Kirsten Rose marches with the Milne Public Library contingent at Williamstown's Fourth of July parade.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Kirsten Rose has a good head for facts.
That is what made her a successful librarian. And that is what got her on a California sound stage as a contestant on "Jeopardy!"
But that is not going to do you much good if you press her for many details about her experience on the show, which airs July 11.
Like any "Jeopardy!" contestant, she is obligated to keep the result of the game a secret.
And, no doubt like many, there's a lot that even the keenest mind may not totally recall.
"It's very surreal to be up there," Rose said recently. "I almost don't remember pieces of what happened because it just passes in such a blur and happens so fast.
"It looks exactly the way you'd think it does, and it's also this very surreal … It's very surreal because it looks the same and different from how you would picture it. It's very strange.
"I think at some point, your brain has trouble compensating. How do you keep up with that? There's so much stimuli coming in."
Rose, the children's librarian at the David and Joyce Milne Public Library, took some time recently to talk about what she could remember — and could say — about the once-in-a-lifetime experience of playing America's top quiz game and meeting legendary host Alex Trebek.
Question: How did you get chosen for the show?
Kirsten Rose: My childhood best friend was on the show several years ago. And I keep saying this is all her fault, basically.
She was on, and after her run she was encouraging me and, I think, several other people. She said, 'You should do it. You should try out.'
Q: How did she do on the show?
Rose: She won twice and lost on the third show. She did well.
Q: You must have known when she was going to be on. Did you make it a point to watch those shows?
Rose: Sure, definitely, definitely. It's very weird to watch somebody you know on TV. It's very weird to me to realize that I'm going to be on TV next week.
Q: I'm guessing it wasn't just your friend that made you aware of it.
Rose: I've watched over the years. Maybe not always regularly, but off and on I've definitely watched over the years.
Q: Did you, as most people do, sit on the couch and say, 'I could do better than these people.'
Rose: It's not even so much, 'I could do better than that.' But just, I like trivia. I like trivia contests. It's one of those things that I'm good at. My brain retains a lot of pieces of information.
I'm a librarian. There's been a lot of librarians on the show.
Q: I was going to ask about that. It seems like a natural profession for a Jeopardy contestant.
The guy who had that big run of 32 shows [James Holzhauer] — his first [air date] was the week after we taped, so we were completely oblivious about him. We had no idea about him, which was really — that would have been scary.
But the woman who beat him [Emma Boettcher] is a librarian. There's a great quote from her about: As librarians, we are the people in the room who, when someone says, 'I wonder what ... ' We're the people who go and look that up. We're the people who say, 'Let's see what the answer is to this.'
I'm one of those people who always looks those things up, but I'm also someone whose brain keeps bits of that. Not everything, obviously.
Q: So what was the application process like to get on the show?
Rose; The process is there's an online test they offer a couple of times a year on their website. You do that, and you don't really get results. You take the tests, and you have no idea.
I took the test in 2017. This is a while ago.
Maybe six months after that, I got an email from them that they were doing an in-person audition in Boston. So I drove and spent the day in Boston at a hotel downtown. They give you an in-person paper test and they do a little mock game, which is essentially a screen test — make sure you can stand up there, string a sentence together. We didn't have real buzzers, but it was just a chance for them to see you.
Q: It was casting.
Rose: Exactly. And, again, you don't really know how you did. They don't ever give you results in any of this. But they say, if you pass that, you're in the contestant pool for 18 months.
That was like November of 2017. … The in-person audition was really fun, so I said, if this is all that happens, I'm fine. I'm not particularly driven by having to be on TV. It was fun.
And my dad kept, like, calling me and saying, 'Did they call you yet?' I said, 'Dad, I'll tell you.'
Looking back, it was almost 18 months, and they're not going to call me, and that's fine. Many people try out multiple times. Whatever.
And then in March, they call me.
Q: What was that like?
Rose: The land line rang. And, you know, we tend not to answer our phone anymore because it's always junk calls. So I looked down, and it said, 'Sony-something something.'
