It was just fun from start to finish. There wasn't a single unpleasant person in the process. You interact mostly with the four contestant coordinators, both in the audition process and at the studio. It is impossible not to have a blast around these people. But rest of the people involved in production (stage manager, make-up artists, pages, and Alex himself) are the greatest.
A couple of the coordinators (my favorites, Maggie and Robert) were recently featured on NPR. (Click here for the story.
I need to write up the whole story some time. I'll post something (probably overlong) after the show airs. I will say that I really did almost wet my pants. Twice. I had some sort of stress reaction where I had to pee so bad while we were watching other people play the game and we were not allowed to get up to use the bathroom. I have never been so stressed. I tried to console myself with the knowledge that I had another pair of slacks in the green room. Thankfully, I made it to the green room in time after the first game. I then settled in to try to enjoy the second game and it happened again. I'm pretty sure I was doing the pee dance in my seat. Thankfully, when my name got called for the third game, the cameras, the audience, and everything but the game just disappeared. It was so much fun.
The buzzer (or "signalling device" as the powers-that-be call it) is huge. After Alex finishes reading the clue, several lights on either side are illuminated, signalling that it is okay to buzz in. Too early, and you get locked out for a quarter second. You cannot win if you are consistently early. During breaks, the contestant coordinators will come up to help you if you are having problems with the buzzer.
There are two main strategies in buzzing. The first is to watch for the lights and then use your video game reflexes to get it fast. The second is called the Zen strategy where you just listen for the end of the clue and anticipate the lights. Most of the best players apparently use this strategy, so I did, too. Before the games are taped, they do a full mock game where all of the day's contestants are rotated on stage to get an opportunity to practice. I had the Zen and was able to get in on 6 straight questions before they made me sit down. Very encouraging (and hopefully intimidating to the other contestants). Of course, when I got on stage for the real thing, it was a challenge to do the same with my brain swimming in adrenaline.Here is the account
of a contestant from last year that captures the experience pretty well. (Incidentally, it looks like she is a BYU grad.)
My only regret is that they no longer give you Rice-A-Roni for being a contestant.