“Oh, come on! On February 28, 2008 this TV ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ man…” Before Alex Trebeck had even finished reading the question aloud, Ms. Joanne Infantino knew the answer.
Anticipating the red light which signals the ‘OK’ to use her buzzer, she waited.
“… added a touch of bell to his resume.” Trebeck completed the prompt, and Infantino instantly pressed the buzzer.
“Who is Gordon Ramsey?” She had answered correctly.
In the spring of 2009, Ms. Infantino took her love for trivia to the next level by participating in her very own game of Jeopardy on national television. She is famous among her students for her extensive knowledge of random facts, but she had never participated in a formal trivia competition until her Jeopardy debut. When she would play along with the TV at home, she was able to answer most of the questions correctly, so she eventually decided to apply for a contestant position.
Ms. Infantino informed me that the process of becoming a Jeopardy contestant is no cake-walk. “It is [very elaborate]. Some people apply and then don’t get called… and don’t get called… and don’t get called. It takes them five tries sometimes. I guess I was lucky to get called back so quickly… or, I was just really good,” Ms. Infantino remarked with laughter.
The initial round of the application process was a timed, online test. Infantino then advanced to an in-person audition in Dallas, Texas, where she completed a written test and participated in a mock game. She evidently made a strong impression on the judges, because a month later, the show contacted her to deliver the exciting news: she had been officially selected as a Jeopardy competitor!
Ms. Infantino grinned and nodded as she reminisced on the moment she received good news: “I was teaching at Casady at the time. I remember, because Mr. [Matt] Peña was dean of students back then, and I was late to lunch that day because I was on the phone [with the show]. I walked into Calvert and said, ‘Oh, sorry I’m late, Mr. Peña. I was on the phone… I just got the call for Jeopardy.’ He announced it to the whole cafeteria.” She received a round of applause from the students as they offered their congratulations.
In preparation for her competition, Infantino appointed Mr. John Kelly to guide her history studies, as well as a few other Casady teachers from each department. Soon after, Ms. Infantino packed her bags and hopped on a plane to Sony Studios in Los Angeles, California.
The evening before they were to film the show, the pool of contestants gathered at the hotel and ate dinner together. Infantino discovered that most of the other contestants were friendly, and they all bonded over their shared excitement. There was, however, one outlier: “The guy that ended up winning the game was kind of off by himself, cramming with his Encyclopedia,” Infantino recalled, chuckling at the memory of the hard-core competitor.
The next day, when the time came to play the trivia game of her lifetime, Ms. Infantino admitted that she experienced a few minor nerves. The greatest challenge she faced on the show was the tricky buzzer. During the first round, she confessed that she struggled. Oftentimes, she knew the answers to the questions, but was simply unable to press the buzzer in time. Luckily, she was able to practice during a commercial break and improved her game.
Aside from that, Ms. Infantino was not intimidated by anything else. Not her competitors, nor the TV audience. Nothing. “My friends asked me, ‘Wasn’t it scary?’ The thing is, I do the same thing with a room full of seventeen year-olds everyday.” She pointed out, “Kids here always try to find it on the Internet. I think Calvin Tolbert (‘17) found it at one point.”
Immediately after Tolbert’s name was mentioned, a familiar voice caught my attention. I looked up from my interview questions. Low and behold, Calvin himself was strolling through the doors of the Student Center offices to pay a visit to Casady faculty. “Speak of the devil!” Ms. Infantino exclaimed, shaking her head at the funny coincidence. She greeted the alum – a grin stretching over her face at the sight of her fellow Jeopardy enthusiast. We’re talking about Jeopardy,” she told him. Calvin’s face lit up at the mention of the show.
Calvin had researched Ms. Infantinos’s Jeopardy game and was able to provide some useful information. Because Ms. Infantino had bet properly (and because her opponent bet poorly), she ultimately landed a whopping $2000 second place prize, as opposed to a $1000 third place prize. Ms. Infantino turned to me: “You know, my ‘Final Jeopardy’ was super hard. Even Calvin says that,” she said as she gave him a wink. Calvin nodded in agreement. I asked him if he was impressed by Ms. Infantino’s performance on the show, and without hesitation, he nodded assuredly.
After we waved goodbye to Calvin, Ms. Infantino expressed that she was very pleased with her performance. It was a fun, once-in-a-lifetime experience that she will always cherish, and if given the opportunity to go back, she would accept in a heartbeat. Although her game show career may be over, Ms. Infantino still holds Jeopardy close to her heart, and she remains a steadfast fan of good old-fashioned trivia.
(Take a look at some of Ms. Infantino’s trivia questions from her Jeopardy game! Here’s the link.)