Delivery alert

There may be an issue with the delivery of your newspaper. This alert will expire at NaN. Click here for more info.

Recover password

Unquestionably a champion

Jason Zuffranieri, an Albuquerque Academy math teacher, won more than $500,000 on "Jeopardy!" (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Jason Zuffranieri, an Albuquerque Academy math teacher, won more than $500,000 on “Jeopardy!” (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Answer: The number of games won by Jason Zuffranieri on “Jeopardy!”

Question: What is 19?

The 43-year-old Albuquerque Academy teacher captured the nation’s attention when he spent nearly four weeks correctly answering questions on the hit game show. Though his win streak ended on Sept. 26, Zuffranieri is tied for fourth place on the all-time “Jeopardy!” consecutive games list.

Not to mention that he hauled off $532,496 in prize money, ranking him at No. 3 for all-time regular season cash winnings.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said in an interview from his classroom at Albuquerque Academy. “We have a new house, and I’m getting married. I missed a whole week of school and am still catching up. Through it all, it’s a fun feeling.”

Zuffranieri is a math instructor at Academy, where he teaches calculus and trigonometry.

“I also coach some middle school science and math teams,” he added.

Albuquerque's Jason Zuffranieri, with "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, won 19 games during his nearly four-week run. (Courtesy of Jason Zuffranieri)

Albuquerque’s Jason Zuffranieri, with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, won 19 games during his nearly four-week run. (Courtesy of Jason Zuffranieri)

Being on the famous game show seemed like a pipe dream for Zuffranieri, because he auditioned for the show eight times before making it on his ninth attempt.

“To finally get a chance on that stage was a dream come true, and the level of good fortune I received is truly beyond anything I ever considered could happen,” he said.

Zuffranieri moved to Albuquerque from Phoenix in 2002 to work at Sandia National Laboratories.

By 2009, he was a teacher. He said he enjoys teaching.

“I always wanted to be on the teachers tournament,” he said. “Once I made it onto the show, I began to get nervous.”

The nerves didn’t settle until his fifth win.

“I would have to say the time passes by quickly,” he said. “During my fifth show, I had a tight match and I thought I was going to lose. The other contestants were overconfident with their wagers, and I won. I felt like I should have lost, but I had more to give.”

The first set of filming took place in late March and early April.

The show not only challenged Zuffranieri with his knowledge, but his ability to keep a secret, because contestants are forbidden to talk about results until after the airing.

“I let a few things slip out about the show,” he said. “I wouldn’t tell anybody I was taping. I made up an excuse that I was flying out to California to see my fiancee. It felt a little like ‘Breaking Bad,’ as I had to keep my two worlds straight. I had to remember when talking with people about what had already happened.”

Zuffranieri also had to bow out of taking his middle school students to a trivia tournament in April.

And he couldn’t tell anyone where he was going.

“It was for good reason, and they had to trust me,” he recalled telling his colleagues. “It seemed funny that I had to cancel a trivia tournament to go on ‘Jeopardy!’ ”

Albuquerque Academy teacher Jason Zuffranieri spent nearly four weeks correctly answering questions on "Jeopardy!" and earned $532,496.

Albuquerque Academy teacher Jason Zuffranieri spent nearly four weeks correctly answering questions on “Jeopardy!” and earned $532,496.

In between filming, Zuffranieri, who has been a trivia player for 30 years, kept learning and challenging himself.

He wasn’t too adept in opera, art, Academy Awards or geography, so he found online resources to help him.

“The archive of questions from previous ‘Jeopardy!’ shows were helpful,” he said. “I’d also do online quizzes on the subjects I wasn’t too versed on.”

It’s been nearly a month since his “Jeopardy!” run made national news.

“Good Morning America” came calling, and he did an interview from his office at school.

“I’ve heard it’s a good interview,” he said. “I haven’t built up the nerve to watch it.”

He’s also sold his old home and purchased a new one, which he called a “large reboot of the home life.”

He plans to invest some of the money and, of course, splurge on one item.

“I wouldn’t mind getting a copy of a collector’s item from Guided by Voices,” he said. “In the mid-90s, the band made 500 vinyl copies of an album, and those things are worth money. It would be really cool to get one of the hand-decorated albums.”

Through all of the ups and downs, Zuffranieri said, he would do it again.

He may get the opportunity if he is invited for the “Tournament of Champions” next year.

“I would be excited to be in the tournament next year,” he says. “They told me they’d invite me back when it happens, but it may be a while.”

AlertMe

Advertisement

TOP |