Rebecca Wald has struggled to keep quiet about her winning ways on "Jeopardy!" For three months, she has avoided telling most of her friends and family about the outcome of her appearance from taping the popular trivia show in December in Culver City, California.
"My husband was the only person who was in on it," she said. "I think I would have exploded if I couldn't tell someone. They are very strict about what you can divulge to the press or on social media. They told us you can tell anyone who can keep their mouth shut. My children are terrible liars; they would not have made it three months."
Wald, a 43-year-old private practice psychologist who lives in Mount Washington, has won $43,200 so far as a two-day "Jeopardy!" champion. She'll appear on the show at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Wald watched her first appearance on the show Friday night with close to 30 friends at the Baltimore Home School Community Center, where she is a member because she home schools her children.
"It seems that most [friends] who watched were convinced I hadn't won," she said. "I'm a really good liar. I had a good poker face. Everyone in my family — including my children — thought I had lost."
Wald moved to Baltimore in 2000 to complete an internship at University of Maryland Medical School. A native of Elmira, New York, she attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and later earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Iowa. She has two children, ages 11 and 8, with her husband, Michael Nutt.
Wald's appearance on "Jeopardy!" is more than a year in the making. Although she taped her segment in December, she started last January with an online qualifying test. She participated in an in-person audition in April in Washington, D.C. She also completed a written qualifying test before being told on Election Day in November that she was selected for the show.
"It was the only good thing that happened on Election Day," she said.
Wald, who is humble about the experience, chocks up much of her success to chance.
"So much comes down to luck and being fast on the buzzer. Being smart is one step. And it's not enough," she said. "I'm not smarter than them. It's a combination of luck and speed."
Wald has fond memories of her show experience, which included a number of interesting revelations.
First, multiple shows are filmed in a row on the same day, according to Wald.
'They tape all the episodes for a week in a day," she said. "Even if you continue to win, you won't be there for more than a couple days."
Contestants pay their own way to the show, she said.
The only interaction Wald had with host Alex Trebek was on camera.
"He has absolutely no contact with contestants other than what you see on the show. He didn't come within 15 feet of us," she said. "During the commercial breaks he talks with the audience. He seems totally personable, humble and funny. But contestants do not get a chance to see what Alex Trebek is really like."
Contestants stand on adjustable platforms so that they all appear to be the same height on camera.
And contestants are actually friendly.
"I thought it might be tense and competitive backstage. Instead it was a get-together of friends who had never met," she said. "It's funny. At the end of the games, people would be turning to each other saying, 'You were great.'"
Since the win, Wald has made one big purchase — a hot tub.
"That was one of these things that I would never spend real money on," she said. "To have this windfall, it seems like something that I should do."
Wald said she has plans for travel and other purchases. But those will have to wait — for one small detail.
"I haven't gotten the check yet," she said with a laugh. "And a big chunk of it will go to pay taxes."
Wald has also had to manage some of the realities that come along with her newfound fame.
Some commenters online have been unkind to her — picking apart her answers and ridiculing any incorrect answer she's made on the show. Her appearance on the show also gained her access to a secret Facebook page of former Jeopardy! contestants, which has provided a support system of sorts.
"You get a lot of support there," she said. "All the former contestants are like: 'People are terrible, but you're the one that won.'"