According to Saint Leo political science instructor Frank Orlando, the long-running game show JEOPARDY! is the “gold standard” of trivia games. That’s why it was a lifelong dream for Orlando to get a shot as a contestant on the show.
The JEOPARDY! Journey
The 33-year-old native of Grand Ledge, Mich. says he first became interested in the popular quiz show as a kid thanks to his grandfather.
“My parents never really watched it, but my grandfather loved watching it,” he recalls. “I would sit and watch with him. The funny thing was that he never really answered any of the questions out loud.”
Prospective contestants must first complete an online test that is held once per year. An in-person test is then given in select cities throughout the country. Orlando took his in Tampa.
In 2016, he first appeared on Sports Jeopardy!, a streaming sports-themed game show hosted by former longtime ESPN personality Dan Patrick.
“Fewer people were trying to get on that version of the show, so I had a better chance at that,” he says. “It was run by the same producers and taped on the same soundstage as the regular show. Having that experience gave me confidence on the regular show.”
Nearly three years later, his time to shine came on the regular show. He flew out for the taping in November 2018. His episode finally aired on Jan. 17, 2019, meaning he couldn’t say a word about how he did for about two months.
Perched at the middle podium, Orlando buzzed in for 17 questions and only guessed incorrectly on one of them. However, a fellow contestant who had won on the previous day’s program had a performance that was essentially unbeatable by his two competitors.
“I thought my overall knowledge was pretty good,” he says. “I’d say I wish I would’ve studied more contemporary art since that was what the final question was about.”
The only question he missed during the first two rounds was about who purchased Alcatraz Island in the 1840s. The correct answer was John C. Fremont.
“I talk about Fremont in my classes all the time and should have gotten this one right,” he says. “This was a big turning point in the game because instead of adding $2,000 to my total, I lost that amount.”
In the “Final Jeopardy!” round, Orlando failed to correctly name the contemporary artist Banksy. He wound up with $8,799 on the board but took home just $1,000 as the third place finisher. This amount basically paid for his trip, he says.
Challenges under the Bright Lights
Aside from the brain-teasing questions, Orlando admits that using the buzzer was the biggest challenge of being a contestant.
“The number-one thing is buzzing in,” he says. “It’s tough to get the timing of this down just right. You have to wait until Alex Trebek finishes reading the clue. Then you have to wait for a light in the studio to come on. If you buzz in before the light comes on, you’re locked out for a quarter of a second. It’s all about your reflexes.”
He says he mostly studied literature and was happy there were some clues he responded to correctly about this subject.
“I’m pretty good on geography, history, politics, sports and music, but there just weren’t many of these covered on this particular episode. But if I had to do it all over again, I would just practice my buzzing skills.”
A Thrilling Experience
He enjoyed the brief time he got to chat with longtime host Alex Trebek, especially since it was his goal to get on the show before the 78-year-old host retires.
“He’s exactly what he seems like on TV – a really nice and understanding guy.”
And it was a little surreal when 94-year-old announcer Johnny Gilbert opened the show and introduced the contestants.
“You really get chills when you hear Johnny say, ‘This is JEOPARDY!’ and then when you hear him announce your name,” he says.
Since the episode aired, he has gotten plenty of positive feedback.
“There has been an outpouring of support from students, faculty and staff at Saint Leo,” he says. “The watch party we had on campus was also a lot of fun. The beautiful thing about this show is that it brings people together. I think it demonstrates the importance of the pursuit of knowledge.”
He has stayed in touch with some of the contestants who taped episodes around the same time he did.
As for other potential game show appearances, Orlando says he’d consider trying his hand at Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
“At least there’s no buzzer on that show,” he jokes.
Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Frank Orlando and are used with permission.