This BC Hydro manager appeared on Jeopardy! on July 18
Employee communications manager lives the dream
Who is Chelsea Watt?
After years of waiting in the wings for her chance, whip-smart BC Hydro employee communications manager Chelsea Watt got her time in the Jeopardy! spotlight during a taping of the show earlier this year in Los Angeles. And on July 18, she gathered with friends and family to watch the wildly popular show, this time with her in a starring role.
Against fierce competition, she didn't advance to the next round. But what a journey it was.
The following Q & A is edited for brevity, and was updated after Watt's Jeopardy! appearance.
Rob Klovance: Congratulations, Chelsea. Take us back to the day – long after being tested, interviewed and auditioned for the show – that you first found out you'd been selected to compete on what you must consider the greatest show on Earth. How were you notified, how did you feel, and who did you call first with the fantastic news?
Chelsea Watt: After the audition, you wait up to 18 months to find out if you've been chosen. I must have answered every spam call on my phone for a year. Logically, I knew that the show films in California, but you don't know, maybe they're calling you from Philadelphia or something. So, when I got the call it was just some random number but said 'California' on my phone. And I don't know anyone in California. I still obviously expected to hear a recording, but instead heard 'Hi is this Chelsea? ...' After the call, I came back to the work meeting I'd been in and was just trying to be cool. One member of my team asked 'Are you OK'. I'm like: 'I'm super OK! It was a call from California.' She knew right away what that meant because she knew I had auditioned, so I guess she was the first person I told. Then I told my best friend Jenn, who's also a huge Jeopardy! fan. We had decided, long ago, that if it ever happened, she would come with me. I was frantically texting her, in all caps, just repeating her name in all caps, and she knew I had done it.
RK: I understand that about 100,000 people take the online Jeopardy! test each year, and out of that about 3,000 get an audition for a chance to be one of that year's 300 to 400 contestants. Take us through the Jeopardy! application process, what it's like and how long you had tried out for a spot on the show.
CW: Omigawd. I've been taking the test for six or seven years. And this was my second audition. You start with an online test, and they never tell you how well you did. But if you pass, you could get selected to do an audition, which are done in two parts. I was actually away with a friend and I was reading a book about Jeopardy, and later that week, got the email that I had been chosen to go to the next stage, the audition. I was joking that I manifested this by reading the book. In the first stage of the audition, you do the test again, but on Zoom. You're typing away and they're watching you. And if you pass that, you get invited to go to the next stage, which is like more of the audition audition. I had that last June, again on Zoom, but this time you play mock games of Jeopardy!, holding a clicky pen and pretending you're buzzing in. And you do a mock interview. Again, they don't tell you whether you pass your audition. But if you pass, you could be in the contestant pool for 18 months. So when I finally got the call, it was a bit like winning the lottery. A dream come true.
RK: In the weeks leading up to the trip to L.A for the show, how did you 'study'? Or can you really study for something like this? Which areas did you feel you needed to fine tune for the show?
CW: People kept asking me how much I was studying and I was like 'Not enough'. I was more focused on what I was going to wear. But there were a few things I studied. If you watch a lot of Jeopardy! you'll know there are things that come up, and you're either good at them or you're not. I am not good at classical music. I am not good at college sports. I'm not good at fine art and I was like, 'I cannot improve that, – that ship has sailed'. But I'm keenly aware that I'm Canadian. So I decided to learn more about the [U.S.] presidents, the whole list, plus the vice presidents, because that comes up often. And I decided to learn the state capitals, because those are the kind of facts that come up. It would be nice to be able to at least make a reasonable guess on a question where, for example, it's fairly obvious to everyone in America that the answer is 'North Dakota' and I guess something like 'Santa Fe'. That would be embarrassing.
RK: As promised, your friend Jenn went with you to L.A. With Jeopardy! so strict about not letting anyone know how you did on the show, did you have to hide that from her, too?
CW: During COVID, they didn't have a studio audience, so people weren't able to bring guests. But this year, Jenn could come to the tapings. So she's the only person who knows what happened. And she's also sworn to secrecy.
RK: Once you got to L.A., you met other contestants as they too, awaited their big day. What was that like? Did you have your game face on, or could you relax? I heard one contestant there had tried out for decades.
CW: It's such an interesting experience because you're there with other people who are also a little bit shell-shocked, excited and super nervous. But everyone was so nice, the staff were great, and the other contestants were super nice. Everyone's a bit different. I'm quite a chatty person, and there's a lot of discussion about where everyone's from. There was one contestant who had first auditioned when Art Fleming was the host. That was before Alex Trebek, back in the 1970s.
RK: So, you had to pack multiple dresses for the taping of the shows. What's that all about?
