I left that I didn't have to worry about that.
"But the fear of failure was gone. What a cool experience, I thought. If I was a bucket-list kind of person, that probably would have been on the list!"
Flash forward to February. She had largely put the idea of competing on the show out of her mind. Almost.
It was about 2 p.m. on a Friday in February when my phone rang at work. It was my wife, which surprised me. It was unlike her to call during the day, except for emergencies.
But this qualified as one. She was gasping, barely audible, but I made out the key words: "They called."
That set off some crazed activities, including mass cramming by her of every obscure fact book that she could find.
Scarcely a month later we were in Los Angeles (on our dime, as only returning winners get travel and lodging paid for) for the show taping.
And because of strict show convention ("signing your life away," she quipped at one moment), we couldn't even really tell anyone about it.
After nearly getting bumped from our flight in Milwaukee, we made it to Los Angeles and got to the studio on Wednesday. They tape only two days a week (the crew works on other game shows) and they tape a week's worth each day. She had three changes of clothing and a lifetime of smarts to work with.
She met a lot of the same producers and talent agents she had worked with in Chicago. (They have almost as much chutzpah and verve as Trebek himself.)
We waited and waited. During the lunch break she got to go to the studio commissary and saw Diane Keaton. (I had to scrounge for myself.)
I was on pins and needles about this whole thing and so was she. Finally, she was called for the second-to-last show.
She got help with her make-up and they put her on an elevator behind her podium - it makes everyone look about the same height - and each contestant was wondering how well they would do and how they would respond when Alex asked them a personal question.
Each contestant was asked to give various talking points, and, of course, Alex wanted to talk about her cancer, which she handled with grace and class.
Later, every candidate got their picture taken with Alex, a major "wow" moment.
Unfortunately, my lovely one didn't have a lot of "wow" moments in the actual competition. The buzzer became her enemy again (even though producers kept trying to help her during breaks) and the other two contestants were just too quick for her.
She got the Final Jeopardy question right (something to do with Hannibal and his elephants), which was a big relief, but she finished a disappointing third.
Reasons to celebrate
Still, as they were filming the final credits, Alex spent the most time with her, peppering her with more questions about her cancer and condition.
She looked radiant.
"He kind of made a bee-line for me after the program and left the other contestants to talk amongst themselves," she said.
I was so proud of her. We stayed for the final show of the day.
We had a nice celebratory dinner at the hotel and a drink or two to boot.
Waiting for an air date
When we got back, we were peppered with lots of questions, which, of course, we refused to answer as per her agreement.
"Just wait for the show," we said coyly over and over again. "Just watch."
And we were grateful that people did. She got wonderful notes of congratulations and consolation.
What's more, I'll be able to puff out my chest and say I'm married to one of the smartest people in the world.
Her brother will have a DVD made for her and I'll collect all the nice emails.
"What more could you ask for?" she said.
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