Wednesday June 22, 2011

BENNINGTON -- If the producers at "Jeopardy!" had contacted Elaine Garrett a few months later, she might have simply been unavailable.

Garrett, a resident of Troy, N.Y., and assistant director of admissions at Southern Vermont College, flew to California at the beginning of March to be a contestant on the popular game show. Her appearance is scheduled to air this Friday.

While friends, family, and those connected to SVC will surely tune in to see how Garrett does, she will be watching from home while on maternity leave, after giving birth two weeks ago to new son Alex.

And no, Trebek is not the namesake.

"It’s actually a total coincidence," said Garrett, mother of two. "I like Alex Trebek, but not that much."

An avid viewer of "Jeopardy!" for years, Garrett took the online test more than a year ago and traveled to New York for a live audition in April 2010. She was among a crowd of 50 at that stage of the process, and said that she was told she would be in the contestant pool for 18 months.

"They probably audition 4,000 to 5,000 people, and they book 400 people a year on the show," said Garrett.

This past February, she received the call asking whether she would be available to fly out to the Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif.

Taping took place on March 1. "They tape two weeks worth in two days," said Garrett, "because they tape ("Jeopardy!") at the beginning of the week and "Wheel of Fortune" tapes at the end of the week .


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.. It’s really a streamlined operation, they know what they’re doing and they’re very good at their jobs. So it was very neat to watch the production."

Garrett said contestants went through a three-hour orientation the morning of the taping, allowing them practice with the buzzer and pointers on how to "get your enthusiasm and excitement up, but also get the nerves down."

Not unlike being a juror in a court case, Garrett said that contestants were sequestered together and not allowed to speak with producers, writers, or the show’s host.

"Alex Trebek is very neat, a great personality," she said. "We’re not allowed to talk to him off the stage, but he’s a character."

Divulging how she did would spoil the surprise (and violate any nondisclosure agreements) but Garrett said she couldn’t be happier and was "super pleased with everything about the experience." Watching the show since, Garrett said she had a newfound appreciation for the entire production.

Alex was born June 9 and joins 2-year-old brother Gus. The new arrival should be visible during Friday’s episode -- at least at the end of the program when the contestants come out from behind their podiums.

"Jeopardy!" airs weekdays at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 10, WTEN, in Albany. Garrett will appear this Friday, but promos running earlier in the week will give a glimpse of how she did.

Contact Zeke Wright at ewright@benningtonbanner.com.