Since the 4th grade, Fern Creek High School (Jefferson County) chemistry teacher Evan Roberts has loved trivia. He participated on quick recall teams all the way through college, but he said competing on Jeopardy! was his ultimate goal.
He finally achieved his dream on March 31, when he made his national television debut and became a “Jeopardy!” champion. He returned on April 1 and placed second, finishing with a total of $22,400 in earnings.
Originally from Mayfield, Ky., Roberts worked in scientific research for several years until realizing he enjoyed helping students and seeing them succeed. He transitioned into teaching through Teach Kentucky, a Louisville-based program that seeks to recruit college graduates to teach in Kentucky public schools. He started teaching 10th grade chemistry at Fern Creek High School in 2017 and has been there ever since.
His journey to compete on “Jeopardy!” started over two years ago, when he took an online test to appear on the show. He then took a series of online quizzes to test his knowledge in 50 different categories, followed by a virtual interview with producers and a mock episode with other potential contestants.
“That was the fifth or sixth time I took the online test and it took me two years to actually film the show,” he said.
He was chosen for a spot in January and flew out to Los Angeles to tape the program with host Mayim Bialik.
He said the experience was “surreal and nerve-racking,” but the producers made the contestants feel at ease. Contestants are coached on how to use the buzzers and they film promotions before the show is officially taped.
Many people may be surprised to learn that contestants’ buzzers are locked until the host is finished reading the question. If a contestant hits the buzzer too early, they are locked out for a fraction of a second.
“You kind of have to time it when the last word is read. There’s a little beat before you have to buzz in, and everyone is buzzing in at the same time which makes it really challenging,” he said.
Roberts said his students thought him being on the show was cool and he was shocked at how many were familiar with it.
While there was no live audience, he said he enjoyed meeting Bialik and interacting with the other contestants. He even caught a glimpse of the “Wheel of Fortune” set next door.
He also shared some insight on what happens behind-the-scenes. Five episodes are taped each day, usually twice a week. Anyone can take the initial online test and if you pass, you are placed into a random selection process for an invitation to audition. If you perform well at the audition, you will be put into a contestant pool for up to 18 months. If you are not selected for an audition, you can take the test again in a year.
Contrary to popular belief, contestants are not given the clue categories to study in advance. The categories are totally random.
“I told myself beforehand to not get worked up if it was a category that I knew nothing about. And even if it was a category that I wasn’t great at, you can usually figure it out within the first three clues,” he said.
Roberts’ also shared his favorite fun fact about the show: contestants actually stand on platforms behind the podiums to make them all the same height.
His advice for anyone wanting to be on the show is to “just keep trying.”
As for what’s next, Roberts has no idea and said, “I’ll have to come up with something to top this experience.”