Q: And you thought they were trying to sell you a TV?
And then my cell phone rang immediately afterward, and I thought, 'That's really odd.' And I looked at the screen [on the cell phone], and it says, 'Culver City.'
I thought, 'Who would be calling me from ….?' Oh, wait.
I answered, and it was them. They said we want you to come to LA in three weeks.
Q: Three weeks? After 18 months, they give you three weeks notice?
Rose: Exactly. They called the beginning of March, and my taping date was March 27.
Once you get in, it's like a really quick turnaround
Q: Absolutely, and, again, not to give anything away, but you've got to block in more than just that day?
Rose: They tape five shows a day.
Q: But if you're on the fifth show of the day and you happen to win …?
Rose: Right. So, you're on your own for travel expenses. Although, if you're in second place, you get $2,000, and if you're in third place, you get $1,000, so that kind of covers your travel expenses.
But, they say, 'If you win on that fifth 'day,' we will pay for you to come back.'
And they tape a couple of days a week, and where I was taping was near the end of their season.
But then two or three days after they called me was when Alex Trebek announced he had cancer. So they were changing their taping schedule a little bit. They added some Saturdays, which they don't normally do. I think they were squeezing some extra shows for him so he could wrap up [the season] and go do whatever he needed to do.
So, originally, they said, if you win, we'll fly you back a month later [for another taping day], but then it was, we're taping on a Wednesday, and if you win, it will be that Saturday. So things were getting more compressed.
Q: Understandably, like you said, for his schedule.
Rose: I think that was a curveball that they weren't expecting, so they were clearly scrambling. I think their usual schedule is they tape two days a week, and that's 10 shows.
Q: So nobody thinks about the whole air dates versus taping dates thing. So James Holzhauer would have been taping …?
Rose: He would have been taping in February for the most part, as far as I could figure out. … But when we were there, the employees of the show, of course, are pros at not giving away anything. They didn't let on that anything like that was coming.
Q: It has to be hard in general to come back and have people asking, 'How'd you do?' And then you add that on top of it when Holzhauer was having his run and people were aware of what was going on.
Rose: And everyone was asking, 'Are you playing him? Are you playing him?' I was like, 'I can't say.'
I knew that he was going to lose before I showed up. But I didn't …
When you're there, both for the contestants and the audience, they appeal to your better nature and just say, 'Look, don't give it away for everybody else because it ruins the fun.'
Q: Were you relieved when he finally did lose on the show so you could stop hearing that question?
Rose: Yeah. I knew it was coming. But, yeah, it was a big relief.
My dad was sending me articles about him every day, whatever articles he was finding. And it was leaked that morning that he had lost. … But I made a point of watching.
Q: It's been a few years, but I seem to remember everyone knew Ken Jennings was going to lose that night, and part of the reason I remember tuning in was I wanted to see how it would happen.
Rose: Ken Jennings was such a powerhouse. I mean, James [Holzhauer] was also.
James clearly has amazing trivia knowledge and is really, really good on the buzzer. But he also took huge risks. And I kept saying: At some point, that's gonna get him. That's not quite how his final game went down, but …
Q: So what is the experience like of playing the game?
Rose: It's five shows in a day, and it's about 10 minutes in between games. There's not a lot of big down time. They do the game, they bring everybody off stage, the returning person goes into the green room to change their clothes and goes right back out.
Q: Do you hear the music and all that?
Rose: Yes. And they take commercial breaks. It's almost exactly like you see in the show.
Contestants don't have very much contact at all with Alex Trebek. They don't want any appearance of collusion or favoritism or anything like that. … You get up on the stage, behind the podiums, he walks out from the other side. And at the end he comes and shakes everybody's hands.
That's all your contact with him. There's plenty of contact with other people.
Q: Like the producers …?
Rose: The producers and all that, who are all fabulous.
We had a rehearsal beforehand and a mock game to get you used to standing there and the buzzers and where to look and all that. That was run by Jimmy [McGuire] from the Clue Crew.
Q: Who is a face you know from watching the show.
