When you have a unique experience, you often want to find others who’ve shared it. And that’s even the case for people who’ve been on “Jeopardy!”. Twenty-six million Americans watch the show, but only a few hundred people are on it every year. And they’re starting to come together. Suzie Xie has more on this growing community.
XIE: We had one unbreakable rule in our household: Don’t blurt out the answer when you hear this —
XIE: That’s the famous tune from the final round on “Jeopardy!”. And if you were at my house on a weekday around 7:56 p.m., you weren’t allowed to say a word. That’s because my brother, Jeff, was playing along with the show — and he took it pretty seriously. Jeff saw his first episode of “Jeopardy!” when he was 8. He would watch almost every day for the next ten years. And, well, it all paid off —
ALEX: In 1892, 17 years before his North Pole Fame, Robert Peary proved this was an island, not part of a continent.
JEFF: What is Greenland?
ALEX: Greenland! Correct. [applause]
XIE: That guy? The one saying “What is Greenland?” That’s my brother. He was on “Jeopardy!” two years ago when he was a senior in high school. I flew to Los Angeles to see the taping. Now, I remember my time there as a weeklong nervous breakdown, but Jeff seemed to grow calmer as he went from the prelims to the finals.
And then — it all came down to a tiebreaker round. The category? The Civil War.
ALEX: The battles of Shiloh and Collierville were fought in this state. Jeff?
JEFF: What is Tennessee?
ALEX: You’re right. You’re the champion. $75,000. Come on out here.
XIE: He won $75,000! Who does that? Well, my baby brother, and it turns out a few others — and they’re eager to meet each other. Soon after he won, my brother was invited to a private Facebook group for people who’d been on the show. And that’s not the only place they gather. Want to talk about last night’s episode or Alex Trebek’s mustache? Join the online forum J-Board. Want to review all the questions ever asked on “Jeopardy?” Those are on a website called J!Archive.
JASON: I realized that there was this insane, burgeoning community online that I had no idea existed.
XIE: That’s Jason Sterlacci. He’s one of the newest members of this community. He teaches sixth-grade English in Union, New Jersey. And he’s competing in this year’s Teachers Tournament, which is airing right now.
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XIE: I went to meet him at Burnet Middle School. It’s the same school he went to as a kid.
JASON: So this was actually my sixth-grade classroom when I was a student. I used to sit right by the window. I was constantly reading, constantly trying to absorb new information, constantly trying to get new facts. At 6 or 7, I wasn’t exactly the best player, but I guess I just kept playing until I got good.
XIE: What age did you start becoming good at “Jeopardy!”?
JASON: Honestly? I’m 32, so 32. [laughs]
XIE: Well, he was good enough to get on the show. To be on “Jeopardy!”, you have to take an online test. Jason took it six times before landing an audition last year. In January, he got the call he’d made it.
JASON: I was right here in school, actually, on my lunch, and I did just about a backflip.
XIE: Now, getting on the show is one thing. But how do you win? That’s where Keith Williams comes in. Here’s a clip from his YouTube series, “The Final Wager.”
KEITH: I was the 2003 College Jeopardy champion. And I’d like to walk you through one of the most important yet frequently overlooked aspects of the game: The Final Wager.
XIE: You see, “Jeopardy!” isn’t just about giving the right answers. How you risk your money — or wager — in the final round also matters. And Keith may have cracked the code — on a dry-erase board. He maps out what each contestant should wager in the final round of “Jeopardy!” And his strategies can help you make a lot of money.
[FADE UP SOUND] KEITH: … wagering to tie is better than wagering to win.
XIE: But for “Jeopardy!” has-beens or the average trivia-lover, there’s one place you can still win: the Quiz Cup at the Bell House in Brooklyn.
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It’s a trivia competition that combines brainpower and beer. Tony Hightower was on “Jeopardy!” in 2011. He’s been hosting trivia contests in s New York for the past decade.
TONY: It’s only in the last couple of years where that community has really started to seriously gel. I would go to LA for various reasons, and the LA “Jeopardy!” community is deep. And then I’d come back, they would all be, like, “Tony’s the New York guy. He’s the one New York guy.” That is no longer the case.
XIE: Tony says there’s probably a few hundred “Jeopardy!” contestants living in the city. Roger Craig is one of them. He’s here tonight — on one of the sixteen teams competing for a trip to Las Vegas and the thousand-dollar prize. And he’s in the club, too.
ALEX: It’s up to Roger Craig, who could set a new one-day record here if he came up with the Bridge on the River Kwai. He did — I hope he wagered a lot. He did! New record — $77,000.
XIE: That’s right — Roger Craig holds the record for the highest single-day score on “Jeopardy!”. That makes him a celebrity in this world. And he says being on “Jeopardy” is a defining experience for each contestant.
CRAIG: It’s just sort of a — what I call a low-probability event. Only 400 people a year are chosen to be contestants on “Jeopardy!”. “Jeopardy” is the king of game shows. And it’s just sorta this totally unique experience.
XIE: It’s an experience he shared with my brother. Jeff met Roger and a bunch of other “Jeopardy!” champions shortly after he won.
JEFF XIE: I met these wonderful people and was, like, “Wow, these guys are so close.” It really was nice to see because previously I’d just seen them not as gods, but just, like, very high up, and now I realized, talking to them, that they’re very down to earth.
XIE: And they are. Because “Jeopardy!”’s really not about winning — though that’s nice. It’s about a love of knowledge. And sometimes these beer-soaked trivia nights in Brooklyn are better without a camera there and —
CRAIG: In some ways, it’s more fun because we’re able to drink.
XIE: So the next time you’re at a bar and someone is doing really well, go ahead and ask: “Have you been on “Jeopardy!”? Suzie Xie, Columbia Radio News.
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