Eric Vernon’s two-game run as a Jeopardy! champion ended Monday night in his third game on the classic TV game show.
A familiar figure in Ottawa’s Jewish community, his first appearances on Jeopardy! aired Thursday and Friday, and he won the two games – and more than $50,000 US.
At 63, Vernon was “by far the oldest in the pool of contestants” when he achieved his lifelong dream of being a Jeopardy! contestant.
“The shining moment of my entire experience was at the end of the second game,” he recalled, “when the question for Final Jeopardy! was extremely difficult. I was the only one that got it right. I was in second place going into the final, but the only one who got my money out of it.”
It took him 20 of the 30 seconds allotted to work out his answer, and then he had to scramble to write it down before the Jeopardy! music stopped playing and the pen stopped working.
Originally from Toronto, Vernon has lived in Ottawa since 1982. Now retired, he was the long-time director of government relations for the Canadian Jewish Congress. His wife, Laura, teaches English as a second language at Algonquin College.
History was Vernon’s major at the University of Toronto, along with political science, and he did his master’s at the University of Waterloo. But, being a trivia buff has been a longtime hobby.
“I also have a keen interest in word games and puzzles; that keeps the mind sharp,” he said.
Being on Jeopardy! was “something I’d wanted to do for decades,” said Vernon, who started watching the show as a teenager.
After doing an online quiz last August he received an invitation to audition in New York City in October.
While there were 50 questions in the online quiz and 15 seconds for each question, at the audition he had just eight seconds for each question, he said.
“You have to put the answer in the form of a question in the show, but in the quizzes you just write down the answer.”
The next activity at the audition was to play a mock game.
“We had the signaling device and played a typical game for five minutes and they did a little interview with each of us after.”
A month later he received the call to film the shows on December 13 and 14 in Los Angeles.
“They film the series at the Sony Picture Studios where “The Wizard of Oz” was filmed; it was a real Hollywood experience.”
Vernon said he didn’t appreciate until he was actually there how stressful and nerve wracking being a Jeopardy! contestant would be.
“I knew this intuitively from watching for so long, but you have to have three or four things going for you to be successful: a broad base of knowledge that you can quickly recall; a little bit of luck; betting strategies [for Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy!]; and, above, all you have to be lightning fast on the signaling device. There were several times when I knew the answer but people signaled ahead of me.”
Clue: At least so far, the only Ottawa Jewish Bulletin contributing book reviewer to be a Jeopardy! champion.
Answer: Who is Eric Vernon?