Rose: Yeah. And he did some of the emcee duties in the audience as well, talking to them about not giving things away and those sorts of things.
Q: And I was going to ask you about the little hand-shaking at the end of the show. Was that one more thing that was kind of a blur? Do you remember what you all talked about?
Rose: [Trebek] commented on the game and how it had gone, basically.
Q: Because you wonder sometimes watching on TV if the conversation is faked.
Rose: No, he commented on the game, and had nice things to say to everybody. He's a really nice guy.
They take the commercial breaks, and when they go to commercial … he would get up and he would take questions from the audience. And, again, his health was one of the big questions, and he said at the time he felt fine, chemo was horrible but he mostly felt fine. … And people asked how he met his wife or people asked about growing up in Canada. It was just random stuff. And he was very funny and very like, sort of dry.
Q: So you were able to get some impression about him.
Rose: He, in some ways, is exactly the way you would think he is and yet also somehow very much more. He definitely has a personality that you don't necessarily get to see just from the clue reading persona.
Q: That comes through a little in the question-and-answer portion of the show with the contestants. And I imagine you had to come up with several of those little talking points.
Rose: You have to come up with at least five beforehand, and they had several on the card. And [the producers] were like, 'Maybe we'll highlight this one for him.' And he just went off completely in his own direction. I think Alex does what Alex wants to do. He's been doing the show for 35 years, and he kind of gets to call his own shots.
He's a pro, and he knows what he wants to do. And he just ran with it. He knows he has to do something engaging for one minute, and he knows how to produce that.
Q: As you said earlier, it was a pretty short window between your notification that you were selected and your appearance on the show. Were you able to do anything to prepare?
Rose: I did not do much. My attitude was kind of like, how do you even prepare for something like that.
It could be literally anything.
Again, James Holzhauer, not to keep going back to him, he talked a lot about how what he had done was read up on children's books (laughs). I was like, what a brilliant idea. Why didn't I think of that?
But I didn't do much.
I thought a little bit about, sometimes they have themed categories like around holidays. I knew roughly my show would air the beginning of July, so it's like, 'What's going on the beginning of July.' I think I looked up Wimbledon and maybe Bastille Day. I had a list of things that happened close to my air date.
Q: I guess the temptation would be to start binge watching 'Jeopardy!' but you're not going to hear similar categories.
Rose: You want to start watching 'Jeopardy!' really carefully, but you're not even watching so much for the clues as some of the other things: When do these people talk to these people and how do they stand? It's more like the other stuff that you're looking at at that point: What do I wear? How do I stand? All those kinds of things.
Q: You mentioned the practice game, and that's when you get to use the buzzer for the first time.
Rose: And the buzzer is a whole thing. On the show, there are lights that go on when a clue is live, basically. You cannot ring in before Alex finishes reading the clue, and there are lights up there on the screen that we could see in the studio. … So you can either go by the lights or go by Alex's voice when to ring in. Because if you ring in too soon, you get shut out for a fraction of a second.
So you don't want to ring in too soon, but you want to be the first one at that stroke of when it is ready. So that timing is kind of tricky.
Q: You probably can't answer this question, but did you get a Cliff Clavin moment [as in when the 'Cheers' character got a Double Jeopardy board with categories like 'Civil Servants, Stamps From Around the World, Mothers and Sons, Beer,' etc.]? Did a category like 'Children's Lit' pop up that was right in your wheelhouse?
Rose: That's hard to answer. No, I can't answer.
Q: We'll just have to watch the show and let people figure that out for themselves. Did the whole family go out to California for this?
Rose: They offered, but I actually said, 'No, I think this is easier to do by myself.' Because if they were there, I'd be worrying about them, and I just need to focus on me.
Q: Where are you watching the show?
Rose: With some friends.
Q: A big party?
Rose: I don't think so. We were talking about having a big party, but I think I just need something a little low key.
Like I said, the whole idea of — I'm going to be on national TV next week — is a little weird to take in. I think I need something a little more low key, hopefully.
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