Jamaica Plain resident JR Mannetta grew up playing trivia around the Greater Boston area, but this year he got to play in the big leagues—he made it onto an episode of Jeopardy! that aired in March.
The Boston native was born in Dorchester and attended Wesleyan University before moving to Jamaica Plain in 2014, where he is the Dean of Students at Match Community Day School.
The beloved trivia show has been a favorite of Mannetta’s since he was in high school, and he watched it with his friends and roommates throughout college. He decided to take the free online test a few times as he said it is “pretty low stakes” to apply to be on the show. “I thought nothing of it,” he said. After a few tries, he moved onto the next level.
“I got an email from Jeopardy!,” he said, which instructed him to go to New York for an in-person audition. “My understanding is that the online test screens to see if you have the knowledge,” he said, and the in-person interview tests whether “you are personable enough to be on TV.” He said he tried to speak loudly and quickly at the audition to prove he was able to hold his own during the taping.
“Anyone who does an audition is placed in the contestant pool,” Mannetta said. “From there, there’s an 18 month window from when you audition to when they call you.”
Mannetta said his process took 15 months. He auditioned in September 2018, and got a call from producers that he had made it onto the show in December 2019. His show taped on January 29 of this year and aired on March 31. He said he had to field a lot of calls from unknown numbers for nearly a year just in case one was from Jeopardy! producers.
“I get a lot of calls from telemarketers and enthusiastically answered them all because I really wanted to be on Jeopardy!,” he said.
Once he found out he would be on the show, he said he spent a lot of time prepping and sharpening his trivia skills. “That was pretty intense and nerve-wracking,” he said.
“I did some passive studying and some targeted studying,” Mannetta explained. He said he got a subscription to the New York Times and “every day I would just read a ton of articles,” he said.
“Geography was my weakest thing,” he said, adding that he would read as many stories involving geography around the world so he could learn about different countries and systems of government. He also watched “a ton” of episodes of Jeopardy, as some are available on Netflix, and bought a book of trivia facts for science and geography.
“The thing I did the most while watching episodes was practicing buzzing in,” he said. He received a special practice pen at the audition that he used to practice being quick at buzzing in.
When it finally came time to tape the episode, he headed to California and had to show up three hours before the show taped. But he didn’t get to meet the show’s famous host, Alex Trebek, during this time.
“The first time I spoke with Alex Trebek was when they interviewed me,” he said. He also said that he did not know which anecdote he would be asked about until the cameras were rolling.
“I submitted five stories,” he said, and the producers whittled it down to three, but Trebek luckily chose the one he was the most prepared to talk about—doing karaoke at a local Jamaica Plain bar.
He spoke highly of Trebek, saying he was friendly and does a Q&A with the audience in between rounds.
Mannetta said the whole taping experience was “such a whirlwind. I probably felt internally stressed and pretty on-edge.” He said his family and friends who were in the audience said he seemed like the most calm of the three contestants, “but I was totally freaking out on the inside,” he said.
Mannetta came in second place, so he did not move onto another taping. He is also not allowed to reapply to be on again. You probably wont see him on any other game show int eh future, either.
He said that none of the other game show appeal to him in the same way that Jeopardy! does, as “Jeopardy! is a show that is very personal to me.”