Salmon Arm’s James Cowling gives a thumbs to a successful audition to become a contestant on Jeopardy. (Photo contributed)

On the road to Jeopardy!

Salmon Arm trivia buff James Cowling auditions for popular TV game show

Art Fleming was the original host of this American TV game show that Salmon Arm’s James Cowling hopes to be a contestant on?

If you answered, “What is Jeopardy!?” you would be correct.

On Saturday morning, Feb. 24, Cowling was at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre where he and approximately 20 other people were answering questions and testing their buzzer-pressing abilities during an audition to be future contestants on Jeopardy!.

Getting to that point for Cowling involved a Greyhound bus and, before that, an online tryout involving 50 questions, with 15 seconds to answer each – though not in the form of a question.

Cowling said about 100,000 people take the online test each year. Of those, depending on test scores and the luck of the draw, between 2,000 and 3,000 may receive a call for an interview.

For Cowling, a self-described trivia hound, receiving that call was cause for exuberant shouts of joy.

“Most people who take the test, even if they do well, don’t get the call,” said Cowling. “So you know, my lottery number came up essentially.”

At the Vancouver audition, one of two held Saturday, Cowling said he and other Jeopardy! prospects were asked into a ballroom where they received an explanation of the audition process before watching a brief video with the game show’s current host, Alex Trebek, offering his congratulations. And then it was down to business, with another 50-question test (and only eight seconds to answer each), followed by buzzer training and then mock games preceded by contestant interviews.

“Everybody got different questions, so they asked me, ‘Tell us about yourself,’” said Cowling. “I said, ‘My name is James and I’m from Salmon Arm,’ and the room sort of broke out into laughter. I said, ‘yeah, yeah, I know, salmon don’t have any arms, I get it all the time.’”

Asked what his dream purchase would be should he win on Jeopardy!, Cowling said a tiny house for his backyard, where he and his spouse could retreat to do their hobbies.

“Because it’s impossible to do that in the house right now with two kids age three and under,” laughs Cowling. “My wife can’t quilt, I can’t paint, we can’t do anything, so that would be lovely.”

While he feels he did well on the second quiz, Cowling wasn’t satisfied with his speed on the buzzer. He also came away feeling the a need bone up on U.S. history and sports. Part of his current studies involves reading through the, an online repository of Jeopardy! questions and answers.

“I’m going through the archive to get an idea, a refresher on the kinds of questions that they ask,” said Cowling. “Because… Even though they don’t ask the same question over and over, there are patterns.”

With the testing and the audition out of the way, Cowling says sometime over the next 18 months he may receive a call to come to the big show. If, in 18 months, he doesn’t receive a call, he’ll know he didn’t make the cut this time around. However, though it may have been the subject of laughter, being from Salmon Arm may be Cowling’s ace in the hole.

“Here’s the thing; Robert Slaven, who is the winning-est Canadian on Jeopardy!, he’s from Yellowknife,” Cowling explained. “Because he’s from Yellowknife, that was so unusual for the Jeopardy! people, they actually called him back the first week. So you never know, maybe being from Salmon Arm is going to help me.”

Until he gets that call, to keep sane, Cowling says he’s going to try and put the idea of being on Jeopardy! out of his mind – though he intends to keep watching it on TV.


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