The answer is: This Issaquah resident starred on Jeopardy

March 9, 2009

By Jim Feehan

A television shows the taped show of Jeopardy in which Issaquah resident Kelly Rabin competed. By Jim Feehan

A television shows the taped show of Jeopardy in which Issaquah resident Kelly Rabin competed. By Jim Feehan

Kelly Rabin should consider a career as a professional poker player. 

She invited about a dozen co-workers and friends to her Issaquah Highlands home Feb. 23 to watch her appear as a contestant on “Jeopardy!”

Sworn to secrecy by the show’s producers, she did not let on to anyone how she did on the episode taped a month earlier. There was not even a twitch in her eye as her friends and co-workers waited for the penultimate moment — the final “Jeopardy!” question.“My mom, who lives in Chicago, said, ‘I can’t believe you left me in the dark so long,’” Rabin said.

As a youth growing up in Chicago, Rabin was one question away from going to the national spelling bee. She also participated in geography bees. 

“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to be on ‘Jeopardy!’” said Rabin, 27, an actuary at Symetra Financial Corp. in Bellevue.

Fourteen months ago, she took the show’s online test. In March 2008, she got a call from the show’s producers asking if she’d like to participate in a mock game/audition of contestants in Portland. She passed the audition and flew down to Los Angeles with her husband Kevin for the taping. To prepare for her appearance, Rabin read “Don’t Know Much About History” and Shakespeare for Dummies.” 

“Jeopardy!” tapes 10 shows in two days at its Culver City, Calif., studio. Two makeup artists tend to the needs of contestants. 

“You’re instructed to bring three outfits,” Rabin said. “If you win on the show, you have to change clothing.”

The show’s contestant coordinators keep the mood lively between taping. Before the taping, Rabin practiced with the hand-held buzzer.

“The more you practice with the buzzer, the better you’ll do,” she said. “Ken Jennings is a legend when it comes to working the buzzer.” 

Jennings, born in Edmonds, holds the record for the longest winning streak on “Jeopardy!” In 2004, Jennings won 74 “Jeopardy!” games. He’s also the show’s all time prizewinner, with $3 million.

Before taping, the contestants get to meet the show’s host, Alex Trebek.

“He’s really funny,” Rabin said. “He has a dry sense of humor,”

The episode was taped Jan. 20 and that week, Trebek made several references to Obama’s inauguration. The Feb. 24 airdate was bumped back to 9:30 p.m. on the Seattle TV station broadcasting “Jeopardy!” because of Obama’s address to Congress. So, Rabin and guests watched the broadcast at its normal time, 7:30 p.m., on a Canadian television station.

In the minutes leading up to the viewing party, Rabin was whipping up a batch of chicken stir-fry and brown rice for her guests.

“Smart and she can cook, too,” said her husband.

Rabin breezed through the opening round, holding a big lead over her two opponents, winning $8,200. She led going into final “Jeopardy!” with $14,600. 

Going into the final commercial break, the contestants heard the final “Jeopardy!” category was American novelists.

“Not good,” Rabin said of her initial reaction to hearing the category. “Literature is not my thing.”

The question: What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after, he wrote in 1932?

The other two contestants went first and correctly said Ernest Hemingway.

Rabin wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald as her answer; she had wagered $9,600, so finished in third place.

“Oh well, at least I went down swinging,” she said. 

For finishing third, she’ll receive a check for $1,000 before taxes; that basically covered airfare and lodging.

Contestants are barred from appearing again on “Jeopardy!” so long as Trebek is host, Rabin said. Also, “Jeopardy!” contestants are prohibited from appearing on another game show or reality show for six months following their appearance on “Jeopardy!”  

“I could do ‘Deal or No Deal,’” she said.

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