Heard on the Hill

So you want to be on ‘Jeopardy!’? The online test draws nigh

If you’re a political wonk, you can follow in the footsteps of four congressional staffers

Isaac Loeb, a legislative aide of Vermont Democrat Rep. Peter Welch, playing Jeopardy. (Courtesy Isaac Loeb)

Alex Trebek may have pancreatic cancer, but the game show must go on. The longtime host, who announced his diagnosis earlier this month, is still taping new episodes of “Jeopardy!” — and the show is still hunting for new contestants.

Mark your calendars, because the official “Jeopardy!” online test opens in less than a week. The exam is your ticket to an in-person audition, provided you can nail 50 questions, each from a different category. 

You can choose from four testing times between March 27 and April 11. The exam is offered just once or twice a year, so act fast.

Wondering how political wonks have fared on the show in the past? Not too bad. At least four congressional aides have showed off their trivia chops in the last decade, with some tailgating along the way.

Isaac Loeb

Loeb, a legislative assistant to Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, took the online test a total of three times and snagged an audition twice. He finally broke through and appeared on the show last year. 

His advice? Be persistent, don’t be afraid to bet on yourself, don’t underestimate your intelligence, and watch plenty of “Jeopardy!”

“It was a fun, amazing experience — one that I’m glad I got to have,” he said.

Loeb finished in third place, earning $5,200. Most of his earnings went toward covering the cost of his plane ticket and hotel room.

“I had big plans if I had won more money,” he added.

His boss, for one, was a fan. “[Welch] watched the episode. He texted me during it. It was very encouraging,” he said. “He was incredibly supportive about the whole thing.”

Will Anderson

Anderson, who did legislative work for Georgia Rep. David Scott, earned more than $23,000 after a three-day stint on the show. Fittingly, the Democratic aide excelled in the “government jobs” category.

He tried for years to be a “Jeopardy!” contestant. Anderson attended an “open contestant call” in 2009 at Montgomery College, but the event was so crowded with budding “Jeopardy!” enthusiasts that he tailgated in the parking lot instead of auditioning.

“I’ve taken the online test probably every year that they’ve had it,” he said.

Tom Walsh

Walsh, a former Finance Committee policy adviser under Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, made his “Jeopardy!” debut in 2004 and hauled in earnings of $184,900 across seven games, then a record high.

“The show celebrates the importance of facts,” Walsh wrote in National Review before the episode aired. “I’m making my move for Alpha Nerd status.”

His record was smashed a few months later by the infamous Ken Jennings, a software engineer who clobbered opponent after opponent in a 74-game winning streak. But Jennings isn’t the show’s all-time biggest money-maker. That would be Brad Rutter, whose earnings over more than a decade top $4.5 million.

Paul Nelson

Walsh may have been the first Grassley aide to compete on “Jeopardy!” but he wasn’t the last.

“Paul Nelson of my staff is on TV ‘jeopardy’ tonite. He is 2nd staffer to do,” Grassley tweeted in 2012.  The legislative correspondent earned more than $54,000 across six episodes and earned a spot in the “Tournament of Champions,” The Gazette reported.

Also watch: A missing budget book, weaning a calf and Boris Yeltsin meets Wes Anderson — Congressional Hits and Misses

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