WHAT IS EAMC?: East Alabama Health employee moves forward on Jeopardy!

Published 5:21 pm Thursday, April 11, 2024

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OPELIKA, Ala.—For East Alabama Health employee Lee Wilkins, standing on the Jeopardy! stage with a buzzer in hand and trivia on the brain was a “bucket list” moment.

Wilkins, who works as a grants coordinator in East Alabama Health’s Regulatory Affairs department, appeared episode of Jeopardy!, a nationally broadcasted game show where contestants compete to answer obscure trivia questions. The show aired at 6 p.m. central time on CBS. She won and will be moving on to day 2.

“My family and I have watched Jeopardy! for years, at least since the early 2000s, and I have always loved Trivial Pursuit and other trivia games,” Wilkins said. “It was a surrealistic experience. I really enjoyed it—it was an honor.”

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She said that her son convinced her to take the contestant test on the show’s website. After a stretch of Zoom auditions and a just over a year of “radio silence,” Wilkins was asked to be on the show.

“When I was notified that I was in the contestant pool over a year and a half ago, I was told that if I didn’t hear back in a year or so, I probably wouldn’t, and if I still wanted to be a contestant, I could start the process over,” she said. “Well, time passed. I guess it was sometime in January that I thought to myself, after watching some really competitive games, that it was a good thing I didn’t get called, because I would be a nervous wreck since I am such an introvert.

“And, of course, it was shortly after that realization that the studio called me.”

Once Wilkins found out she’d be competing, it was immediately time to start prepping. Using a combination of apps, books, a makeshift buzzer and nightly Jeopardy! episodes, she aimed to arm herself with every tidbit of knowledge available.

“I practiced at home by watching the show every night using a flashlight as a clicker,” Wilkins recalled. “I loaded apps on my phone so I could review maps and geography, world leaders, US presidents and other topics. And I bought one of Ken Jennings’ trivia books, and at that point, my brain was on overload.”

In mid-March, Wilkins and family flew out to California for the taping of the show. To avoid potential spoilers, she had to keep the reason for the trip a secret.

Competing in front of a live audience, not to mention the millions watching during the episode’s air date, can be a daunting task, one that Wilkins admitted to being nervous about. However, she said that the showrunners took every effort to make her and other competitors comfortable.

“The Jeopardy! crew were great at encouraging contestants and helping us manage nerves and wardrobe issues,” she said. “They understand that for all of us ordinary people who don’t spend our lives in a studio and don’t do this day-by-day,  we aren’t used to this.

“They did give us some time to practice that wasn’t taped in front of an audience to get us familiar with being behind the podium.”

While not as nearly as intense as competing on Jeopardy!, Wilkins has been known in years past as the lunchtime trivia champion by coworkers at East Alabama Health.

“There was an area with a table in storage where Randy Causey, Billy Browdy, Becky Lynn, John Atkinson and myself would have lunch, and I brought a box of trivia cards, and we would do that over lunch,” she said.

While the trip to California was mainly for Jeopardy!, it wasn’t all competitive trivia showdowns and studio sessions.

After taping, Wilkins and her family were able to use the rest of their days in town to tour Los Angeles. For her, any trip to California includes grabbing a bite to eat at an In-and-Out Burger location.

“We went to the Santa Monica Pier and hung out, watching the people and the waves,” she said. “We took a fun Hollywood tour on one of the many tour-bus options, and afterward, spent a couple of hours walking and exploring Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset.

“One of the highlights for me was that the tour wove around neighborhoods in Laurel Canyon, where so many great musicians from the 1970s lived and worked and made music history.”

While Wilkins considers the experience a bucket list item she can check off, it was not something she was expecting an opportunity to do.

“Honestly, at the beginning of this year, this was not on my ‘bingo card,’” Wilkins joked. “I guess it is a message from life to just be ready for all the possibilities that are out there.”