Following a long line of Centre College “Jeopardy!” competitors before him, Eric Hack ’07 became the eighth Centre alumni contestant, winning the first round of the “Jeopardy!” Teachers Tournament on Feb. 4, with a score of $17, 800. His semi-final round will air tonight, Tuesday, Feb. 10. But the Latin teacher and cross country coach at Broadwater Academy in Exmore, Va., almost missed competing on the award-winning game show at all.
The online test for “Jeopardy!” is only offered to contestant wannabes during the month of January. In 2014, Hack was stuck in an airport while traveling in Europe and missed his January test opportunity. He took a chance and wrote a letter to the show’s producers explaining his dilemma, and after reading his letter, they allowed him to take the test over the phone. It worked. In May, he was invited to an in-person audition in Washington, D.C., and the actual two-week tournament was taped over two days in December. Of 200,000 people who take the “Jeopardy!” online test each year, 4,000 get invited to audition in person and only 400 make it onto the show each season.
“In my first game, I definitely got into a groove,” Hack says. “I found that ‘Jeopardy!’ felt very much like other competitions I’ve been in. I was nervous at first but, kind of like when the starting pistol goes off in a race, I just started competing and settled into a rhythm.
“The secret to success in “Jeopardy!” (since everyone there knows just as much or more than you do) is the buzzer,” he continues. “If you lose your rhythm on the buzzer, you’re finished. If you ring in too early, you’re locked out, so you have to sync your buzzing-in with lights on the side of the board that indicate when to press the button.”
Hack seemed so poised and confident, it seems there’s not a subject that would throw him off his game.
“All of the teachers were joking that the most intimidating categories were those that we taught,” he says. “We wouldn’t want to be embarrassed by missing clues about things we’re supposed to know well (like I did in the first game!).”
Hack says that Centre helped prepare him for the formidable task of winning on “Jeopardy!.”
“At Centre, test-taking was certainly a large component of academic success. I was always a good test-taker, so in that regard Centre certainly helped prepare me by challenging me often to master material. Moreover, as someone who has a wide range of academic interests, Centre provided me with the opportunity to help me dig deep into a myriad of academic offerings with professors who were eager to explore the subjects with me in a meaningful way.
“My cross country and track experience at Centre also helped me handle the nerves,” he adds.
Hack also credits his 2006 spring term study-abroad experience in London for helping hone his sense of adventure and intellectual curiosity, and Jim Morrison, H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Classics, for being a role model.
“Dr. Morrison exemplified how to be an academic but approach things with humor and wit.”
In a humorous coincidence, Hack’s students at Broadwater created a banner to cheer-on their teacher that read “Hack Attack,” but in video footage of the students, producers at “Jeopardy!,” which is owned by Sony, digitally altered the banner to read “Good Luck” because of its seeming reference to the Sony hacking scandal.
“The producers thought it was hilariously ironic. It’s interesting to have such a close personal connection to the influence of Kim Jong Un,” Hack says.
Watch a segment of Eric Hack’s winning episode.
by Cindy Long