By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend
Answer: This 2008 Penn State Behrend alumnus appeared on Jeopardy a decade after earning dual degrees in Physics and Mathematics.
Question: Who is Jeffrey Machusko?
Though he didn’t win, Manchusko walked away with $1,000 and lifelong memories of a dream come true.
Manchusko grew up near Pittsburgh watching Jeopardy, the classic answer-and-question quiz show, with his family.
“I used to keep track on my fingers of how many I could get right,” he said. “I considered it a good night when I made it to my toes. When my wife and I started dating, we learned early on that we were both big Jeopardy fans. Watching the show was a great cheap date for us broke college students.”
Fortunately, Machusko, 33, a data engineer for a tech consulting firm in Colorado, is no longer broke, but he and his wife still enjoy the nightly quiz show. Last year, he had the opportunity to appear on the show and meet show host Alex Trebek.
We caught up with Machusko to ask him a few questions about his experience:
When did you appear on the show?
I filmed on November 1, 2017, and the episode aired January 25, 2018. It was a crazy time in my life. In the span of a week, I got married, went to Mexico for our honeymoon and flew from the honeymoon directly to LA to film.
How did you end up on the show?
There is an online pre-screening where participants face fifty rapid-fire clues. If you pass through that screening, you can sign up to be on the show. People who do very well on the screening are invited to live auditions that are held across the country. The auditions feature another round of testing, then there is some live play where you get to use the buzzers from the show.
How did you do?
Not well! All three of us did poorly. It was an unusually difficult game. I did get a True Daily Double though, so it wasn’t a total loss.
Did anything surprise you about the experience?
I was caught off guard by how warm and friendly everyone who works there was. It eased everyone’s jitters about being on TV. I expected a show that’s been running for more than thirty years to be a bit of a cold, business-as-usual experience. I enjoyed spending the day with the show employees and the other contestants.
Did any questions stump you?
Unfortunately, too many! I was never much of a fiction reader, and there were a lot of literature clues as well as other things I just don’t know much about, like trains and Will Rogers.
What makes a good Jeopardy player?
I think the best thing you can possess is a skin-deep knowledge of a broad variety of topics. It also helps to be very fast on the buzzer. And, one thing I think has been overlooked until James Holtzhauer’s recent 32-game-winning streak is a willingness to take risks.
Are you just naturally curious about a variety of things?
Almost to a fault. I tend to get distracted easily. My dad always had documentaries on when I was a child, and I think it helped foster my curiosity about the world.
What advice do you have for others who want to be on Jeopardy?
Just go for it! I had to audition three times over ten years to get on the show. The first time I auditioned, I was a student at Behrend and I tried out for the college tournament. In general, I’d suggest those who want to be contestants watch the show and try to understand the game. There’s a lot more to winning than just knowing the questions.
Were you involved in any clubs, sports, or activities while you were at Behrend?
My peers and I revived the Physics Club and put together a few events and a trip to Fermilab in Chicago. I was also one of the founding members of the Rugby Club and its first president.
What is one of your fondest memories of Behrend?
Playing rugby. It was a huge part of helping me find confidence outside of the classroom. I also really enjoyed the astronomy nights. Seeing Saturn through the campus observatory was breathtaking. Overall, being in an environment where I was able to grow and learn was so important and it set me up for success in my career.
Jeffrey Machusko and his wife Rebecca at Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park.