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Dream Come True

Warren native to appear on Jeopardy!

Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc. Guest Host Mayim Bialik and Katie Sekelsky on the stage of Jeopardy!

This… is… the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

In 2004, Katie Sekelsky, then with the Warren Area High School marching band, announced a goal to some day be on Jeopardy!

After 17 years, that day is Friday. Sekelsky, now living in Kent, Ohio, will be on the episode that airs locally at 7:30 p.m.

Sekelsky’s interest in Jeopardy goes back farther than her senior year in high school. “Jeopardy has been my favorite television show as long as I can remember,” she said. “I’ve been watching it my whole life. I wanted to be on it.”

That goal was somewhat more achievable than it would have been with a different show.

“There are not too many television shows that you can have as your favorite show and hope to be on some day without going into acting,” she said.

Acting was not required. Knowledge was. She spent her time studying and practicing.

“In pre-pandemic times I went to bar trivia every week,” Sekelsky said.

It’s something of a family tradition.

She has a strong teammate.

“My husband’s probably better at trivia than I am,” she admitted.

Asked when he might appear on Jeopardy, she said, “He has described being on a game show as his worst nightmare.”

There is another generation in play, too.

“My parents are the reason that I’ve watched Jeopardy since I was so young,” she said. “They are also regulars at bar trivia.”

Tom and Shari Sekelsky have participated in the Warren Public Library’s Trivia Nights “and they have won,” she said.

In Katie’s case, trivia is an outlet.

“I’ve always had a good memory for facts,” she said. “I’ve also always had a competitive spirit.”

“I’m no athlete,” she said. “That rush of adrenaline that others might get from participating in a sport I get from being able to correctly recall information.”

She practiced, went to trivia events where she could find them, and she watched religiously and took notes from the show.

There was more.

Each contestant is asked interview questions.

For years, Sekelsky has been writing down anecdotes from her days.

“I had a Google Doc. If something funny happened, I put it in there, so that I could mention it on Jeopardy,” she said. “I was training like I expected to make the Major Leagues.”

With knowledge and personal stories in hand, Sekelsky was ready for the call.

It was a longtime coming. She has been “applying” to be on Jeopardy since 2006.

“There is an online test,” she said. “You can take it whenever you want … once a year.”

“I have taken that test every year,” she said.

There is no evaluation … no pass/fail notice.

“I’m sure in the early years I was not passing it,” she said. “They don’t tell you.”

But, her performance improved with practice.

And, in 2019, she received confirmation of her success.

“If you get that magical number right, then you get entered into a pool for an in-person audition,” Sekelsky said. “I got my first call for an in-person audition in July 2019.”

There is a written test, much like the online test, she said. On-site, personnel can make sure the applicants are doing their own work. Those that can demonstrate that they have the knowledge and didn’t get to that stage by consulting outside sources move on.

“Then they do a mock game,” Sekelsky said. “Groups of three people play a fake game of Jeopardy.”

It’s not just about the answers.

“They check your personality for the camera, make sure you’re not too nervous,” she said. “I felt pretty good about the audition.”

There are still no guarantees.

“After the in-person audition, they tell you that you’re now considered to be in the potential contestant pool for a year and a half,” Sekelsky said.

If Jeopardy doesn’t call, the process starts again.

They called Sekelsky in March of 2020.

“It was amazing,” she said. “I remember everything about the moment. I was on my cell phone walking my dog.”

“Oh, my gosh,” she said. “It’s been my major goal in life for so long.”

From that high point, there was a quick drop.

March of 2020 was not a good time to travel or gather in public.

“That was about two weeks before everything shut down,” Sekelsky said. “It took a while for my date to be rescheduled.”

It was another year before she was on set for the taping.

She spent that time well.

“With a year advance notice and being home all the time” she got a lot of practice in.

She had a flash card app on her phone.

“I loaded that with things that come up on Jeopardy a lot — world capitals, books and authors, movie directors,” Sekelsky said.

When she was standing in line or in a waiting room or something, she practiced with that.

“That’s the kind (of preparation) that people expect,” she said.

Then there were the “nerdy preparations.” Sekelsky also spent time studying wager strategy as it pertains to the show.

In the last round of Jeopardy, the contestants may bet any amount up to their current total points on the Final Jeopardy question.

Sekelsky practiced on a website that provides three scores — dollar amounts. “It tells you what the ideal bet would be,” she said.

Still training for the Major Leagues, Sekelsky took one more step.

“It’s the dorkiest thing in the world,” she said. But she knew she had to be as prepared as possible.

“I’ve been to a lot of trivia conventions and on a lot of trivia websites,” she said. “Everyone talks about how you have to figure out the rhythm of the buzzer.”

“I purchased a buzzer that I could plug into my computer,” she said.

Sekelsky didn’t have a specific amount of time for the flash cards. “Five or 10 minutes a day, some days more,” she said. “I had more of a regiment for the buzzer – at least once a week I would spend at least half an hour practicing.”

She dedicated about the same amount to wagering practice.

And, of course, her practice involved “watching Jeopardy.”

Finally at the studio in March, she found out the guest host would be Mayim Bialik of “Call me Kat” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

There were COVID restrictions in place.

“We had to have our hair ready,” she said. “We were supposed to come with make-up on.”

There was a “make-up advisor” on set to let contestants know if they were too shiny, she said. But there was no one helping anyone do touch-up work.

All contestants for the day had to be there at 7 a.m.

Sekelsky’s taping started late in the day. Distancing requirements meant the waiting contestants couldn’t pack into a behind-the-scenes room.

“We used the set of Wheel of Fortune which is next door,” Sekelsky said. “Wheel of Fortune was not taping at the same time, so we didn’t get to meet Pat (Sajak) and Vanna (White).”

Sekelsky did not share any of her experiences from the moment she went on the Jeopardy set to compete. There are strict secrecy policies. “My parents don’t even know,” she said.

Those who want to find out may tune in at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 11.

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