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Columbia lawyer Clark Dawson waited a decade to be on “Jeopardy!,” a game show she had watched with her family since she was a young girl.
Finally, the call came. But when she arrived at Sony Pictures in Culver City, California, on that early, early morning in November, Dawson had no idea she would “run into the buzzsaw that is Amy,” to use her own words.
Dawson was referring to Amy Schneider, a historic champion who has won for six weeks running now, accumulating more than $1 million in winnings. Schneider has the third most wins in show history and is fourth in money won.
Schneider is formidable, Dawson said. And genuinely kind.
Dawson’s episode aired last Thursday.
“Jeopardy!” films a week’s worth of shows on Mondays and the next week on Tuesdays, then takes a break.
Contestants pay for their own transportation to California as well as hotel and other expenses. The show does feed them lunch during a day that starts very early and sometimes goes to the evening.
All contestants for that particular week are there while all the shows are taped, and they all take part in a rehearsal to get used to the pace of the game and the all-powerful buzzer that allows a contestant to ring in and provide the answer to the clue.
Dawson said mastering the buzzer was the hardest part of it all. She suspects all three contestants on her show knew most of the answers, but buzzer timing was key.
Contestants cannot ring it before the host — in this case, the winningest Jeopardy champion of all time, Ken Jennings — finishes reading the clue. Lights on the sides of the game board tell contestants when they can ring in.
If they ring in too soon, their buzzer is locked for .25 seconds, more than enough time for someone else to answer, Dawson said.
Dawson felt that Schneider, after so many wins, was hardwired to know when to buzz.
Other behind-the-scenes observations Dawson made were the game board is closer to the contestants than appears on television, and the floor behind the podium moves up and down so no player appears taller than another.
And, Dawson said, Jennings is as nice in person as he is on television.
When Dawson says she’s been wanting to be on “Jeopardy!” for 10 years, she means that quite literally. She took the test each year and waited. Waited some more. Waited even longer.
When the call came, she missed it. She returned the call, got an answering machine. She thought it was probably just a call for more information. But no. It was the real deal. She flew to California within days.
Walking onto the Sony Pictures lot was strange, she said.
Heavy security, mask requirements, few people. She took a COVID-19 test sitting in an empty parking garage,
Dawson, who works as a real estate attorney for Rogers Townsend in Columbia, is married to Nathan Dawson, a state procurement officer, and they have three children. She is a graduate of Wofford College and the University of South Carolina School of Law.
They all watched the show at Clark Dawson’s parents’ house in Columbia, connected via Zoom to other family members in Woodruff and Spartanburg. Her grandmother, who has watched “Jeopardy!” since it began 50 years ago, was particularly proud.
Dawson’s mother is commercial real estate broker Mary Winters Teaster, and father Tom works for Dominion Energy.
Dawson said she didn’t do as well as she hoped, and that stings. She came in third with $3,995 after getting the final Jeopardy question about a Victor Hugo quote wrong.
Schneider ended that game with $32,800 after betting $4,000 and getting the answer correct. Schneider’s total winnings as of Thursday were $1,101,600. She won again on Friday.
Dawson has heard from many people since the show aired — some she knew and others she didn’t — that she did well.
“It was a really big bucket list for me,” she said.
Now, she’ll plan some vacations, including returning to her husband’s native Australia, and ride horses with one of her daughters.
She’s pleased to have been on the show despite Schneider “steamrolling all of us.”
“I had a front-row seat to history in my nerdy world,” she said. “It was my 15 minutes of fame.”