Staff member Jennifer Cooper appears on ‘Jeopardy,’ succumbs to Apostles clue

Maybe Vanna White had the correct response for a clue pertaining to the biblical Apostles during a recently broadcast episode of the venerable game show “Jeopardy,” but none of the show’s three contestants knew it, including Western Carolina University staff member Jennifer Cooper.

White, hostess on another long-time game show, “Wheel of Fortune,” happened to be in the studio audience in Culver City, California, on Aug. 27 when Cooper, associate director for WCU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, appeared on “Jeopardy” along with a journalist from Ottawa, Canada, and a writer from Los Angeles.

WCU staff member Jennifer Cooper (right) says one of the big perks of appearing on “Jeopardy” was having a chance to meet the show’s host, Alex Trebek (left). (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Television)

When the “Final Jeopardy” round came up at the end of the show, all three contestants answered “Seventh-Day Adventist” to this clue asked by the show’s beloved host Alex Trebek: “This denomination takes its name from the day, as told in the New Testament, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles.”

The correct answer, however, was “Pentacostalism.” Cooper had $10,200 going into “Final Jeopardy” and had bet it all, so lost it all. The contestant from Los Angeles suffered the same fate, losing her entire $11,600, but the defending “Jeopardy” champion from Canada only bet $8,201 of his $14,800 and wound up the winner on that episode with $6,599.

The show that Cooper appears on was broadcast Friday, Nov. 1, but the road to Culver City, which is part of Los Angeles, began for her last spring when she heard friends talking about James Holzhauer, a “Jeopardy” champion who won $2.5 million. Cooper, a self-professed “Jeopardy” fan who says she has “an excellent memory for useless facts,” was inspired to check the internet to determine when the show’s next online test would be available, and that turned out to be several days later. Taking the test is the first step in getting on the show for want-to-be contestants.

Cooper did well enough in answering that test’s 50 questions to proceed to the next stage in the process. She was invited to travel to Nashville for an in-person tryout, where she took two more 50-question tests, participated in a practice game with other prospective contestants, and spent a few minutes talking about herself. “If you pass the in-person tryout, you’re placed in their contestant pool and you might be called at any time over the next 18 months,” Cooper said. “I took the online test at the end of April, had an in-person tryout in Nashville at the end of May, got the call to be on the show at the end of July, and taped my episode on Aug. 27.

“The ‘Jeopardy’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune’ stages are right next to each other, so Vanna White was in the audience for my episode.”

Cooper says she wasn’t as nervous at the show taping as she expected to be. “The production staff does a phenomenal job of preparing you,” she said. “You spend the morning learning what to expect and playing practice games, so by the time you’re actually on stage it isn’t too intimidating.”

The trickiest part was getting the timing down for the buzzer, she said. When Trebek reads a clue and all three contestants know the answer, each one attempts to buzz in before the others, but if a contestant hits the buzzer before Trebek finishes reading the clue, the contestant is locked out for a second, Cooper said. “Getting that timing right was a little bit nerve-wracking,” she said.

Cooper said she spent a full day at the studio for the taping. After being picked up at her hotel at 7 a.m., she took some time filling out paperwork, getting makeup done and playing practice games as four other episodes were recorded for broadcast. “My episode was the last one they shot that day, and we were done by around 4 p.m.,” she said.

Even though Cooper lost her winnings during “Final Jeopardy,” she still received a consolation prize of $1,000 after coming in third place. The overall experience was “a lot of fun,” she said. “I wish the outcome had been different and I could have stayed longer. It was the second week of the semester, which is a super-busy time in our office, so I was only in LA for 32 hours. Everyone was incredibly nice, it was interesting to see some of the behind-the-scenes stuff about the show, and it was really exciting to have the opportunity to meet Alex Trebek. I would do it again.”

Cooper said she watched the Nov. 1 broadcast on a big screen at a local taproom with friends. “I don’t love being the center of attention, but it was pretty cool to hear everyone cheering for me, and funny to hear them booing the other players,” she said.