Danny Jacobs faced a tough decision. While having dinner at his then-girlfriend's parents' house about three years ago, they challenged him to a game of DVR Jeopardy.
Jacobs, an Owings Mills native currently living in North Laurel, has spent much of his life learning and retaining assorted trivia, and didn't know whether he should play to win or play nice.
"I was like, 'Do I beat them in Jeopardy? What's the protocol here?' " he recalled, having just begun dating now-wife Michelle at the time and not knowing her family very well. "I started off quietly, and then we played and I just destroyed them."
Fortunately, Jacobs' shellacking of his future in-laws didn't harm the relationship, but instead led them to suggest he try out for the show.
So, Jacobs, who is a legal affairs reporter at The Daily Record newspaper in Baltimore, began the long process of applying to be on "Jeopardy," which starts with an online 50-question quiz, followed by an in-person interview in Baltimore and another quiz. They thanked him and said he was in the pool of contestants for the next year and a half.
That was the last Jacobs heard from "Jeopardy" — until this past fall.
"I got a call at the end of September saying 'Congratulations, you're going to be on,' " he said. "Then I started cramming."
But studying for a trivia game show like "Jeopardy" isn't as easy as reading the volumes of an encyclopedia cover to cover. There are strategies for different rounds and hints hidden in the clues to help you figure them out, even if you don't know the trivia, Jacobs said.
"I started paying more attention to the betting patterns," he said. "Trying to not so much learn new facts, but play the game and see what facts they would ask and try to, you know, make connections in my mind."
And, of course, he watched a lot of "Jeopardy" on TV, recording episodes nightly and using the remote control to simulate the buzzer. Then it was time to go to California for the taping.
Jacobs made the trip in November with his mom, in-laws and sister-in-law, and while "Jeopardy" doesn't pay for contestants' flights or hotel stays, they did get a hotel discount.
They showed up for the taping at 8 a.m. and spent the morning getting comfortable on set, practicing answering questions and hitting the buzzer.
"Then it was show time," he said.
"Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek comes out right before the taping, Jacobs said, and five shows are taped in one day. In between, Trebek leaves the set and changes suits before returning for the next taping. Each taping lasts about 30 minutes, and during the "commercial breaks," Trebek will talk to and take questions from audience members.
Jacobs' appearance on the show will air Wednesday, Jan. 15. Before the show is broadcast, he can't reveal how he did or how much money he did or did not win; he only said that he felt good about his performance and had no regrets. Now he's just looking forward to the many messages from friends and family he'll receive the night it airs.
"I'm expecting a lot of text and Facebook love. People have been really excited about this," he said.
"Having been on, I see how hard it was just to get on. I can say I didn't fall on my face. … I think people will be impressed with what they see no matter what happens."