Ouida Rellstab
Tournament" Champion -1989
Art Fleming
Alex Trebek
My sister and I were raised on JEOPARDY! during the 1970s when Art Fleming was the host.  While spending our summers in Arkansas we, along with our Grandmother, marveled at how well our mother was able to "guess" the "questions."

In 1988 it was announced on the program that a contestant's search would be held in a downtown New Orleans hotel ballroom.  My sister, my stepfather and I implored my Mom to try out for it.  She finally acceded to our wishes under the condition that I accompanied her and tried out as well.  In the unlikely event that SHE failed to "make the cut," she wanted someone she could count upon with whom to feel condolent.

Three other people we knew tried out as well.  One was a member of my St. Martin's class of 1981, Barry Cantin.  In his senior year on a Prep Quiz Bowl team coached by my mother (locally aired on the New Orleans PBS affiliate WYES), he was voted the Prep Quiz Bowl "Player of the Year."  Another team member, a year below Barry and I, Scott Zander, and Scott's father, also vied for a spot.

The first test was comprised of 50 fill-in-the-blank questions which we had to complete in a certain amount of time (about 30 minutes, I believe).  Barry and I both thought we did fairly well, estimating we answered 75%, or 37, of the questions correctly.  That we were in trouble did not dawn on us until we asked my mother how she felt she did on the test.  "Well," she said, "I know I missed two."  We were doomed.  Hers was the last name to be broadcast over the ballroom's P.A. system.  The rest of us were relegated to Mr. Zander's office for cocktails until Mom called to have me pick her up.

Nothing happened for a couple of months, but then the phone rang and she was officially invited to participate in the "Seniors Tournament."  Shortly after she arrived at her hotel there was a knock on the door, and a polite young man gave her an envelope with $100 in it, pocket-money compliments of JEOPARDY!

Her acting experience served her well as she found many of her competitors to be rather arrogant (though she did like several of them), and she played a "naive Southern Belle" to throw them off off-guard.  It worked.

Her main problem while playing the games was that she was trying to "ring in" too early, before the preset timer allowed the button to work.  In time she overcame that, often reeling off numerous correct "questions" in spurts to overcome financial deficits and pull away from her opponents.  I was not comfortable with her math skills (she had no reason to use them when just watching the show) so I made her a "crib sheet" from which to study from while on the plane to Los Angeles.  She used it to perfection.

One of her main concerns was that she did not bring enough articles of clothing with her from New Orleans.  She solved that dilemma by borrowing a scarf from her sister-in-law to wear during the championship matches.

She advanced to the semifinals of the "Tournament of Champions" at which she chastised the competitors who were too harsh on the young and very bright "Teen Tournament" champion from Iowa, reminding them of how difficult it is to be 15-years-old, much less being 15-years-old and competing with the likes of them.

She appeared in one episode of the ill-fated Saturday night prime time experiment called Super JEOPARDY!  But as in the "Tournament of Champions," albeit she knew most of the "questions," she just did not have the aggressiveness or adrenaline rushes as her opponents (and in this one there were four competitors on each show).

She was asked to and participated in a special show in 1994 that marked the10th anniversary of Alex Trebek's reign as the JEOPARDY! host.  Initially she was guaranteed a flight to Los Angeles and $1,000.  Mom countered with a flight for her husband and her to Los Angeles and a guarantee of $5,000.  They agreed to her terms.  Five years later she was asked to participate in a 15th anniversary show.  To our chagrin she politely told the caller that she "did not need the money."

She does not talk about it much. She acts embarrassed about her notoriety, as it pales when compared to other challenges she has overcome in her life.  Her JEOPARDY! sweat shirt sits in a closet and may have once been used when she was gardening.  But she will admit it was fun overcoming this particular challenge.  And friends and family know too well not to call the Rellstab household between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. on a weekday!

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© 2014 by Martin G. Muller