Local man scores big on ‘Jeopardy!’

(Photo Courtesy Jeopardy Productions, Inc.) JP resident David Gard (right) with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek.

While growing up in Bristol, Conn., Jamaica Plain resident David Gard was always fascinated by the television quiz show “Jeopardy!”

“I thought, ‘How cool is it to win money? One day someone is going to give me money for being smart,’” said Gard.

Gard had the pleasure of just that, winning $84,700 on “Jeopardy!” during a four-game win streak that ended with a loss on March 8.

“Well, it was a real thrill,” said Gard, who works at a flower shop. “It was fun, but it was really intense.”

He said that producers, handlers and coordinators constantly surround the contestants. The shows are taped in real time, noted Gard, and there is only about a minute break for commercials when makeup is applied and a cup of water is offered.

“There’s no time to catch your breath,” said Gard. “It’s kind of like being a boxer in between rounds. It’s very stressful.”

Gard said he was always a smart child, and after receiving the World Book Encyclopedia in the fifth grade, he would randomly take one volume off the shelf and read it. He learned about a vast array of subjects, including medieval costumes.

“I just soaked up that stuff and kept it with me,” said Gard.

In January of 2010, Gard took an online test to be on “Jeopardy!” The test consisted of about 50 general knowledge questions that have to be answered in 15 seconds, according to Gard. He never heard back after taking it, but then tried again a year later. This time, Gard received an invitation for an audition.

The audition was held at the Sheraton Hotel, and involved a lot of paperwork, camera testing, and a mock game, according to Gard. Afterwards, contestants received a souvenir “Jeopardy!” pen in the shape of the answer clicker and were encouraged to practice with it at home while watching the show.

“I’m glad they recommended that,” said Gard. “It helped in the long run.”

There were 4,000 contestants who auditioned nationwide, and only 10 percent were chosen. Gard received a phone call last October informing him he had been picked.

“I thought it over for a long time,” Gard joked. “I said yes immediately.”

Gard said one of the most difficult challenges of being on “Jeopardy!” was staying focused during the course of a game. He noted at home the mind can wander because it doesn’t matter if a trivia clue is missed.

The trivia clue that ended Gard’s run was in the “Final Jeopardy!” round. Gard, who was leading at the time, was unable to figure out the following puzzle: “These two back-to-back Tony winners for Best Musical (1987 and 1988) were both set in Paris.” He guessed “Les Miserables” correctly, but failed to come up with “The Phantom of the Opera.”

“It was just a mental block,” said Gard, who gained wide exposure to the genre because his mother was in a theater group when he was a child. “‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is my older sister’s favorite play. It was something I should have came up with. I just couldn’t. My sister was screaming at the television.”

He said not only is his family proud of him, but everyone he knows. Gard commented that “Jeopardy!” turns out to be “a much bigger deal than I imagined.”

But at least one person was not pleased with his appearance on “Jeopardy!” Kidist Paulos Asrat, a Canadian blogger, had a post that called Gard “creepy” because he mentioned his husband Ken on the show.

“It just came out,” said Gard. “I wasn’t trying to be political. But it’s one more step to normalizing same-sex marriage.”

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