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Duke City teacher to compete on ‘Jeopardy!’

Jason Zuffranieri, an ABQ math teacher, with host Alex Trebek, will be on "Jeopardy!" Friday. (Courtesy of Jason Zuffranieri)

Jason Zuffranieri, an ABQ math teacher, with host Alex Trebek, will be on “Jeopardy!” on Friday. (Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

In some ways, Jason Zuffranieri has been training to be on “Jeopardy!” his whole life.

bright spotIf he were to have his own Rocky Balboa-esque montage, there would be scenes of him walking away from pub quizzes victoriously, acing trivia questions in the College Bowl – a collegiate-level knowledge competition – and even watching the game show from his living room, revealing the correct response before the contestant does.

He’s the kind of guy who’s often told that he’d do great on “Jeopardy!”

This year – on the ninth attempt – Zuffranieri got the chance to find out.

The Albuquerque Academy math teacher, and coach of the school’s math, science and trivia teams is one of the competitors in the episode that airs locally on Friday at 6 p.m. on KRQE-TV.

He’s had nine in-person attempts at getting on the show that started as far back as high school in the 1990s.

“It’s something I really wanted,” he said.

Zuffranieri hopes that his perseverance can be a lesson to his students.

“I stuck with it for literally decades,” he said.

The Academy teacher of six years and Albuquerque resident since 2002 said the first step in getting on the show is passing the online exam that is offered once or twice a year, which he estimates he has taken annually since about 2004.

Then, there’s an in-person audition that consists of another test and a mock version of the game.

He’s had six of these in his adulthood, one in-person attempt in high school and two more in college.

“It took me eight failed attempts before the ninth succeeded,” he said.

While five of the in-person sessions were in Los Angeles, his latest tryout was in his hometown city of Phoenix, which he thinks may have brought him good luck.

After all, that was the successful attempt.

He remembers getting the call from the “Jeopardy!” coordinator in March, having originally let the unknown number go to voicemail.

Zuffranieri said he knew he was in shock because his nerves stayed calm on the call.

“I was still in shock, even talking with her on the phone,” he said. “It almost didn’t feel real because I wasn’t that nervous.”

It’s a call that saved him from attempt No. 10 as Zuffranieri was about to sign up for another go at the online test.

“You’re in the pool for about two years after you try out. I was at the end of that tryout period,” he recalled.

With his slot on the show secured, Zuffranieri said he had about three weeks to prep for the big moment, turning to archived “Jeopardy!” questions online as practice.

It also helped that he has watched the show since the 1980s.

“I watch the show more or less religiously,” he said.

This gave him a familiarity with the type of questions.

“Just for having watched it, you know what they’re going to ask,” he said.

In April, Zuffranieri flew to Sony Pictures Studios in California for the filming of the show.

While he has to stay tight-lipped about the results, he said each question was its own thrill.

But he didn’t employ a specific strategy.

“We get there and we cross our fingers, and hope for the best,” he said.

And, of course, he got to meet the famous Alex Trebek, host of the show since 1984.

“Meeting him, that was amazing,” he told the Journal.

“That was a dream,” he added.

Zuffranieri will be watching Friday night with his friends and loved ones at a watch party at Spectators Sports Bar and Grill.

He’ll see his years of interest in both trivia and the show itself pinnacle on the television screen.


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