Sean Hansen, an assistant professor in Management Information Systems, recalls his experience finding a way to pull off his last-minute, come-from-behind victory during the December taping of his episode of “Jeopardy!”
“My thinking was ‘The game’s almost over, I might as well go for it. I didn’t come here just to lose. And I won by one dollar.”
It was Hansen’s third attempt to get on the legendary game show that resulted in the Cleveland native making a two-game run on “America’s Favorite Quiz Show” Wednesday, April 11.
The dream goes back to watching the show with his grandmother as a child. “At 7:30 every night she’d yell upstairs and say ‘Come on down,’” he recalls. “I already had head full of useless information at that point in my life, so I got enough of the questions right that she enjoyed watching it with me.”
At the age of 16, Hansen auditioned for “Jeopardy! Teen Tournament” back when auditions were held face-to-face, but didn’t make it to the next stage. “I blame the opera question,” he joked. “I didn’t know anything about opera at the time.”
Five years ago, Hansen took the newer, online version of the test and passed, making it to live auditions. These featured a written test, then a practice game and interviews. After that, contestants are told that they are “in the hopper,” meaning they could be called any time within the next 18 months. But the call never came.
Finally, another stab at the online test last year landed Hansen a spot on the show. He wasn’t allowed to tell anyone besides his wife and his kids, and in December he flew out to Culver City, Calif. to tape the show. He didn’t do any studying to prepare for the show — unlike a number of his competitors. “I figure either I know it or I don’t,” he explained.
Once on the show, it took a while to get used to the spotlight. “I was a nervous wreck. It was a great experience. I had a good time, but I was very nervous,” he said. “Which is funny to me, because I get up and talk in front of people four times a week at least.” Initially, his hands were shaking so bad that he had to hold the clicker with both hands, but as the game went along, he grew more comfortable, winning his first game.
After the first win, he came up just short during the “Final Jeopardy!” question on his promising second show, tripped up by a question on Shakespeare. “When [the category] first came up I remember thinking ‘I’m going to have 58 grand in five minutes’,” Hansen recalls. But then he drew a blank on a question about which of Shakespeare’s plays had a word repeated in the title (“All’s Well That Ends Well”). “I probably didn’t deserve win the first game, and I did deserve to win the second,” says Hansen. “But without the first game there is no second, so you have to look at it as a wash.”
Before the show aired on April 11, he actually lied to the rest of his family, telling them he lost the first day. “My rationale for telling them that I lost was that it would make it more fun for them, and it was,” Hansen explained. And considering that he was behind the whole game it wasn’t a stretch. “So when I did win, my phone was ringing off the hook. They were happy for me, but they were like ‘I can’t believe you lied to us,’” he said with a smile. “And then after I lost the second day, it was like somebody had died. But I’ll take my one win and be happy about it.”
The family appreciation that Hansen tracks back to watching the show with his grandmother seems to have blossomed into a full-on family tradition. His cousins have auditioned, and his nine-year-old daughter can’t wait until she’s old enough to try. His son has already made it past the online test to the auditions for the kids’ version of the show. Though he didn’t get the call back, he hasn’t given up. “I’m sure he’ll keep plugging away,” said Hansen.