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Catawba College Sociology Professor to Make March Appearance on "Jeopardy"

February 19, 2007

Category: Academics, Events, Faculty, Sociology

Answer:  She is a Catawba College sociology professor who will appear on the televised quiz show, "Jeopardy," during March.

Question:  Who is Dr. Carla Eastis?

Since 1984, Dr. Carla Eastis has had one big goal:  to be a contestant on "Jeopardy."  Next month, March 8th to be exact, she'll fulfill that goal. But, the journey she made to reach her goal began last spring when she took an online "Jeopardy" test. Her responses on that 50-question test got her an invitation to Atlanta, Ga., in October for a videotaped "Jeopardy" audition. It was only after she made the cut in the Atlanta audition that she was invited to Los Angeles in December to be a contestant during actual tapings of the show.

"I'd always played "Jeopardy" at home and people had always told me, 'You'd be so good at this show.'" Eastis explained. "It was only after I began the process that I realized that that is what every contestant's family and friends told them.

"Ten years ago, my goal was to be a five-time champion and now, after Ken Jennings (the winningest "Jeopardy" champion in history), a five-time champion is nothing. "Jeopardy" is the crown jewel of game shows. Only "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" comes close to being such a geek test. And "Jeopardy" is really iconic —  it's had the same host forever, it's not just easy, easy questions, and it's not luck. It's neat!"

It was actually Eastis' sister, Christa, who was responsible for prodding her to make the first step toward reaching her goal. "Before this spring, when they offered the online test, you actually had to show up for a Jeopardy cattle call where they would screen prospective contestants," she said. "My sister knew about the online test and made me do it."

Apparently Eastis did well on the online test, because her next "Jeopardy" encounter was of the in-person kind, at an audition in Atlanta. "The audition happened in the middle of fall classes and I had to teach. I got a substitute for my classes and my sister actually drove me to the audition and back home, so I'd be ready to teach the next day.

"We showed up at a conference hotel in Atlanta and I remember thinking, 'This is the biggest day of my life, outside of the birth of my child and a wedding day,' and they've just listed the "Jeopardy" auditions being held there like they were run-of-the-millEvents for XYZ companies. It was so matter of fact, so non-descript." 

Contestant coordinators screened Eastis and her peers, led them through a mock version of "Jeopardy," and conducted personal interviews. Again, Eastis made the cut in Atlanta and a short while later was notified that she was invited to Los Angeles in early December to appear as a contestant during tapings of the show.

Again, Eastis said, her sister Christa was her motivator, flying with her to Los Angeles, helping her pick out appropriate outfits to wear during the tapings and offering moral support. The two stayed at the Radisson, "Jeopardy's" official contestant hotel.

On the day of the taping, Carla joined other contestants in the lobby of the hotel to take the shuttle to Sony Picture Studios. "We recognized each other at the studio gate as contestants due to the garment bags," she recalled. "We each were told to bring three different outfits, counting the one you're wearing and we were told certain patterns, styles and colors to avoid.

"At the studio, we were placed in a very small green room. There were 13 contestants in there along with the contestant coordinators and we all went through orientation. We were sizing each other up and didn't want to be too friendly or too snobby."

Then it was time for the contestants to begin practice on the actual "Jeopardy" set. "They circled us through all three podiums and we got lots of practice about where to look and when to buzz in. I call that 'thumb time,'" Eastis continued. "It used to be you could buzz in while Alex [Trebek, the show host] was reading the answer, but now you're supposed to wait to buzz in until the cue lights come on."

When Eastis wasn't practicing, she was sitting in the audience with other contestants watching as rounds of the show were taped. Then, it was her turn and she stepped into place behind podium number 2, one of the challengers to the previous show's winner.

"It was a blur," she remembered. "I remember I got some questions wrong and I got some questions right, but I don't remember the categories. And, I know I played more safely than I thought I should have."

Eastis won't say exactly how she did during the taping. She tells those who ask "that my first show is on Thursday, March 8," but beyond that, they must tune in and see for themselves. But, she's sure she wants to keep collecting pop culture experiences and stories, and knows she's especially "drawn to pop culture things — things that people get excited about."  She may use items she collects as fodder for scholarly articles or in the sociology classes she teaches.

But now that she's met her goal of appearing on "Jeopardy," she's not sure what her next goal will be. "One part of me wishes my time on the show were still in the future," she said, and for all of her family and friends it still is.

Watch Eastis when she appears on "Jeopardy" at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 8 on WCNC-TV, Channel 36/Cable 6 in Charlotte.

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