CW: You have to bring multiple clothes for a few reasons. The basic one is that you don't know how many episodes you're going to film. You want different outfits for every day, so you have to be prepared for that in case you do well. And there are practical reasons that were new to me, because I've never been on TV before. There are certain patterns you don't wear because they won't work on camera, and you can't have any logos showing. And I have to assume that if the three contestants on a show all wore a burgundy-esque shirt and black blazer, someone would have to change.
RK: So, your friends and family finally got to see you on Jeopardy! on July 18. It was great to see you keep you cool, your smile, and your sense of humour, throughout what must have been a difficult show, particularly with categories including tuition fees at U.S. colleges. Yikes.
CW: Yes, I've had a few people tell me I had bad luck with some really American categories! Honestly I kind of expected that. I did know some of the universities, but with the U.S. history I really was lost. I think the hardest part was the buzzer. I knew a lot more questions than I was able to buzz in on. But I'll always be glad that I did Canada proud and got that Celine Dion question right.
RK: With facts literally at our fingertips online, in-the-head knowledge and trivia are becoming a bit of a dying art. How long ago did you realize that you had the interest in facts, and the memory to retain them, that gives you what I can only describe as a superpower?
CW: I've always been a huge reader, and I read very, very quickly. When I was a kid, we went to the library all the time and I was the 10-year-old kid that taking 13 books out, right? And I would have no problem finishing them before our next trip to the library. I also played Trivial Pursuit with my mom and my sister. It was the old-school version, and although the clues were about stuff that happened before me and my sister were born, there was no mercy from our mom. I'm quite competitive at things that I'm good at, but not in sports, because I'm really bad at them. So just reading and learning kind of morphed into trivia. And at probably about 13 or so, I started to watch Jeopardy!, off and on. And in my late teens, when Ken Jennings went on his really big streak and the show started to spike in popularity, that's when I was hooked.
RK: How did you know you had what it takes to potentially emerge from that annual pool of 100,000 potential competitors?
CW: About 10 years ago, a group of friends invited me to join pub quiz, and I've been a regular at pub quizzes since, and even hosted a pub quiz in Vancouver for a couple years. That's where I doubled down on loving trivia, and that's when I started taking the Jeopardy! quiz each year to try to get on the show.
RK: It must be a scary thing to go to pub quiz and come up against your team. Do people run out of the pub screaming?
CW: Before the pandemic, we had a particular pub we played in with a 12-week season. My team, known as Lambda Lambda Lambda, won every season for three years in a row. We became friends with our top rival, but at least one team stopped coming because they were mad they never won.
RK: Let's give a quick nod to where you came from and some of the people who helped or inspired you along the way.
CW: I grew up in Burquitlam, went to school in Port Moody, and to SFU for my [Communications] degree. My mom's not competitive at all, doesn't watch TV and isn't a huge movie person. But she's a voracious reader, and she instilled in me that love of books. And I'll give a shout out to my trivia team and to Jenn, in particular, who's my Jeopardy! friend and who has been my friend since Grade 8. She gave me Alex Trebek's book a couple years ago. For inspiration, I'd say Amy Schneider, a Jeopardy! super champion who is amazing and my personal favourite champ of the last few years, Matt Amodio. My trivia team captain actually booked a cameo from Matt wishing me well before I went on the show, which was so great.
RK: After working with you for years, I can say that you're not this strange, nerdy person. You're super social, have a great sense of humour, and your pop culture awareness is off the charts. Other than your love of musicals, you're pretty darn cool. What's your advice for other so-called nerds out there who like to hang with the rest of us.
CW: I'm not a cool person. I've been like a nerd my whole life, right? Very academic. I'm not coordinated, not athletic, and not outdoorsy, so growing up in the Lower Mainland, it's pretty impossible to be unathletic and not spend some time feeling like an outsider. I certainly experienced some bullying and stuff in high school, because I'm nerdy and really tall with big frizzy hair. It was funny, but I was with my family recently and my nephew was asking everyone what was their favourite sport to watch and favourite sport to play. I told him I really don't have any interest in it, and that my favourite sport was trivia – the jury is still out on whether I convinced him that quiz is a sport. But having my trivia team has helped me a lot. It's quite a community, other teams know you, the bar knows you, and the host knows you. So it's been really great to have that socially over the years.
RK: You may not be outdoorsy, but you camp a lot. How did that happen?
CW: I was in Girl Guides for as long as it's possible to be in Girl Guides, starting as a Spark all the way up through Rangers. It kind of followed the school year and just when the weather got nice for camping, the school year would be over. So we did a lot of camping in April or October. If you can learn to have fun in those conditions, you can develop a love of camping. And you'll need a keen knowledge of the best raingear.
RK: Well, thanks for your time and congrats again.
CW: Everyone has been so wonderful and supportive! I can't thank everyone enough for all the support they've shown. I truly never expected this to happen. Again, it's like buying a lottery ticket and winning. And once you've appeared on Jeopardy!, that's your one shot. No more annual tests.