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(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JEOPARDY")

ALEX TREBEK: This is "Jeopardy."

MARTIN: Imagine this: You got 30 seconds on national television to share the most interesting thing about yourself. What do you say?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JEOPARDY")

TREBEK: This young man doesn't eat fruit. (Unintelligible) used an infrared camera to do what? I want to know about your cat. It says here that your father got a phone call from a young girl who was looking for...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Justin Timberlake.

MARTIN: Our producer Brent Baughman is obsessed with "Jeopardy," especially these personal anecdotes. He reports on how the smartest people on television survive the most nerve-racking 30 seconds of their lives.

BRENT BAUGHMAN: The first key to your survival on "Jeopardy," Maggie Speak.

MAGGIE SPEAK: Hey, Brent. How are you?

BAUGHMAN: Maggie and Robert James, not James Robert, that happens to you like every day, I bet.

ROBERT JAMES: Every day of my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAUGHMAN: These two, Maggie and Robert, are a "Jeopardy" contestant's best friends. They're the show's contestant coordinators.

TRICIA MCKINNEY: Yeah. They're your lifeline. They're your best friends. And they're wonderful. They're really, really good at their jobs.

BAUGHMAN: Tricia McKinney was a contestant on the show back in 2007. She was excited to land a spot until she received her three-page contestant questionnaire from Maggie and Robert.

Do you have the sheet in front of you there?

JAMES: I have. Yes, I do. Point A, be brief. Really, we're looking for one-liners. After all, (unintelligible) with you (unintelligible). And surprise us. Tell us something about yourself or something you've done that no one would guess about you.

SPEAK: Have you ever been at a turning point in your career?

JAMES: Brushes of greatness and secret ambitions.

SPEAK: What's the most romantic thing you've ever done?

MCKINNEY: Man, it's all coming back to me when you read me that.

JAMES: Here are some memorable examples from last season: Favio saved my life. I broke my toe while chasing a bear.

MCKINNEY: I just panicked.

JAMES: I used to recruit spies for the CIA.

MCKINNEY: I panicked. I remember agonizing hours and hours and hours. I love you, Alex Trebek. I wanted to be cool. I didn't do it just right. I wanted to come up with something and make Alex Trebek say, I want to be your best friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCKINNEY: And that's totally not what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BAUGHMAN: If you didn't get some of those examples of good anecdotes: I once broke my toe while chasing a bear. I used to recruit spies for the CIA. That's the bar you get as a contestant, people who run toward bears not away from them, CIA spies. So before the show, Robert James sits down with each contestant to settle on three of their best anecdotes from the questionnaire. That often requires more work. Once after responding to all the questions on the form, a contestant settled on the most interesting thing he could share. I like to walk.

JAMES: I like to walk? What - we all like to walk. You know, you got to come up with something more. And we worked with him, and he came up with a good story.

BAUGHMAN: People don't often realize what's interesting about themselves. All this happens before the contestants make it to their taping. And when they get there, here's Tricia McKinney again.

MCKINNEY: We were so excited to be there and to meet Alex Trebek. He's like a rock star.

BAUGHMAN: So you have meeting a rock star nerves. And here's the other thing. "Jeopardy" tapes five shows a day. That means, as a player, you could potentially win five times, which means five changes of clothes, five personal anecdotes and five games worth of contestants all in the same room.

MCKINNEY: Twelve really twitchy, crazy people who are all dying to go on TV and be famous and win a lot of money. Everybody in the room wants to beat everybody else in the room.

BAUGHMAN: So the contestant coordinators step in again.

MCKINNEY: And so they have to just spend probably a good half a day just calming everybody down. They sit with you just making sure nobody throws up.

People tell me that, you know, they're thrilled to play the game. And I'll be like, this is the scariest part, is this chat thing. But the thing is Alex is so good at his job he will bail you out.

BAUGHMAN: This is Dan Suzman's anecdote. He was on the show December 28, 2004.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JEOPARDY")

TREBEK: Most people when they think of Africa and wildlife in Africa think of lions...

DAN SUZMAN: He built it up as a very dramatic experience.

Well, my dad's from South Africa, so we go over there occasionally. And we're fishing on a lake in Botswana when I noticed that there was a new island moving towards us, and it was a hippopotamus chasing us. So it was - that was a little scary.

BAUGHMAN: And then, just like that, it's gone.

SUZMAN: Yeah. You can focus back on the game, on the score. The other people next to you are going to bubble the questions themselves.

BAUGHMAN: Did you feel as nervous during the actual quiz portion of the show as you did during the story?

SUZMAN: Not at all. I know how to answer questions.

BAUGHMAN: In a way, it's comforting that there are still people in America who simply have no idea what to do with themselves in front of a camera, people who have the humility to be nervous they're taking up your time.

Dan Suzman didn't win his game, Tricia McKinney did. She won three times, over $50,000. She remembers the last story she told.

MCKINNEY: It was a story about my cousin and me. We went to Germany, and we found a shop that we really liked, but it was closed. So we were going to come back another day, so we tried to memorize the name of the street the shop was on. And so we memorized the name (foreign language spoken).

BAUGHMAN: Yeah.

MCKINNEY: Which we later came to find out means one-way street in German.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAUGHMAN: Was that - wait, why is that funny?

MCKINNEY: Because there's a lot of one-way streets.

BAUGHMAN: Oh, OK.

MCKINNEY: So - I know, right? This is the quality anecdote that I had to work with.

BAUGHMAN: Of course, Maggie Speak says it's easy to make fun of someone else's story.

SPEAK: What would you talk about?

BAUGHMAN: Don't ask me that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JAMES: I have - what, you've been anywhere interesting?

BAUGHMAN: See? This is like - I could not do this.

MARTIN: Producer Brent Baughman isn't going on "Jeopardy" anytime soon.

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