A trivia master known to friends and family, Peninsula High School teacher Jonathan Bill realized his dream of more than 20 years with an appearance on “Jeopardy!”
The show aired on Dec. 19 and though Bill did not win the show — losing to Cindy Stowell, who died earlier this month from colon cancer before the show aired — he did manage to make the most of the experience.
“I can’t lie, there was disappointment there. But stepping back and looking at it, it was an incredible experience,” Bill said. “It was a pretty unforgettable experience.”
Bill has been working to get on the trivia show for more than 20 years at the encouragement of his family and friends, taking the online qualifying test once a year.
Never miss a local story.
“I’m so good at trivia in general that my family has been telling me for 25 years to get on the show,” Bill explained. “My family and friends won’t play Trivial Pursuit with me because I always win.”
Early in 2016, Bill received an email invitation to a February audition, which consisted of a paper test and a mock run-through of the game, along with a camera test.
I’m so good at trivia in general that my family has been telling me for 25 years to get on the show. My family and friends won’t play Trivial Pursuit with me because I always win.
Jonathan Bill, Peninsula High School History teacher
“I knew approximately what my score was because I was keeping track,” Bill said. “I think I was scoring a little bit higher on the in-person (test) than online.”
Following the audition, Bill was told his wait could be up to 18 months before he received any sort of call back about the show.
“You just sit around and try and forget about it and wait for them to call,” he said.
But Bill did get the call and flew down with his family to film the show in Los Angeles on Sept. 13, merging a family vacation with his “Jeopardy!” experience.
Though he spent time studying before the show, Bill was tripped up by a couple of pop culture questions and one aspect of the show that he could not have prepared for: the contestants’ signaling device.
“I thought I was prepared because I’ve been a fan of the show for decades,” Bill said. “What I did not anticipate and what I did not prepare for is how significant the signaling device is.”
At the end of each question, contestants rush to be the first to hit their signal button to answer the question, with only a few seconds between the end of the question and another contestant being a bit quicker.
“It went so fast. You dream about something for 25 years and in 25 minutes it was over,” Bill said of his loss. “I just walked out of there thinking ‘I can’t believe this, I lost.’”
Missing the grand prize, Bill walked away with $2,000, which helped cover expenses down to the show and his family’s vacation.
Bill has been a Peninsula School District teacher for 25 years and currently teaches History at Peninsula High School.
News of his Dec. 19 appearance on “Jeopardy!” spread quickly and Bill was quickly bombarded with well-wishers and those curious to hear about the show.
“I tried to go Christmas shopping and I got stopped every other aisle by people who wanted to hear the story. It’s way more notoriety than I expected,” Bill said with a laugh. “It was pretty entertaining, it was pretty funny.”
Overall it was a great experience. It really was what you would hope what the experience would be like if you’re invited to be on a studio show... It was my retirement plan, but I guess now I’ll have to do (that) the conventional way.
Because contestants are asked to keep the outcomes of the show quiet, Bill had only told family and close friends about the results prior to the airing of the episode.
Though his “Jeopardy!” dream has been achieved — though without the winning payout — Bill is looking for his next trivia achievement, this time on a show without a signaling device, such as “Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader?” which Bill has seen being taped and likes the shows format.
“Overall, it was a great experience,” Bill said of his “Jeopardy!” taping. “It really was what you would hope what the experience would be like if you’re invited to be on a studio show... It was my retirement plan, but I guess now I’ll have to do (that) the conventional way.”