When born-and-bred Vancouverite Tessa Matsuzaki saw a January 2020 promo to take the Jeopardy! qualifying test she thought "why not?" Fifty questions, one passing grade, a few Zoom auditions, a pile of paperwork, and two-plus years later she found herself on the show's glowing set behind that iconic brown and blue podium, buzzer in hand.
Matsuzaki's game show appearance aired on Wednesday, June 8, and, while she came in second, she says it was "one of the most fun experiences I've ever had."
A "sponge for trivial knowledge," she prepared by reading old clues from the Jeopardy! archive and memorizing things she knew she would struggle with (see: U.S. presidents). Finding hints hidden within the clues, paying attention to current events, and identifying patterns in popular categories also helped.
"Once I knew it might happen, part of my brain was always thinking 'should I retain this?'" she says. "Some of it is about knowing random stuff about random things."
Languages or geography are her self-professed strengths, including anything and everything about Canada.
"Those are always easy by Canadian standards," Matsuzaki says.
Bested by the buzzer on a B.C.-based question
Unfortunately, she missed the only B.C.-based question during her taping, but not for lack of knowledge or trying. Turns out hitting that all-important buzzer isn't as simple as yelling at your TV from the couch.
"My inability to get the rhythm of the buzzer really hurt me—there is absolutely skill in timing it perfectly," Matsuzaki says.
That unexpected element made it tough for her to show off all her knowledge, but Matsuzaki kept with it. Daily box scores show her 19 attempts to be the first to the buzzer during Double Jeopardy, only three fewer tries than opponent and winner Eric Ahasic.
"My advice for future contestants is to spend a lot of time working on hand-eye coordination and response time. That was something I did not know."
Still, there's plenty more Matsuzaki does know. She got Final Jeopardy correct, an American history question nonetheless!
"That felt good as a Canadian. I was proud of my performance and I left feeling like I did all I could."
Ultimately she's pleased with the experience. As a competitor, Matsuzaki got to watch one weeks' worth of Jeopardy! be filmed on the same day as her episode and she was all about the behind-the-scenes action. She says all the small things nobody sees on TV—like the little hydraulic lift that contestants stand on behind the podium to even out their heights—made the magic.
Now she's back home and the secret is out (she had to stay tight-lipped about the results for nearly three months) she's relieved by all the positive responses.
"Everyone has been so kind about it—I was nervous that people would say 'wow, you lost,' but that hasn't been the case."
When she's not starring on Jeopardy!, Matsuzaki works as a freelance graphic designer and raises puppies as a volunteer at Pacific Assistance Dogs Society. She's stayed in touch with some fellow contestants and plans to use some of her winnings for a group get-together.
Best of all, rumours of a second chance competition for past Jeopardy! contestants already have her excited for a possible repeat appearance.
"I'll throw my hat in the ring for that! I would absolutely love it do it again," she says.