When Celebrity Jeopardy Comes to the National Mall

Jeopardy’s annual “Power Players” show airs this week, pitting journalists, pundits and newsmakers against each other

"Jeopardy's" Power Players Week is filmed at Constitution Hall in DC.
"Jeopardy's" Power Players Week is filmed at Constitution Hall in DC. Photo by Kris Connor / Getty Images

On Saturday, at DC’s Constitution Hall, Alex Trebek read clues under the gaze of Abraham Lincoln. CNN host Anderson Cooper, NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and others went for daily doubles amidst a patriotic set, in front of a giant map of the U.S, and in front of a live audience of thousands.

The event was the filming of shows for “Jeopardy’s” third-ever “Power Players” week: “Celebrity Jeopardy,” DC-style.

“We’ll be doing the same thing we always do, except we’ll be doing it in front of ten times as big an audience as we usually do,” said Trebek in an interview earlier this month. “We’ve done shows at Constitution Hall on two previous occasions, and they have gone very well, so it’ll be a lot of fun.”

A total of 15 journalists, newsmakers and other notables participated in the slate of five shows, including former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, comedian and frequent contributor to “The Daily Show” Lewis Black, and NBC News reporter Kelly O’Donnell. All reported they were thrilled at the chance to participate in the series, which has been among the most popular game shows in the country for decades. “‘Jeopardy’ is omnipresent in television, and I worked in local TV news, so I always saw it,” O’Donnell said during the event. “Who doesn’t love ‘Jeopardy?’ Who doesn’t think Alex is cool? To be a part of it is amazing.”

Despite a resume that includes three Pulitzer Prizes, columnist and author Friedman professed to being nervous about the round just before it started. “I look at this as the journalistic Hunger Games—I just want to be a survivor at the end,” he said. “Just avoiding a ‘Youtube’ moment, that’s what it’s all about.”

Anderson Cooper, who had appeared on “Jeopardy” twice previously, winning once, said that one particular element of the game is most important than viewers might realize. “A lot of it is about the buzzer, and getting into a groove with the buzzer,” he said. “Obviously, knowing answers helps, but buzzing in at the right time is really very critical. That’s something you don’t see at home.”

During the commercial breaks, Trebek chatted with the audience, receiving heavy applause for his quips and amusing answers to questions.  ”When I get to talk to people in the audience, it’s a good back and forth exchange,” Trebek said. “And the best part, in DC, is that I’m not running for any office.” Audience members asked Trebek a variety of questions, including his favorite TV show apart from ‘Jeopardy,’ his favorite meal, and why he shaved his moustache. His answers, respectively: ‘Law and Order,’ fried chicken and rice, and “Because I felt like it!”

Each of the participants played for a charity of their choice, with a minimum of $50,000 for the winner’s charity, and $10,000 for each of the others. The various causes ranged widely, with projects supporting suicide prevention, biodiversity conservation and education of writing and the creative arts.

“The nice thing, obviously, is that the charity gets an amount of money no matter what,” Cooper said. “But, obviously, winning would be nice.”

Jeopardy: Power Players Week will be airing from May 14th through 18th. Check your local listings.