How Does It Feel

Ever wonder what it’s like to stand atop the GWB? Have your wits tested by Jeopardy! or be mocked by Stephen Colbert? Bergenites share their stories, reliving these moments and more.

To Try Out For Jeopardy!?

Sean Ryan, 41, pharmaceutical sales, Fair Lawn

Once or twice a year, Jeopardy! has an online test. It’s offered three days during the week, depending on time zones. It’s 50 questions, and you have 15 seconds per question to type in a response (misspellings are allowed). I don’t know what the threshold is, but some of the people that hit it are randomly picked for tryouts. I got an email inviting me to attend a tryout in New York City.

I got to the location, a hotel in Midtown, and there were around 40 people, equally split between men and women. Some were lawyers, some academics, some like me who just seem to be able to remember bits of information. (I’d prepped beforehand by reading a book about art history, one of my knowledge gaps.) I wore a suit, but most people dressed more casually. We all took a 50-question test on paper. I think it weeds out either those who just got lucky on the computer or those who had a team of people answering for them.

Afterward, everyone got a chance to play a portable Jeopardy! projected on a screen with randomly populating categories. I suspect that if you freeze up here, you won’t make the cut. The buzzers are key for the game. There are lights around the real TV bank that indicate when you can start buzzing in—buzz before, and you get locked out long enough for someone else to buzz in. This is critical, because for most low-value clues, multiple people on stage know the answer, so it’s not a test of knowledge but reflexes.

It lasted half a day, and I was very nervous the whole time, the way you get standing in line at a roller coaster. The team of producers was very friendly and told us we could be called any time in the next year or so. I watched the show religiously, taking notes, trying to figure when to guess at questions I didn’t know for sure, and when to not.

I never got a callback. I’ve got some suspicions why. For one thing, during my trial test, I got a question wrong. The category was about Old West outlaws, so I knew one of the correct responses was bound to be Billy the Kid or Jesse James. I buzzed it, guessed Billy the Kid—and was wrong. The show never says you’re not chosen, just that after a year or two you can re-apply. I expected to see several people from the audition on the show, but I didn’t recognize a single person. Will I try out again if invited? Yes! I’ve been taking the tests whenever they’re offered. And I still ride roller coaters too. —as told to Rita Guarna

To Stand At The Top Of The GWB?

Donna Brennan, CEO of AllReelMedia, Fort Lee

As a visual journalist and longtime Fort Lee resident, I had  to capture the development of the 16-acre Hudson Lights area from all angles, including taking photos from the George Washington Bridge. As president of the Fort Lee Historical Society, it would’ve been a sin not to document it. Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s office put me in touch with Robert Durando, general manager of the GWB. The Port Authority of NY/NJ then gave me permission to shoot from the top of both towers every six months. Bob Durando, Mayor Sokolich and his wife, Denise, joined me on my first adventure.

Going to the top was nothing less than exhilarating. My heart was beating faster than usual, but with lots of gumption and perseverance, I cast my fears aside—you kind of have to do that if you want to get to the top. Even though your adrenaline is pumping and there’s a 5-foot-tall lattice across the span, walking the tubes is not for the faint of heart. You’re attached to a harness, which is essentially your lifeline, and you pray that it will do its job should you have a misstep. Other than that, there’s nothing to protect you. When you look down, all you see is water. I still get jitters thinking about it.

As for those tubes, boy, are they steep and a workout to climb, especially when you’re walking up with camera equipment and trying to control your fears. Once you start upward and begin shooting from this perspective, you get a real sense of air and space. Anyone who has traveled in a single-engine plane would understand. When you look around, you can see past Yankee Stadium, the Freedom Tower and the Verrazano Bridge and beyond the Palisades. It’s also easy to forget about the hustle and bustle that’s going on in the city when you’re so high up. (The top of each tower is 604 feet above the water.)

But what’s going on directly below you is also incredible. As the traffic flows back and forth to either end of the bridge, you can feel the vibration of the traffic. The bridge never stops moving. You just have the sensation when you’re at the top that the traffic gives the bridge a pulse. In terms of sound, it’s similar to a snowstorm in the city—everything is silent and seems to come to a grinding halt. One exception: A hawk screeched and flew past fairly close to me while I was up there, and that was very startling. Other than that, it’s a very serene experience. —as told to Darius Amos

To Be Mocked By Stephen Colbert?

