This 26-year-old Queen’s School of Medicine student has earned a certain celebrity here in Kingston and in his hometown, Prince George, after playing three straight matches on Jeopardy! last month. Church handily won the first match with $24,000 on December 16th. On the 17th, he again finished victorious with $5,000. He played a third match on the December 18th episode before being ousted. Now, he discusses with us how he made it happen, where his Jeopardy dream will go next, and what really goes on in commercial breaks.
1. So tell us – what is the application process like? How tough is it to get on Jeopardy!?
I’ve been watching Jeopardy! since I was a kid, and I always play along at home. I found out that one of my classmates had taken the online application quiz, and so I did the same. They usually hold that in January. About 250,000 people apply. Then they invite the top 1% or 2% of scores to come for an in-person audition. When I applied, they held that audition in Toronto. They’re mostly looking for a wide variety of people. They put you through another trivia quiz, and then you play a mock round of Jeopardy! I got a phone call in July asking me to come out to California to be a contestant, which I did in October. I was extremely lucky, given that it was only my first time applying. Some people apply every year.
2. What is Alex Trebek really like in person?
He’s got exactly the personality that you see on television. He’s a genuine nice guy. During the commercial breaks, he takes questions from the audience. Also, for the show, we have to put together a list of thirty or forty things we think are interesting about ourselves. The producers narrow it down to three, but Alex decides what to ask you about during the introductions. My first night, Alex asked me about being in medical school here in Kingston. It’s so surreal that it’s hard not to get too intimidated.
3. How did you prepare? Did you have a strategy, or wing it?
I think you just have to take it as it comes. Almost everyone there is just thrilled to be on one of their favourite television shows. If you do well, that’s just a bonus. I realized as the game progressed, though, that it was possible to make quite a lot of money. But I distinctly remember being worried when I saw a category called “Women in poetry.” But the beauty of it is that you can make up some of the ground on the really tough questions that are worth more. That’s the key to success. There are a lot of nerves, though. It’s a giant studio, so I didn’t notice the audience too much, but you do feel the cameras looking at you. Your buzzer hand is sweating. It’s all about handling the pressure. But it was hard – during my first match, Ken Jennings was in the audience watching!
4. Being a winner affords a certain level of celebrity – certainly for Ken Jennings, but for you as well. What’s it like being a local star?
It’s been exciting. I got to do interviews with CBC and Global, and the newspapers in town. My first episode aired on December 16th, which happened to be right after my final exams. I knew it would be a lot of fun to keep it a secret that I won. A bunch of friends and I all went to the Grad Club to watch. My win was a big surprise. They cheered for every right answer. The next day, I flew back to Prince George and was able to watch again with my friends and family there. I was even asked to take a random picture on the street with someone after being on the show! That’s definitely never happened before.
5. You’ve won quite a lot of money, nearly $30,000. What are you going to do with it?
Well I have my student loans to pay off, but I definitely want to get a decent amount of travel in. Some friends were suggesting I go to Laos, since that was the answer to Final Jeopardy in my first episode. But I should probably go to all the places that I got wrong!
6. One last question – is there more Jeopardy! in your future?
Well once you appear, you can only come back as a Tournament of Champions contestant. But I’m an ambassador for Jeopardy. I’ll be telling people to do the online test. I was just beyond lucky to be on the show.