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Contestant from Laurel settles for second on 'Jeopardy'

By Jon Sham, jsham@tribune.com

4:17 PM EST, January 16, 2014

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After months of waiting, Danny Jacobs could finally share a big secret with his friends on Wednesday night after his appearance on "Jeopardy" was broadcast: He didn't win, but he did place second.

Jacobs said Thursday that he has no regrets about his performance on the trivia game show.

"I played the way I wanted to play," Jacobs said. "I did everything I could."

Jacobs was significantly behind the previous night's winner, contestant Sarah McNitt, but in the second round it looked like he might make a comeback.

And then came Final Jeopardy.

The contestants were given the clue:

This non-Brit said in 1532, "I advised (Henry VIII) that it would be better for him to take a concubine than to ruin his people."

Jacobs said he didn't really have a good guess on it, and even game host Alex Trebek told them later that it was a very difficult question. Jacobs put down the biggest bet of the three contestants, wagering $11,000 on his guess: the Pope.

"If I was going to lose," he said, "I was going to go down swinging."

All three contestants, in fact, guessed it was a pope or the Pope, and all three got it wrong. The correct answer was Martin Luther.

Jacobs' second-place finish sent him home with $2,000. McNitt finished in first, and took home more than $6,000, in addition to her previous night's winnings, and Baltimore native Emily Goodlander came in third, taking home $1,000.

Jacobs said he was at least glad it wasn't a question having to do with the Ravens (his favorite football team), or something he might have figured out later.

Taking the challenge

Jacobs, an Owings Mills native currently living in North Laurel, has spent much of his life learning and retaining assorted trivia.

When his then-girlfriend's parents' challenged him to a game of DVR Jeopardy after dinner one night about three years ago, Jacobs said he didn't know whether he should play to win or play nice.

"I started off quietly, and then we played and I just destroyed them," Jacobs said.

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 mother 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 Jacobs 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.

Seeing is 'surreal'

Jacobs, who watched the show Wednesday night with some friends and family members, described seeing himself on TV as "surreal."

Several of his co-workers gathered to watch at Mick O'Shea's pub on North Charles Street in Baltimore, where they yelled at the TV, laughed at a few of Jacobs' mannerisms they noticed on screen and applauded when the game was over.

Jacobs said he received around 100 text messages and Facebook posts from friends before the night was done. Several of them were impressed with his answer of a moon phase question — a waxing gibbous.

Jacobs said he would encourage anyone who is interested to try out, even if they don't make it all the way to California and Trebek.

"I was a little disappointed, but then I just thought about the experience," he said. "Whatever I win is gravy. I just wanted to have fun."