Paul Aronsohn, executive communications director, Ridgewood

Volunteers on my Congressional campaign a few years ago loved The Colbert Report. They kept insisting that I go on the show because it had a segment that featured local congressmen. One of them asked if I would do it if the show’s producers agreed. I said, “Sure, good luck with that.” Of course, someone knew someone who knew someone who knew the producer, and he came back in 48 hours and said we’re on! A friend, who was a big political consultant, warned me: “Don’t do it! Nothing good can come from it! You might say something stupid and ruin your chances.” I figured that it would boost morale and give us some publicity, so I agreed to do it anyway. But as I watched previous segments, I began to think, “Oh, boy, this isn’t good” because Colbert’s so good at making representatives look ridiculous.

We were called in to tape on a Sunday at the Sheraton in Mahwah. Colbert’s people did their own research and asked us if there was anything we wanted to talk about—whether they used it was up to them. When it came down to it, there really wasn’t much to prepare for; I just told myself not to take it too seriously and think about my answers because everything gets edited to make it a spoof. Some of the folks who did this before me took it a bit too seriously, so the trick was to do the opposite. Still, it was hard not to think that I might be ruining my campaign and my entire political career.

Colbert wasn’t in character yet when we met in the lobby, but when we went into the room, it was game on! It was the most stressful 90 minutes of my life. I felt my heart pounding, and I was turning red after every question. Colbert’s so smart and clever; you have to be on your toes all the time. He started by talking about monkeys and God, which made me think, “What have I gotten myself into?” We took a break halfway through, and he asked how I was feeling. I was just drained and couldn’t think. At the end, we had to record extra bits of me saying things like “yes” and “no” because I was laughing so much during the taping. He’s just a funny guy.

I didn’t get to see the edited version until the night it aired. I think I poured a glass of scotch to watch it, but he went easy on me—though they added some of those extra “yes” and “no” answers in interesting spots. People thought the whole bit was funny. The volunteers loved it, and my co-workers sometimes show it at meetings. —as told to Darius Amos

To Be Trapped In A Coma?

Ryan Primrose, college graduate, Allendale

Have you ever been speaking with someone when you suddenly can’t find the right word? Have you ever had a brain lapse and paused mid-chat to say, “It’s on the tip of my tongue…”? Many people experience this now and then, but this was my life 24/7. Not only was I searching for ways to express my every thought and feeling, but when the words did actually form in my mind, they wouldn’t come out of my mouth. I felt trapped, with no way to ever be heard. How could this happen to a 14-year-old?

During my freshman year of high school, I got a viral infection that led to viral encephalitis, which is a swelling in the brain. I ended up falling into a coma-like state for almost a month, losing all motor function, and was in and out of consciousness. When I was awake, I knew people were there but didn’t even recognize my own friends and family.

Finally, however, I was given some hope for recovery – and gave a nurse the shock of her life at the same time. As I lay in my hospital bed, I suddenly became aware that something was on my face. I lifted my hand and started picking at the tape which kept the tube in place. To this day, I can vividly remember ripping the tube out of my nose and handing it to the nurse. Once she got over her surprise, she told my parents that this was a good sign because I could feel something on my face and I could move. Plus, because I realized she was there and handed her the tube, my intrapersonal skills were coming back.

The feeding-tube moment was a great sign, and soon after, I was able to get up. But more challenges were ahead: My legs were so weak after lying in that hospital bed, I had to relearn to walk. My legs were wobbly and hard to walk on — it kind of felt like when your leg falls asleep and you try to stand up, but 100 times worse. In the hospital, I’d use a walker to get up and down the hallways, and when I got to the rehabilitation center, my mom would hold my hand to help me walk.

After recovering, I wasn’t super interested in how I got the virus but why my body reacted this way. I focused on recuperation and the steps I needed to take to get healthy. I never found out how I got so sick — we did tests afterward but never got any concrete answers. No matter. For me, it was more about what I had to do to get better so I could go back to school, see my friends and family, and get back to living life. — as told to Alena Woods

Categories: Bergen Health & Life