Matt Napolitano, of Franklin Square has been a fan of “Jeopardy!” since he was only 4, and has been taking the online test to be a contestant on the show for the past 15 years — applying for the Kids Week, high school and college tournaments. Now, at age 29, his dream has finally come true.
Napolitano received a call to audition for the show after he took the online test in July 2018, and was asked to meet casting directors in New York City that September. There they assessed his energy level, and had him play a simulated game against other potential contestants. When it was all over, Napolitano recounted, he was told he would remain in the contestant pool for 18 months.
That time was running out, and Napolitano said he “had shut that door” in February, when one of the casting directors called him to say he should book a flight to Los Angeles for a March 11 taping. The show would not pay for the flight, but, Napolitano said, “I would’ve paid anything to be on the show,” which appears weeknights on ABC.
To prepare, Napolitano reviewed some of his weaker subject areas — including math, science and European history — and read over some “Jeopardy!” flash cards he had been given a few years before. He crammed on the plane to L.A., at the hotel the night before the taping, and right before it.
“I tried to bone up wherever I could,” he said, adding of the game, “It’s trickier than it looks.”
When he arrived on the lot at Sony Pictures Studios on March 11, he said, it seemed surreal. The coronavirus had already begun spreading rapidly across the country, and the studio put social distancing measures in place and limited the audience. And when host Alex Trebek walked out onto the stage, Napolitano said, “You forget everything.”
Still, he managed to get a dozen questions right in the episode that aired on June 12. In one instance, the judges ruled against him for his question, “What is a barometric chamber?” in response to the answer, “A decompression chamber can also be called this kind of chamber,” and deducted the $1,200 the question was worth from his winnings. His opponent Kelly Lake asked correctly, “What is a hyperbaric chamber?” — but after further review, the judges decided to accept Napolitano’s response, and gave him an additional $1,200 for the final round.
He even managed to get the Final Jeopardy question, “Who is Toni Morrison?” correct, in response to the answer, “On this woman’s passing in 2019, Oprah Winfrey called her ‘a magician with language who understood the power of words.’” Unfortunately, Napolitano did not wager enough money, and ended the game in third place, walking away with just $1,000.
Rewatching the experience, he said, was interesting. “I don’t even remember getting some of these questions correct,” he said, noting that when he was on stage, he was too caught up in the moment to really take it all in.
But now, he said, “I hope I did the hometown proud, ’cause it wasn’t easy up there.”