Walking up to the podium in Culver City, Calif. surrounded by the hues of nostalgia, Laura Buermann was ready.
The Essex Jct. resident’s appearance on “Jeopardy!” earlier this month was a long time coming, spanning decades as a fan and a dozen years as a hopeful contestant. Buermann’s first attempt came in the early 2000s after a visit home from college matched up with the Clue Crew’s stop at the University Mall.
She didn’t make it, but the experience did open her eyes: Of course, she thought, they must get contestants from somewhere. Why not her?
Buermann has taken the online quiz every year since then and once before got the call for an audition. There, “Jeopardy!” hopefuls run through another 50-question quiz, a mock version of the game and then a camera test. Soon after, Buermann learned she would be placed into the contestant pool and finally got the call last November.
Threats of the falling short in the big leagues might force some people into a cram session (think Rosie Perez hunched over a kitchen table in “White Men Can’t Jump”). Buermann, however, decided to head to the show on the laurels of her weekly trivia team and wealth of literature knowledge.
“I was actually worried I would psych myself out,” she admitted.
The show’s speed and depth separates it from many gameshows. Contestants can breeze through a half-dozen questions in under a minute in topics ranging from geography to the Seattle rock band Foo Fighters. But Buermann said watching on TV does no justice to the rapid-fire of questions contestants experience.
Nor does armchair participation compare to the spotlight, she learned.
“My first question didn’t go particularly well,” Buermann said. “I was so surprised that the buzzer actually went off, my brain just went blank.”
She picked it up from there, securing a total of $2,600 in the first round and $9,000 in the second heading into Final Jeopardy. The category was 19th century Americans.
“On July 10, 1804 he wrote a letter of goodbye, just in case, to ‘My Dearest Theodosia’; he lived until 1836,” read the question.
(The answer: Aaron Burr, the third vice president of the United States, who penned the letter a day before killing Alexander Hamilton during a duel in Weehawken, N.J.)
As the camera panned to Buermann, her disappointment was clear. But neither of her competitors knew the answer either, and despite losing $9,000 on her final wager, Buermann finished in second place.
Nearly two weeks after the show’s airing, Buermann said she’s eventually gotten over missing the final question. She graded her performance a solid B and said she feels good after watching the show on May 2 with a few friends.
“We tried to keep it low-key, but it was nice to have people I know like me anyway, regardless of how it looked on TV,” she said.
Her performance included 12 correct answers and one miss while hitting first on the buzzer about 23 percent of the time, according to fan website thejeopardyfan.com.
Since her 23-or-so minutes of fame, Buermann has heard from people all over the country letting her know their thoughts of her performance. And she’s received a lot of support from her office and residents around town.
“Jeopardy!,” now in its 33th season, films at Sony Studios on the same lot as other popular gameshows, including “Wheel of Fortune.” Buermann said she enjoyed the experience and was surprised to learn some of the show’s behind-the-scene functions, like how a week’s worth of episodes are filmed in a single day, meaning a multi-day returning champion might run through five games in a single taping.
“That’s made watching it at home so much more fascinating,” she said. “Because you know what went into that experience.”