A CPA typically wouldn’t leave work for a trip during tax season, but Deborah Beams had to make an exception. After more than 13 years and five auditions, she was finally chosen to be a contestant on the TV game show “Jeopardy!”
“It had been a dream of mine for a very long time,” says Deborah, a director in BKD’s Dallas office. “It was extra money in the bank, and it gave me a little more confidence and bragging rights.”
Deborah had watched the show for as long as she could remember. With a lot of hard work and dedication, she was finally the one on TV pressing the buzzer.
Chasing the Dream
“Jeopardy!”—a quiz show with three contestants who rattle off questions to answers on various topics displayed on a large grid—is one of the top-rated syndicated television shows, according to The Nielsen Company. Alex Trebek, once recognized for his mustache, has hosted the show for more than three decades.
To compete on the program, an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 hopefuls take an online test offered once or twice a year, Deborah says. Of those, 3,000 to 4,000 are chosen to audition in cities across the country. They take another test and play a mock game where, according to Deborah, “you show off your sparkling personality.” There are spots for roughly 400 contestants each season.
Deborah took the online test in January 2016 and was invited to an August audition, but she had to decline because it coincided with an American Institute of CPAs conference. Fortunately, “Jeopardy!” allowed her to audition later that year in New York City. After making the cut, Deborah found herself in a pool of contestants who could be called on at any moment for a taping.
“It’s really a ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’ type of thing,” Deborah says.
“Jeopardy!” contacted Deborah to tape a show in late January that would air in April. “They ask if there’s any reason why I couldn’t tape in January. And I said, ‘Well, none other than the fact that it’s the busiest time of year for a CPA,’” she says.
Deborah coordinated with her BKD colleagues so she could take a couple of days off to appear on the show.
“I said, ‘Come on guys, when “Jeopardy!” calls, you’ve got to go!’”
Battling the Returning Champ
“Jeopardy!” tapes five shows a day, two days a week in a Los Angeles studio. Deborah had relatives travel from five different states to attend her taping.
Her first day on “Jeopardy!” began at 7:30 a.m. Participants went on stage and played practice rounds before taping started at 11 a.m. Deborah’s show was the first one after lunch.
The CPA knew her strongest subjects were geography and history. Sports and pop music? Not so much.
The program pitted Deborah against returning champion Jane Joseph, a Delaware bond analyst who took an early lead. Deborah narrowed the gap by getting a Daily Double, which allowed her to successfully bet $5,000 on an answer about Interpol.
“I’ll forever be thankful for the time I spent playing ‘Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?’ as a kid,” she says.
Even when Deborah wrote her question to the show’s final answer, she wasn’t sure she’d prevail. “It wasn’t until Alex Trebek said, ‘The returning champ is not looking happy,’ that I thought, ‘Wait a minute—I might actually win.’”
Deborah did win, but had little time to celebrate her $22,000 victory. She went backstage to change clothes before facing two new contestants that same afternoon. The second show didn’t go as well, with Deborah and her challengers all missing the final answer. She only garnered $1,300, but it was still enough to propel her to another win.
‘Just Blew Our Minds’
Deborah returned the next day for a third show, but a fresh challenger took a commanding early lead and—eventually—the win.
Her performance still impressed her colleagues. Wil Crawford Jr., a BKD director in Jackson, Mississippi, who has worked with Deborah, watched all three shows during his noon lunch break while auditing a client in north Mississippi.
“It was fun to play along,” Wil says. “Some of the answers she knew, and some of those she seemed to pull out of thin air just blew our minds.”
Jackson Partner Tim Burns says it was fun to see someone he knew on TV winning a game show. “She is extremely smart, as proven by ‘Jeopardy!’” he says.
Dallas-Waco Managing Partner Tom Watson says Deborah has been a great addition to their team, citing her expertise on technical Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) matters and many other areas. She spent three years as a practice fellow at GASB and also was an auditor at an international firm before joining BKD.
“What’s been impressive about Deborah is her ability to recall details buried in the standards almost at the drop of a hat,” Tom says. “So I wasn’t really surprised she was able to do the same thing when it came to answering questions on ‘Jeopardy!’”
Winning helped Deborah achieve another goal. She told “Jeopardy!” staff she wanted to see “Hamilton: An American Musical” on Broadway if she won a substantial amount. True to her word, she saw the show in New York a few months later.
Deborah advises anyone wishing to compete on “Jeopardy!” to follow the show’s Facebook page, get on the email list, think about wagering strategies and contact her. As a former contestant, she can even give co-workers or friends a recommendation.
The “Jeopardy!” champion still watches the quiz show: “It’s fun seeing others get to live out their dreams.”