ESSEX TOWN — Growing up in Georgia, Vt. – and then Essex, watching “Jeopardy!” was a routine for Claire Theoret. Shouting out the answers to the blue question card on the TV screen is something she’s done her whole life.
“One of my earliest memories of watching Jeopardy was watching Ken Jennings,” Theoret told the Messenger.
Seven-year-old Theoret never imagined she’d one day receive advice from Jennings — Jeopardy’s host and longest-running contestant — while she prepared for her turn on one of America’s most famous game shows.
On Jan. 3, Theoret was broadcast into homes around the world as a contestant of Season 39. At “Final Jeopardy,” Theoret was in third place with $11,200. She decided to bet it all and answered the question correctly, but so did her competitors. Theoret walked away with $1,000.
Her journey to the show
Theoret was in college at the University of Vermont earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees when becoming a Jeopardy contestant became an actual goal as opposed to a childhood daydream.
“I thought maybe this would be the only way I could ever repay my student loans,” Theoret said while laughing.
In one of her first jobs after graduation, Theoret and her co-workers would play team building games, including Jeopardy.
“People [would say] ‘Wow, you’re really good at trivia, you should go on Jeopardy,’” she recalled.
So two years before Theoret’s Jeopardy episode aired on television, she completed the first hurdle of becoming a contestant: an online test.
The test scores are not revealed and the examinee has 18 months to hear if they’re moving on to the next stage. If they don’t hear anything, they can take the test again.
Ten months later, Theoret received an invitation to take another test over Zoom.
“[When] that happened, same deal. ‘We might contact you, we might not.’ There’s such an element of randomness; it’s kind of like the lottery. The odds are stacked against you even getting on the show,” Theoret said.
Theoret felt these lottery-like odds when she received an invitation to sign up for the second audition – and missed it.
The email arrived around 1 a.m. EST and by the time Theoret woke up, the first-come first-serve slots were filled.
“In March 2022, I got another invitation for a second audition, and that one I got to in time,” she said.
The mock game audition held over Zoom has potential contestants “buzzing in” with ballpoint pens. This stage is when the Jeopardy team determines who may be good to watch on the show.
In September 2022, Theoret received a text from a Jeopardy producer which led to an invitation for her to be on the episode being shot on Nov. 14. Contrary to popular belief, the shows are not recorded live.
The entire audition and try-out process took two years and a lot of patience, but in November, Theoret was boarding a plane out to Los Angeles.
How she prepared
Due to the random nature of the Jeopardy categories, Theoret’s study plan focused on refreshing, not new learning.
“My whole strategy was basically refresh on the stuff that I'd be horribly embarrassed if I forgot. I know I'm never gonna get some sort of nuclear physics question, but I'm going to be pissed if I mess up 19th century British literature,” Theoret said.
Theoret broke out her old high school and college flashcards, studied the periodic table, read Wikipedia synopsis of every single Shakespeare play and reviewed common topics seen on the show.
“I just tried to study as much as I could and basically read the internet,” Theoret joked.
Her flight was on a Sunday, so Theoret told herself she would stop studying after Friday night. If she didn’t know something by then, she wouldn’t know it, though she did briefly consider studying the Bible on the plane before deciding against it.
Because the episodes are shot ahead of their air times, Theoret had no idea she would be playing against Ray Lalonde, who was on a 13-game winning streak. The backstage atmosphere she and the other contestants felt was “Are we doomed?”
Laladone won the game Theoret played and he went on to lose the next one, coming away with $386,400.
With every single contestant on the show passing an extensive vetting process, the players typically know the answers to all the questions, she said. Winning comes down to split-second decision making, how quickly the buzzer is pressed and whether or not they land on the Daily Double.
“It comes down to a lot of luck, you have to be pretty damn good at trivia just to get on the show at all,” Theoret said.
Looking back on her education, Theoret was very thankful to her experience at Georgia Elementary. Her third and fourth grade teacher Mrs. Lee heavily encouraged Theoret to read.
Each time she finished a book, Lee told to pick up a new one.
Theoret now works as a registrar at Burlington High School and will occasionally ask her students trivia questions when they walk in.