Jeopardy winner moves to ME
John Mahoney, graduate of Roger Williams University and a new member of the Brunswick community, is a five-time Jeopardy winner. His Jeopardy days were during the early 90s where his first episode aired on Christmas night in 1992 and his appearances continued into the following year. He is currently working as a legal assistant but is starting a test prep company in downtown Brunswick called Brunswick TestPrep.
Q: What drove you to be on the show?
A: Sagging earnings. I made a very good earning as an actor in the 80s, but by the early 90s things had changed in the business and I wasn't given much work. Plus I had just become a father so I was looking for money. And there must be 15 million people in the world whose relatives always say "you must be on Jeopardy" and I was one of them. And I actually thought, "Why not give it a shot?"
Q: What was the process to get on show?
A: To qualify to get on, first we had to pass a 10 question test that consists of intellectual trivia. Then they called us back three weeks later for the test that is crazy-it is 50 questions of what they considered to be the toughest and you had to get about 35 right. After that they let everyone go who didn't pass. Those of us who were left were asked to come up and play a mock game with service bells and part of this was about how you would react under negative pressure. After that they let a few more people go. Then the rest of us had to each stand up and say what we would do if we won a hundred thousand dollars.
Q: After you have gone through the process is it still difficult to get on the show?
A: Well, 100,000 people tried out, 2,400 passed all the tests, but they only take 400, so the odds are still five to one against.
Q: What preparation did you take?
A: There is a book called Secrets of the Jeopardy Champion by Chuck Forest, which is about a lot of the subject matter that comes up over and over again. In addition to that I studied the Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant, which is about 9,000 pages and it takes you from pre-history up until about 1830-and if you watch the show you find out that where the book ends is where I run out of gas. I put at least three hours a day into it for a year. With a historical atlas on one side and a dictionary in the other I didn't go beyond any word or place I didn't know.
Also, I became a total expert on presidents and I have always been really good at geography and I did a little bit on mythology since I am really weak on that. The most important thing though is that it isn't about just knowing stuff, it is being able to access what you know very very quickly.
Q: What was your toughest question?
A: It was the one that got me in the tournament. The category was modern literature and it said "His autobiography was the best selling hard-cover book in the 1980s." The answer was Lee Iacocca.
Q: How much money did you win overall?
A: About $38,000 and although that isn't a lot today it certainly made a big difference as far as my life was concerned.
Q: What is Alex Trebek like?
A: Usually people who watch Jeopardy less than religiously feel that Alex is a really good guy, but people who watch it religiously feel that he is cynical and dark. I was sort of in the cynical and dark feeling when I got there. However, we had two really nice conversations. His son had just been born the same time as my son and we talked about being new dads and it was just really nice. I think Alex is probably a really good guy who just puts up a reserve because of the totally transient nature of people coming and going on the show.
Q: Will you appear again?
A: No they won't have us back. I think they probably know there are enough people in this world who want to be on the show that they don't want to take up slots for people who have already been.
Q: Other than the money, did your Jeopardy fame help you in any way?
A: It got me a job. When I came back to New York I saw an ad in the paper that said, "Do you think you could sell people on preparing for a test?" I called up and said, "I have just prepared for a test for a year," and they were like, "What test was that?" I said, "The Jeopardy tournament," and they were like, "Come on in." So, I became the number one salesman in the Manhattan office for Stanley Kaplan. I later I became a teacher of their test prep and eventually trained others to be teachers.