Local woman gets chance of a lifetime on TV’s ‘Jeopardy!’

Creve Coeur resident Leslye Laderman poses with Alex Trebek during her recent appearance as a contestant on ‘Jeopardy!’  The episode will air Monday, April 30. 

By Carol Wolf Solomon, Special to the Jewish Light

This Creve Coeur resident, attorney and member of United Hebrew Congregation can check an appearance on “Jeopardy!” off her bucket list. Remember, your answer needs to be in the form of a question.

Who is Leslye Laderman?

To see how she did, tune in to KSDK-TV at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 30, to find out. Contestants are not allowed to reveal the results of their performance in advance. Even her mother is still in the dark.

Laderman, who said her age is “in the 60s,” grew up watching “Jeopardy!” It appears that she was destined to be on the show. When helping her mother prepare to sell her longtime home a few years back, Laderman uncovered an old “Jeopardy!” contestant paper application that her mother had sent away for back in the 1970s.  While Laderman never submitted that application, she acknowledges that perhaps it was a bit of bashert, an omen of what was meant to be. 

Once Laderman did decide to apply by taking the online test, it took three attempts to actually be selected to appear on the show. In the process, she discovered that there is luck involved. On each of her three attempts Laderman passed the online test, advanced to the in-person interview/audition, and was placed into the contestant pool. At that point prospective contestants are selected randomly and remain in the pool for 18 months.  “If you are not selected within the 18 months, you have to repeat the entire process,” she explained.

Just how hard is it to appear on “Jeopardy!”? Laderman was told that about 75,000 people take the online test each year. Of those who pass the test, about 2,500 to 3,000 are invited to audition in person. About 400 people are ultimately selected to compete on “Jeopardy!” in a given year. 

Laderman’s first attempt was about eight years ago. She tried a second time in 2014.  She took the online test for the third time this past June and once again was selected for the in-person audition. 

The in-person auditions are offered in a number of major cities across the country, but not St. Louis. Contestants must pay their own way and are responsible for all related expenses. Laderman has adult children living in Boston, so she elected that audition site this go-around. Three weeks later she received the call — she was finally going to be a contestant on “Jeopardy!”

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That Laderman would qualify to be a contestant comes as no surprise. She has always had a huge thirst for knowledge and a knack for remembering facts and trivia.  “When I was little I used to sit and read volumes of the ‘World Book Encyclopedia,’ ”she explained. “I have an easy time remembering what I’ve read. When I don’t know something, I always have to look it up.”  

A native of Detroit, Laderman excelled in school, skipping the fifth grade and per forming well in spelling and geography bees and other academic competitions.  She was even the runner-up in the Metropolitan Detroit Bible Contest. 

She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, and attended law school at Washington University. In addition to receiving her JD degree, she also earned a master’s degree in tax law. Laderman met her husband, Lou, after moving to St. Louis and has resided here ever since. She currently works as an attorney for a human resources consulting firm.

Given the short period of time she had to prepare for her “Jeopardy!” appearance, Laderman decided to bone up on was geography because “there are always lots of questions on geography,” she explained. 

“I studied maps and could identify every country in Africa and the order of the provinces in Canada.”

She said her preparation focused mostly on mastering the “clicker” to buzz in. It’s harder than you think, she said. 

“The key to the clicker is in the timing. “They block you out until [“Jeopardy!” host] Alex Trebek finishes reading the question.”  To help contestants prepare, “Jeopardy!” provides them with a special “clicker pen” to practice.

Laderman also spent some time researching wagering strategies. After reading up on strategies, she practiced by watching the show, determining what she would wager, and then comparing her results to those of the actual contestants.

Laderman traveled to Los Angeles for the taping of “Jeopardy!” accompanied by her husband and her sister, Michelle Wexler.  “You’re allowed to have up to six guests in the studio audience rooting for you,” she said.  Wexler’s sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who live in Los Angeles, also attended the taping. Laderman described her experience as grueling but very enjoyable. “Everyone on the Jeopardy! staff was very nice and supportive,” she said.  “They really want you to relax and do well.”

The taping takes place at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver, Calif., which is also home to another popular television game show, “Wheel of Fortune.”Once again all expenses, including accommodations, meals, transportation, etc. are incurred by the contestant. 

“Jeopardy!” taping occurs just two days a week, Tuesday and Wednesday, with a full week of shows (five) produced each day. “You are instructed to bring multiple changes of clothes due to the potential of your winning and appearing on several days of shows,”  Laderman said. 

A highlight of the taping experience was having makeup professionally applied. Laderman noted that the artist assigned to her also did Trebek’s makeup. Laderman said the professional makeup is so impressive that the show now takes an individual photo of each contestant in makeup in addition to the standard promotional photo with host Trebek. Contestants receive these keepsake photos about two weeks prior to the air date of their show. 

Laderman offered a few other observations about her experience. She said Trebek is very nice. “He comes out and warms up the audience before the show and also takes questions during breaks. His personality really comes through during the show, which makes him a good host.”

She was a bit surprised to discover that she was considerably older than most “Jeopardy!” contestants. “The show has been around for such a long time that I always think of viewers and fans as being more from my generation,” she explained.  She said that most contestants are actually in their 20s and 30s.

Laderman also noted that the “Jeopardy!” set is not as intimate as it appears on television.  “The board is actually pretty far away from you,” she noted.  In fact, contestants who wear contact lenses are advised to bring a pair of eyeglasses along so that they can determine how best to view the board clearly.

Ever wonder why contestants on “Jeopardy!” always appear to be about the same height? That’s because motorized risers are used to prevent some contestants from towering over others. That also explains why contestants generally don’t shake hands at the end of the game. Laderman said contestants are advised not to shake hands as a safety precaution against falling off of the risers. 

As Laderman’s April 30 appearance on “Jeopardy!” draws closer, family members and friends are organizing watch parties. High school classmates of her husband, Lou, are holding one in Findlay, Ohio, and her mother is hosting another in Detroit. Laderman is still determining her own plans to view the show with local family and friends.