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Fairfield man appears on Jeopardy!

PHOTO COURTESY OF JEOPARDY PRODUCTIONS, INC.

Robert Perez of Fairfield meets Alex Trebek, host of the game show Jeopardy! Perez appeared in an episode of the show filmed in November and broadcast in January.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JEOPARDY PRODUCTIONS, INC. Robert Perez of Fairfield meets Alex Trebek, host of the game show Jeopardy! Perez appeared in an episode of the show filmed in November and broadcast in January.

Fairfield resident Robert Perez appeared on this nationally televised game show hosted by Alex Trebek.

If you guessed “What is Jeopardy?” give yourself a pat on the back!

Perez, a proposal manager who has lived in Fairfield since 2015, appeared in an episode of Jeopardy! on Jan. 4. The episode was filmed the first week of November at Sony Pictures Studios in Los Angeles.

Perez won $1,000 for coming in third place, which he said nearly covered the expense of flying to L.A. and staying at the hotel. It was a great back-and-forth game between Robert and the other two players that came down to Final Jeopardy!, the last clue of the game where players can wager all or none of the money they’ve won thus far.

Final Jeopardy!

Robert entered Final Jeopardy! with $15,100, just $100 behind the leader, Jonathan Dinerstein, with $15,200. Dinerstein was the reigning three-day champion, having won almost $63,000 in his previous three games. The third contestant, Chelsea Hill, was not far behind the other two as she went into Final Jeopardy! with $10,800.

Players make their wagers after learning the category for Final Jeopardy! but before learning the clue itself. Perez was in a tough spot, because he couldn’t catch Dinerstein if Dinerstein bet all his money and was right. But he also had to worry about Hill. If Perez and Dinerstein were wrong or failed to bet enough, Hill could leapfrog both of them if she got the answer right.

The category was Transportation. Perez bet $7,000, which would put him out of Hill’s reach if he were right, and at least force Dinerstein to answer correctly. Sadly, Robert did not get the final clue right, so he fell to $8,100. Dinerstein wrote the correct answer, wagering all his money minus $1, to finish with $30,399. Like Perez, Hill also got the answer wrong but wagered nothing, so she stayed at $10,800.

The clue was “Carretera Transístmica, a.k.a. the Boyd-Roosevelt Highway, runs parallel to this waterway.” The answer: What is the Panama Canal?

Perez said it did not occur to him that the answer was in Latin America. In fact, he thought the show’s host, Trebek, pronounced “Carretera Transístmica” with an Italian accent. This made him think of places in America with large Italian populations. He guessed “What is the Mystic River?,” which runs through Boston.

Battling back

Though Perez was disappointed he didn’t win, he has to be proud of how he performed. Dinerstein jumped out to an early lead at the end of the first round with $8,800 to Perez’s $4,200. Fairfield’s own battled back in the second round, known as Double Jeopardy!, and even took the lead from Dinerstein before the final clue of the round put Dinerstein up $100.

According to thejeopardyfan.com, which compiles statistics on every Jeopardy! episode, Perez answered 16 clues correctly and only 1 incorrectly. The winner, Dinerstein, answered 20 correctly and three incorrectly. The trickiest part of the show is buzzing in before the other contestants, but not before Trebek has finished reading the clue. Contestants who buzz in while he’s still reading are penalized for that clue by having their buzzer delayed a certain amount of time.

Perez said he was hoping for questions on history, sports and pop culture. He also knows a thing or two about philosophy because he majored in it at St. Edward’s University in Austin. The categories he was most dreading were opera and Shakespeare. His wife Melinda Schindler Perez gave him a book on literature to study on the flight to L.A. That was good thinking on his wife’s part, because one of the categories that day was “Book of the Year.” Perez earned $2,500 on a Daily Double in that category.

One of his fears did come to pass: a category on Shakespeare. Perez didn’t let that bother him. In fact, he answered the hardest clue in that category correctly.

Question from Alex

Viewers familiar with Jeopardy! know that most of the show is dedicated to answering clues, but a few minutes are dedicated to learning about the competitors. Trebek asks each contestant to expound on an interesting fact about themselves or an entertaining story. Contestants supply this information to the production staff ahead of time, months in advance through their applications and practice tests, and again hours before the show is filmed.

Perez was told to write down three tidbits about himself on an index card, things that Trebek could ask him about. He wrote about how he once desired to become a priest, which he imagined would appeal to Alex, who also wanted to be a priest in his youth before turning to television. Another tidbit was how Perez made it to the national competition for extemporaneous speaking when he was in high school.

But the item he most wanted Trebek to ask him about was a 1,000-mile, 23-state road trip he took with his wife years ago. That was the line he highlighted. Production staff told Perez that Trebek would see his highlight, but it was ultimately up to the show’s host which of the three he asked about. In the end, Trebek asked Perez about extemporaneous speaking.

The contestants were told repeatedly before and after filming the episode not to disclose the results until the show aired months later. Perez could advertise the fact that he was on the show to encourage people to watch, but he couldn’t talk about any of the questions or how he performed.

Reflections

For a long time after taping the show, Perez was hung up on coming in third place. But in the week leading up to the air date, it dawned on him that he was about to be shown in thousands of households throughout the country.

“I thought about how people will be watching in New York, Los Angeles, everywhere. Thousands of people who don’t know me will be shouting at their television screens, ‘How can you not know the Panama Canal?’” he joked.

Perez watched the show with his wife, their two sons, and his in-laws. During the show’s introduction, Perez appears on the screen. His 2.5-year-old son was shocked to see his dad on television.

“He looked at the TV, and then he looked at me,” Perez said. “He gave me a look like, ‘How are you here and there at the same time?’”

Perez was a big Jeopardy! fan as a boy, hurrying home to watch the show after school. In April 2017, he took an online Jeopardy! test where he had 10 seconds for each of the 50 questions that popped onto the screen. That led to an in-person interview and “mock” show conducted in Omaha that summer with 50 other applicants.

Months went by without any word from Sony Pictures, so Perez assumed he didn’t make the final cut. But in October 2018, he learned that he had been chosen to appear on the show. Instead of trying to cram as much knowledge as he could into those four weeks, Perez decided it would be best to stay calm.

“I figured, how much could I really learn in those weeks compared to what I had learned in all the years before?” he reasoned.

Alex Trebek

Perez said being on Jeopardy! was a once-in-a-lifetime experience he’ll never forget. It allowed him to meet Alex Trebek, perhaps the most iconic host in game show history. Trebek has hosted every season of the show since 1984. Just last week on March 6, Trebek, age 78, announced he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Despite the grim news, Trebek said he had no choice but to continue working.

“Truth told, I have to because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years!” he joked.