Tonight a week of celebrity Jeopardy! will start airing, a special “Power Players” edition based in Washington, D.C.—a city where the top “celebrities” are cable news personalities, former press secretaries and noted cultural ambassador Kareem-Abdul Jabbar. But while trivia-lovers can watch the likes of Anderson Cooper and Robert Gibbs duking it out for charity, they won’t be able to experience the behind-the-scenes entertainment, from the sass-packed rehearsals to Alex Trebek’s over-sharing. TIME got a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of this week’s episodes, and here are 10 things you won’t see on camera:
10. Trebek chilling out with Abraham Lincoln. The five games, airing from May 14 to 18, were filmed on one long day in late April at the ornate Constitution Hall, just a buzzer’s throw from the Washington Monument. There was no want of flags or eagles or columns. The L.A.-based crew toiled for nine days putting their D.C.-themed set together, complete with an enormous replica of Abraham Lincoln sitting in his stony chair—perhaps the only man in history able to keep a straighter face than Trebek.
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9.Trebek posing with the contestants. During on-set breaks — commercial breaks, for those of you watching at home — Trebek moved down the line of would-be champions and posed for photos. And Trebek never smiles. Never. For each picture he dons the same furrowed-brow smirk, the consistency of which is downright hilarious. It’s as if the knowledge in his brain is weighing down the corners of his mouth.
8. The contestants sharing their categorical dreads and hopes. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews most dreaded clues about the Kardashians. Basketball legend Abdul-Jabbar’s endearingly random least-favorite category? “Medieval Spain.” (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.) FOX News’ Chris Wallace was keen on “Soups of the World,” while comedian Lewis Black admitted that he’d breathe easy with Broadway musicals. “That is the fruitiest thing I’ve ever said in public,” he noted.
7. The “celebrity-friendly” rehearsal categories. Let’s be honest. Regular people like celebrity Jeopardy! because it allows them to feel smarter than famous people, if only for a moment. Categories during rehearsals (which are supposed to be at least a bit easier to encourage buzzing) included “What a Month!” and “Continents.” Cue self-satisfied scoffing from the audience.
6. Dr. Oz incorrectly answering a question about NyQuil. Of course, the only thing that makes an audience feel more superior than an easy question is celebrities incorrectly answering questions that should be easy for them. During his rehearsal, Oz was given a clue about the that nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing medicine. “What is an antihistamine?” he asked.
5. Chris Matthews’ answer in his practice Final Jeopardy. The clue: “Discovered in 1930, this was officially downgraded to a “dwarf” in 2006.” While his fellow contestants went with erstwhile-planet Pluto, Matthews wrote, “What is a midgit [sic]?” and revealed it with a wild grin on his face. Chris Wallace (who wasn’t in the room for Matthews’ round) answered the same clue later with the more PC “What is Tom Thumb?” Seems MSNBC and Fox do have some things in common.
4. The soundtrack. We would have imagined some synapse-stimulating Schubert being eased over the loudspeakers as the games’ start drew near. Not so. As the applause signs flash, the Jeopardy! crew goes all Jock-Jams to get the audience in the mood. Like it’s half-time at a high school basketball game in the ’90s. “Are you ready to answer in the form of a questionnnnnnnnn?!”
3. The show’s inner workings. You might have imagined that the buzzers are activated by some sort of complex algorithm tied to the timbre of Trebek’s voice. In fact, there is a young man named Matthew who presses a switch that allows contestants to ring in. He is officially called a “button enabler.” Definitely one for the resumé.
2. Getting to know Alex Trebek. During breaks, Trebek took questions from the audience and reporters, and answered with commitment and fearlessness (obviously forgetting that he was in Washington, D.C.). Here are just a few things people learned about him that day: He reads a lot of books about the Lincoln assassination. Geography is his favorite category. He thinks there’s a damaging sense of entitlement in our society. He has about 100 suits. He used to be a regular at Filene’s Basement. He loved coloring maps as a child. He does not hate Sean Connery. He and Pat Sajak haven’t spoken for months. Unless there’s a Lakers game on, he’ll watch himself on Jeopardy!. He has been asked to be on Dancing With the Stars. He no longer has cartilage in his left knee. His appreciation for music “ended when Frank Sinatra died.” He votes as an Independent. He would like to be asked to ask questions at a presidential debate. He’s done more than 6,000 shows. He prefers to drink white wine. He is not familiar with the band One Direction.
1. Trebek over-sharing. Trebek also gave much more information than was required when answering some questions. For example, a young girl in the front row asked if he had any pets. He could have said, “Yes, a dog.” Instead, he said he used to have more. He proceeded to explain how two of his cats died and were replaced, how he had to give one away, how he used to have three dogs, but now only had one: Willie. Of the three, one died and another — a small, feisty guy named Spammer — was eaten by a coyote. The crowd gasped. The little girl did not respond. Speaking to reporters later, he said he didn’t see what all the fuss was about. “I couldn’t understand why there was that big reaction at the end,” he said. “The coyote ate Spammer. It didn’t bother Willie.”
VIDEO: 10 Questions for Alex Trebek