One episode of the game show Jeopardy! takes anywhere from 45 minutes to one hour to film, but it feels much shorter than that for the contestants on stage. Just ask Ellen Wernecke ’02, who competed on the show over the course of three days in April 2017 (the episodes aired in September 2017). “It was so strange to be there playing it for real after so many years of watching it on TV,” she said. “It didn’t sink in until the first commercial break when I looked over and saw my mom and uncle in the audience. I was in the zone, and the time just flew by.”
To become a contestant, Wernecke took an online test to pre-qualify. From there, she was invited to a regional, on-site interview. “When the casting department called me after almost a year and invited me out to California to film the show, I could not believe it.”
Wernecke, who graduated from Brown University with a degree in comparative literature, has always loved facts and general trivia, but some areas required further brushing up. “Geography is not my strong suit, and they have it on almost every show, so I bought an atlas and a fact book and started reading them in my spare time.” Wernecke would record the show while she was at work and watch it at night, practicing with a ball-point pen as her buzzer.
Her practice paid off—she took home $24,910 in winnings. “It’s been a surreal experience and great to hear from everyone. I actually got a message on Twitter from Chuck Taft [Middle School history teacher and history department chair]—I had him during his first year teaching at USM! Thankfully, he wasn’t too mad I missed some Vietnam War questions.”