Sean Sullivan’s ‘Jeopardy!’ Adventure

By on January 16, 2018
sean sullivan jeopardy

Sean Sullivan, right, with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek.

Remember what your mother told you about “if it first you don’t succeed, try, try again”? It’s doubly true if you want to be a contestant on “Jeopardy!“.

Verona resident Sean Sullivan took the TV game show’s online qualifying test four times over the last 10 years. Five years ago, he got a call for an audition, but nothing ever came of it. He got in for an audition again two years ago, and nothing came of that–until he got a call in September 2017 telling him he had to be in Los Angeles the following month to tape a show.

After waiting that long for a chance at quiz-show fame, Sullivan, an attorney by background who is now a financial advisor, got his ticket and headed west. (The plane fare is on you, prospective contestants, though your winnings should cover the tab.)

On the morning of the taping, “Jeopardy!” reps picked up Sullivan and the other contestants and took them over to the Sony Pictures studio in Culver City. Production assistants quizzed Sullivan about the questions that host Alex Trebek might ask about his background and, yes, he did get to practice a bit with the button you need to click if you’ve got the question to a “Jeopardy” answer.

“Jeopardy!” tapes five shows in a day of shooting, and when the production team pulled out the first two names to go up against the reigning champion, Sullivan’s wasn’t among them. Nor was it in the second pull. So he sat in the audience and waited until after lunch, when it finally was.

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Sullivan says that, as a kid, he would come home to watch “Jeopardy!” daytime version and continued to watch it regularly over the years. All those years of “Jeopardy!” fan-dom finally paid off, putting him up $5,000 at the end of the game’s first round, well ahead of the other contestants. He piled up the winnings in the Double Jeopardy round, and a $3,000 bet on a Daily Double helped push his winnings to $18,000 before the Final Jeopardy answer was revealed. He got that wrong, but no matter: Sullivan won the show with $15,000. (The show was aired on Thursday, January 4.)

There was a bit of drama during the taping, Sullivan says, when the production team had to have a discussion about one of the answers. “It was a little like being in court,” he adds. But Sullivan kept his cool. “They only time I got nervous during the show was going into Final Jeopardy,” he says. “I knew if I didn’t wager wrong I would win it.”

But Sullivan didn’t get much time to enjoy that victory. After the first taping ended, Sullivan was hustled to the dressing room to change his shirt so it would look as if the next show was taking place on a different day. He went back out on set to face two new challengers. Sullivan didn’t fare as well that time: Although he again led going into Final Jeopardy, he guessed wrong on an answer about the world’s top comic book publisher.

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“I’ve had a lot of people tell me they expected me to do better in certain categories,” says Sullivan, who watched the show with his family in Verona when it finally aired. “When I looked at the categories I didn’t say ‘that’s the one for me’. I tended to go with what we were in.”

“It was a lot of fun,” he adds. “I think there were parts where I did well and parts where I didn’t do well. The staff was telling us that there’s a lot of luck involved, and there was. I feel like I did a good job and I would do it the same way again.”

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