A man from my town shared on Facebook a few weeks back that he was going to be on Jeopardy! Pasquale Palumbo said he began watching the show as a kid in the ‘80s, and has been “a semi-religious viewer” of it ever since.
In his late 20s or early 30s, he thought about trying out for the beloved game show. Palumbo took the online Jeopardy! test a bunch of times, and finally got a call in summer 2019 to audition in New York City, a train ride from Hawthorne, the town we live in.
After the audition, he was told by producers they’d contact him if interested over the course of the next 18 months.
Around February 2020, a 310 area code popped up on his mobile phone, and Palumbo scanned his mental Rolodex for anyone he knew in Los Angeles. No one came to mind.
It was Jeopardy!, and they wanted him to fly out.
Palumbo, 45, checked with his wife, who reminded him that he’s a “Jeopardy! junkie,” and most definitely should.
He was scheduled to fly out in April 2020, and then production was shut down due to COVID. He was set to come out again in the fall, but production was halted when host Alex Trebek needed surgery. Then Trebek died in November.
Palumbo’s cross-country scheduling woes continued into 2021. He had a flight for February 1, but a blizzard in New York cancelled air travel. Palumbo, an insurance agent at New York Life, finally flew out a couple weeks later.
He’d studied common topics, including state and world capitals and historical figures, but found the best preparation was simply watching lots of Jeopardy! Palumbo likened it to the New York Times crossword--the more you do it, the more comfortable you become with the format.
He also mimicked buzzing in while watching from home. “Being quick on the buzzer is key,” said Palumbo. “It’s an art, in and of itself.”
The cancelled flight meant having Aaron Rodgers as guest host, instead of Dr. Mehmet Oz, who’d hosted before. “That was fantastic for me,” said Palumbo. “Football has been a huge part of my life.”
As he was introduced on Jeopardy! April 8, Palumbo, who played and coached at White Plains High School, explained to Rodgers, Green Bay Packers quarterback, how they were “football cousins” due to the lineage of coaches Palumbo played for. “That’s a good four degrees of separation there,” quipped Rodgers.
Palumbo faced off against reigning champ Brandon Deutsch, who’d won over $70,000, and Palumbo ended up winning the game. “The guy I took on was amazing,” Palumbo said.
Support flooded in, a ton of it on social media. “I heard from people I’d not heard from in an exceptionally long time,” said Palumbo. “The reception from people in my town has been amazing, and overwhelming.” (Palumbo shared about some of the ethnic slurs he saw on social media.)
He mentioned picking up his daughter at school, and the principal coming out to meet him. “Wow, I’m a Z-list celebrity,” Palumbo joked. “Wherever I go, it’s all anyone wants to talk about.”
Alas, he came up short his second night on the show, dethroned by Dennis Chase, who Palumbo describes as not only smart but “phenomenal on the buzzer.”
With Jeopardy! shooting five episodes a day, Palumbo said he didn’t have much time to enjoy his championship. But it’s a memory he’ll hold onto for life. “I never thought I’d get chosen,” he said. “Dreams do come true sometimes.”
The only negative to his Jeopardy! appearance, he said, was not getting to meet Trebek.
His Jeopardy! championship put a little cash in his pocket. “Maybe we’ll enjoy a couple extra perks this summer,” said Palumbo. “Instead of steak or lobster, I’ll get steak and lobster.”
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