The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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One for the show

Stephen Weingarten
Stephen Weingarten

Stephen Weingarten '97 has always been a fan of Jeopardy! And these days he has even more reason to love the show.

In December, Stephen became a four-time Jeopardy! winner, walking away with $96,690.

Those winnings enabled him to quit his job and become a full-time stay-at-home dad to his daughter, Iris, born October 2009. He also traded in his 1990 Honda Prelude (not exactly the best for babies) for a Subaru Tribeca (complete with a five-star crash rating) and paid off all debts. It's allowed him to dream about taking the Foreign Service exam or moving his family back to Raleigh from their current home in Portland, Ore.

It's been an amazing experience.

“I can tell anyone that I've been on Jeopardy! and everyone knows what it is,” he said. “I still was a little surprised to win. It's exactly what I wanted to happen. I was confident I could do it. But that moment during Final Jeopardy when I knew I had wagered enough, that was a surprise.”

He has blogged about getting on the show on the Jeopardy! web site.

As for actually being on the show, it goes really fast, Stephen said.

“It's something like 13 seconds per question. All total — the game is over in under 15 minutes.” The button is a big component of the game. “You have to be quick, but not too quick.”

When Alex Trebeck finishes reading a question (or, rather, an answer), someone offstage turns on a series of lights. When the lights go on, you can ring in. If you ring too quickly, the button locks up for a quarter of a second.

Stephen developed his own method. “You have to read the question faster than Alex Trebeck and then decide if you know the answer,” he said. “I found I had more luck on the button if I didn't wait for the lights. I would wait for Alex to stop talking.”

And while the show moved quickly, it did pause for commercial breaks, allowing the make-up artists to come in for touch-ups. “They kept drying off my forehead,” he said.

During breaks, Alex Trebeck banters with the audience. Contestants really don't speak to him off-camera at all. And there's a reason for that.

“He has answers to the questions. He's making sure everything is fair and above board,” Stephen said. “He seems like a down-to-earth, nice guy.”

Keeping things fair even translates to the movies available to contestants in the green room. All have to be approved by the writers, ensuring nothing in those movies will reveal an answer in an upcoming category.

Even after his appearance on the show, Stephen continues to watch every day. And he's become friends with some of the other winners, meeting them during the Tournament of Champions show which aired in May.

“It's kind of an exclusive club we have,” he joked.

After graduating from UNCG, Stephen, a psychology major with a history minor, spent several years living in England, South Korea, Hungary, India and Kyrgyzstan teaching English, history and geography — often without textbooks.

Such extensive travel didn't necessarily help him on the show; but it did give him interesting stories to tell Alex.

Shortly after he finished taping his original stint on Jeopardy!, the winter Olympics began. As Stephen watched one man earn a gold medal, he thought, “I know how he feels.”

“And that feeling hasn't gone away really,” he said. “It's a great source of joy.”

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Last updated: Tuesday, 04 October 2011
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