By Cheryl Magness
Fans of the game show “Jeopardy!” who were watching on Nov. 28 saw a fellow Lutheran in action.
Amanda Barlau, an LCMS pastor’s wife in Seymour, Ind., competed on the program, finishing in second place and winning $2,000. Barlau says of the experience, “I had so much fun, and I’m really glad I did it!”
In addition to being a pastor’s wife, Barlau is the mother of two children (with a third on the way), a part-time church musician and music teacher, and a former Lutheran schoolteacher who graduated from Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, with a degree in Elementary Education.
Barlau says she has watched “Jeopardy!” ever since she was a child, catching the reruns on the game-show channel when she was home sick from school.
“I’ve always been good at trivia, and have a really strong memory, especially for random facts, and my brother and sister used to tell me I needed to go on the show.”
While in college, Barlau recorded and watched the show daily. When she got married, her husband, the Rev. Joseph Barlau — pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Seymour, Ind. — began watching with her and encouraging her to become a contestant.
Qualifying for the program is a lengthy process that begins with a timed, online 50-question test covering 50 different categories.
From among the 30,000 or so people who take the test, between 3,000 and 5,000 are invited to an audition consisting of another 50-question test, a mock version of the game and an interview. Those who do well at this phase of the process are placed into a pool from which, for the next 18 months, they may be called up at any time to compete.
Barlau had taken the preliminary test two or three times in the past without advancing; this time around she took it only a few weeks after delivering her second child and didn’t have high hopes that she would make it any further than before. But several months after the test she was invited to come for an audition in Minneapolis.
Says Barlau: “I went into it with no real expectations — I was still getting up with the baby several times a night, hadn’t been able to watch the show very often, and was not as on top of current events or pop culture as I was before having kids.”
Then in July 2017 she received a call inviting her to Culver City, Calif., for an Aug. 23 show taping.
Barlau describes the taping as fun, not scary — “Once we got started, I totally forgot the audience was there” — but says learning how to use the buzzer was a challenge: “After the question is read, lights on the side of the board turn green and you can buzz in. If you buzz in too soon, you are locked out for one-fourth of a second. That’s why you see contestants hitting their buzzers repeatedly. Since everybody there is obviously very knowledgeable, it often comes down to who masters the timing of the buzzer!”
As the final round of the game began, Barlau was in second place. This round, known as “Final Jeopardy,” allows contestants one more opportunity to advance by wagering a portion of their winnings.
Barlau says that when she saw the topic, “Video Games,” her confidence immediately waned as it is not a strong area for her. Both she and the returning champion, Marcus Gresham, faltered on the question, and the third contestant, Matt Preston, went on to win the game.
Of 77-year-old “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, Barlau says, “He seemed very down to earth. … [During the audience question-and-answer time] my husband asked him about his hobbies, and he said that he enjoyed fixing up his old house, and spent about 10 minutes telling a story about how he recently was in a trench in his yard fixing a leaky water pipe.”
She was encouraged by the “interaction and support” from both the show coordinators and the other contestants, and describes hearing her name spoken by announcer Johnny Gilbert as “surreal” and “something I’ll always remember.”
One of the best aspects of being on the show, according to Barlau, was watching her daughters watch her on television: “My 2-year-old, Miriam, yelled, ‘That’s Mommy!’ every time I was on the screen. … When it went to commercial, she was really mad, and said, ‘Miriam no like commercials. It’s Mommy’s turn now!”
Barlau also appreciated “knowing that people … connected to me through so many different parts of my life were watching and cheering me on. I received so many supportive messages from other pastors and their wives, high school and college friends I haven’t kept in close touch with, extended family … Our local community was very excited about it and very supportive as well.”
Watch Barlau’s entire “Jeopardy!” appearance below.
Cheryl Magness (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of Reporter Online and staff writer for LCMS Communications.
Posted Jan. 10, 2018