Two months of studying and an intensive 3-day cram session and it’s all over in an hour.
Saturday, 9:30 am
It feels like Noon. Alyce and I have been up since 5:30 am and I probably have more makeup on than I will on my wedding day. The Schmoedown is filming five matches today and Star Wars is up first. My competitor, Andrew Dimalanta, his wife, Nicki, Alyce, our friend Abbie and I arrive at the studio precisely on time. Crew members are already setting up so I grab a seat out of the way, open my laptop and study my Rogue One materials right up until the moment Kristian Harloff pulls me into a studio for my pre-competition interview.
Some part of me starts to panic and is quickly hushed by the anti-anxiety meds I generally only take for flying. I'm overcome with what is sure to be a fatal case of Imposter Syndrome that no meds can fix.
Kristian introduces me to the crew members in the room and talks me through the footage they need. He's only about 10 feet away and his tone is calm and reassuring, but my ears are ringing and I can barely hear him. It feels like the walls are closing in and my mouth feels like I ate cotton balls for breakfast. I ask if Alyce can be in the interview with me in hopes that a familiar face and voice will make me look more relaxed.
It doesn't. But I didn't fly 2,000 miles across the country to look relaxed.
Saturday, 10:00 am
Someone calls out for everyone to get into the main studio where competitions are filmed. The announcers' desk is set up to face the competitors desk/stage (why did I always assume it was next to the main stage?). There are cameras and cables and lights and it’s a little while before everything is set.
Andrew and I hang out backstage. He inspects the wheel and chats with crew members. I pace back and forth and take some photos for the Force Toast Instagram. I wish I could put earbuds in to listen to something calming but I need to be alert and ready for instructions.
Kristian has Alyce come backstage so she can walk out with me. We didn't plan on this so we didn't rehearse or choreograph anything. But she's in full hair and makeup anyway, so it works out.
I make my entrance first but it’s like I blacked out. I have no memory of it or Andrew's entrance. I can tell you off the top of my head that the odds of the Resistance finding a way out of the caves on Crait were 15,428 to 1, but I don’t remember how I ended up in my chair that day. The human brain is a strange thing.
I try to tell myself that it’s just pub trivia without the pub. At one point, I had considered bringing a bottle of wine with me to the table. Thankfully I decided against it.
The match feels like it lasts three hours and I’m certain the final two questions take up at least two of them. In reality, I’m probably in my seat for less than 45 minutes.
Alyce joins me for the post-competition interview. She's shaking so badly, I'm concerned she's going to pass out or have a heart attack on camera. She gets like this for pub trivia too. Her nervousness calms me and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because we’re a team and our friendship, like the Force, demands balance. Or maybe I’m just an asshole. Either way, I’m glad she’s here.
Another match follows and I'm jealous of how relaxed and comfortable all the competitors seem. I wish I could have a do-over for the whole morning.
I am pleasantly surprised how warm and friendly all the cast and crew are. It feels like I'm someone's guest at a college reunion. There's no drama, no egos and the vibe is relaxed. There are a lot of huggers in the group and everyone is hellbent on making me feel included and welcome. Someone brought their dog and it’s a very excellent dog. There are pizzas and homemade brownies on a conference table.
We watch several matches over the course of the day. I spot some of the Inner Geekdom competitors hanging around the studio and I want to tell Rachel Cushing how much I admire her seemingly limitless knowledge of all the movies I love. I want Mike Kalinowski to know he made my brother into a Schmoedown fan. In the end, I'm too starstruck to talk to either of them.
The final match of the season wraps, Alyce and I say our good-byes and we head to our Airbnb in Hollywood. I turn on Downton Abbey and let my brain melt into nothingness for a few hours.
Alyce and I spend the entire night at the Scum & Villainy Cantina with friends and my brother, who surprised me by driving up from San Diego. One of the cocktails at the Cantina comes with a Star Wars trivia question. I don’t remember the question, but I know I got it right. There’s no prize.
Alyce and I go to brunch at some overpriced rooftop restaurant in Hollywood where the staff are beautiful and incompetent and the view is the only redeeming quality. We board a shuttle to LAX, head to our separate terminals and I call my parents to tell them about the weekend.
I board my flight, turn on Rogue One (my favorite Star Wars movie), and for the first time in months, I watch it for the sole purpose of enjoyment.
Competing in a Schmoedown match is unlike anything I’ve ever done and I’m proud of both of my performances. Before that day in Burbank, I had never been in front of so many cameras. I was afraid. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing, slouching, vomiting, coming off as an asshole, looking insecure, choking on my own saliva, looking at the wrong camera, standing in the wrong place, having spontaneous diarrhea in the middle of the match, and just looking awkward in general.
And why? It was my choice to be here – my choice to throw my hat in the ring. So what right did I have to be afraid?
EVERY RIGHT – and that’s the lesson. Don’t let anyone deprive you of it.
To anyone contemplating a step outside of their comfort zone: remember that you are entitled to your fear. You don’t have to conquer it right this second. Just own it. Confront it. Most importantly, remember Carrie Fisher’s greatest lesson:
Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action.
You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.
Let’s hope so.
The Star Wars match filmed in October 2019 is available now for Patrons of the Movie Trivia Schmoedown and will be made available to everyone on YouTube on Thursday, October 31.
About the author
Laura Kelly co-hosts the podcast Force Toast: A Star Wars Happy Hour with her friend Alyce. Laura made her Schmoedown debut at Star Wars Celebration Chicago in April 2019 after spending a year+ dominating Star Wars themed pub trivia events around Chicago with Alyce. Laura loves wine, pasta, Star Wars Rebels, English bulldogs and spending far too much time on Star Wars Twitter. Find Laura on twitter or email her.