From Jeopardy! Fan to Jeopardy! Contestant
York College of Pennsylvania alumna, Katie Sekelsky ’08, realized her dream of appearing as a contestant on the popular quiz show Jeopardy!
As a child, York College of Pennsylvania alumna and graphic designer, Katie Sekelsky ’08, often went to bed hearing the theme tune of the TV quiz show Jeopardy! As she grew older, she became a fan and watched the show every night in college. She says, “It was the only time where I demanded control of our shared TV!”
In 2006, Jeopardy! started offering an annual online test to qualify for the popular show. Sekelsky remembers taking the test for the first time that year at her apartment in Country Club Manor on West Campus. She continued to take it every year and her persistence paid off in 2019, when she was invited to an in-person audition with other contestant hopefuls from the area.
She describes the audition. “They have you do a written version of the online test and then a ‘mock game’ where they can see how you'd be as a player. At that point, we're told that only a few of us would likely get The Call to be on the show, but we'd be in the ‘contestant pool’ for a year-and-a-half. If we hadn't heard anything by that point, we could start the process over by re-taking the test.”
In March 2020, to her delight, Sekelsky got The Call to come out to California to be a contestant, but unfortunately before that happened, COVID-19 shut down the show's production. She eventually taped her episodes in March 2021.
Preparing for the Show
Sekelsky’s episodes aired in June. She explains how she prepared to be a contestant. “I did a lot of studying, which conveniently gave me something to do during all those pandemic months. I had a flashcard on my phone that I used to study the areas that come up most frequently on Jeopardy! (The Bible, world capitals, books and authors, etc.). And I also practiced buzzer timing (a huge part of doing well on the show) with a USB buzzer, as well as wager theory.” With all this hard work, she says, “I was well prepared for the Final Jeopardy! scenarios that I would ultimately find myself in.”
What about nerves? She says, “I wasn't nearly as nervous as I thought I would be. The lack of an audience (due to COVID-19 restrictions) made it a little less nerve-racking. And once I was on set, I kind of realized that I had never been as prepared for anything in my life as I had been for that moment.”
Sadly, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek passed away in 2020, but the guest hosts impressed Sekelsky, who says, “I actually had two hosts—Mayim Bialik for the first episode, and Savannah Guthrie for the other three. They were both excellent, professional, and I could tell they were big fans of the show!”
The Trivia Bug
She adds, “I definitely have the ‘game show bug’ now! But, I think I’ll stick to trivia-based shows.” She plays in several online trivia leagues and does some quiz writing of her own. She runs a twice-annual postal mail-based trivia competition called the Inkling and collaborates with the Trivial Warfare podcast to publish an annual question-a-day calendar called Everyday Q&A (triviacalendar.net).
Sekelsky has a degree in Graphic Design from York College. She says, “My favorite part of YCP was all the awesome professors in the Design department. They definitely prepared me well with knowledge of the rules of design that I still make use of every single day.” She is into drawing, and has an Instagram full of bird drawings at instagram.com/piper.valley. She also enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
How well did Sekelsky do as a Jeopardy! contestant?
She says, “I won! Three times! I felt confident going in that I could win a game. But, because luck also plays a huge factor (Are the categories things you know? Are your opponents getting in on the buzzer a little faster?). I was in no way expecting to win three times. I still kind of can't believe it.”