My Husband, the Jeopardy! Superchampion

BY ANDREA SAENZ

PIC dan and alex.jpg

January 2007: my husband Dan suggests we take the Jeopardy! online test, the first step in qualifying for the quiz show we’ve both been watching our whole lives. For no good reason, I don’t do it, and he does. It’s not like he will actually get on the show, so I don’t think much of it.May 2007: my husband is informed he passed the test and is invited to an in-person audition in the Back Bay to take another test and play a mock game. I am jealous. I start to wonder if I made a mistake.August 2007 on my husband’s 26th birthday: Jeopardy calls him at work to inform him he will be on the show. He calls me, freaking out. I scream. I am insanely jealous. Also thrilled.

September 2007 on my 26th birthday: Instead of sitting in the first week of fall classes, I find myself sitting in a studio in Culver City, CA as Dan comes from third place to win his first game of Jeopardy and just under $10,000. Oh my.What happened next, as many of you who watched the show know, was an utterly improbable, unbelievable ride for two lifelong Jeopardy fans: Dan went on to win not two, not five, but nine games and over $170,000, collecting more money in regular season games than all but three other people in show history, and winning more games than all but two others, one of whom is named Ken Jennings. Not bad.

In fact, I learned that winning more than five shows, which the show started allowing in 2002, has been so rare that only six other guys have ever done it (Yes, they’re all men – all young, dorky white men at that. Trivia nerds are not a diverse group.) This squad is known by the most devoted fans as the “superchampions,” and now my husband was one of them for life. Wow.

Of course, the shows were taped well in advance, so I knew this for months, but couldn’t tell anyone. Dan won two shows in September, and then Jeopardy went on a break to tape the Tournament of Champions, so we had to fly back in October, pretending to our friends that we hadn’t taken a cross-country flight in the middle of the week. I told people to watch Dan’s show, arranging a little watching party as the day drew near, all the while knowing the “show” was really ten (nine wins and a loss.) It was quite an exercise in misdirection, a skill that any aspiring trial lawyer needs, right?

As you might imagine, I was feeling more than a little silly about missing that damn online test. Jeopardy is my show too, that I used to watch with my mother back when the dollar values were smaller and Trebek still had that bitchin’ mustache. I’d beaten Dan at Trivial Pursuit every time we’d played for the last six months at least! Now I was Wife of Smart Person, as opposed to Smart Person herself. I wasn’t bitter or anything, but it certainly made me want to take my own shot one of these days.

Our lives over winter break were as bizarre as I’ve ever experienced. Dan was on national television for two straight weeks, telling stories about the way we met, our honeymoon, and my family in California. He got covered in the Boston Globe and his hometown Staten Island Advance, interviewed on local news, mentioned on blogs and message boards, and stopped in the street. My favorites: the bus driver who demanded to know why he was still taking public transportation (we haven’t even gotten paid yet!) and the elderly Irish woman who stopped us in Stop and Shop to ask Dan his ethnicity, assuring us “I love the Jewish people!” But the most bizarre had to be the Sacramento real estate broker who saw Dan’s chat segment about how I’m trying to convince him to eventually move to California, where my family is, and insisted on mailing us his business info and house listings.

The money, which won’t arrive for a while, also changes our lives for the next couple years in a wonderful way. Dan, a Chicago Law grad, turned down a firm job to move to Boston with me, and works at the State House for peanuts, and I just accepted a public interest fellowship that’s a dream job, but hardly a dream salary. We’ll be able to pay off a huge chunk of his loans (Chicago being quite a bit less generous than Harvard on the loan repayment front), pay off our new car, set up a house down payment fund, and have plenty left over for charity and a Vegas bar trip.

Oh, and also, I had a baby.I was visibly pregnant at the show tapings, which were set to air very close to the baby’s January 11th due date – if you saw the January 8th show, Dan said the baby might be born “today,” although he was actually saying that in the studio on October 16th. We had an idea that the baby would come a few days early, like I did when I was born, and we’d be in a recovery room at Brigham and Women’s hospital holding a newborn with bad vision up to the TV set as Dan finished his run.

Unfortunately, the baby had other plans, and preferred to sleep in. Dan’s run ended January 9th, my due date came and went, and the baby finally came the next Tuesday. But our daughter, baby Rebecca, did make it very clear that Jeopardy was a part of our family life. She came at 7:50 at night, while Final Jeopardy was airing in Boston. The Final category that night: Baby Names. The champion that night: a woman named Rebecca. We couldn’t be happier about our Jeoparbaby.

The ride is not yet over: Dan’s success qualifies him for next year’s Tournament of Champions, which will tape next January in Las Vegas. He hasn’t thrown out his stack of flash cards, and of course, we watch the show every night. The calls from the newspapers have died down, but we still have the framed picture of Dan and his buddy Alex, standing behind the podium displaying his final winnings total. Best winter break of my life? Yes, it was.January 2008: While Dan holds the baby in the other room, I take the Jeopardy online test.

Andrea Saenz is the editor-in-chief of the Record.

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