Jared Wilke on Jeopardy
Jared Wilke, right, who lives in Half Moon Bay and teaches at San Mateo High School, appeared on the popular game show “Jeopardy!” last week. Photo courtesy Jeopardy Productions Inc.

Coastside trivia fans may know Jared Wilke for this role as host of Geeks Who Drink, which took place every Tuesday evening at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. before the pandemic. Last week, the Half Moon Bay resident and trivia buff became a first-time contestant on the popular trivia game show “Jeopardy!”

Wilke’s opponents on Feb. 10 were Tiffany Seitler, a finance manager from New Jersey, and John Focht, a software designer from Texas, a returning champion who’d won the previous two days. Focht kept the momentum rolling all through the game, and, despite a challenge from Wilke during the Double Jeopardy round, came out on top for the third straight day and accumulated $83,000 in winnings.

After the Final Jeopardy round, Wilke, a math teacher at San Mateo High School, finished in second place with a final tally of $3,599 and walked away with $2,000.

It was “super exciting” for Wilke, 47, a tried and true trivia fan. Aside from hosting Geeks Who Drink for the last five years, he also coached San Mateo High School’s quiz bowl club. He grew up watching “Jeopardy!” and watches the show almost nightly.

As a fan of the show, Wilke said he wished he could have met Alex Trebek, the much-beloved host of the game show for 37 seasons before his death in November 2020. Wilke says he first applied to be on the show in 2005. He takes the test every year. Wilke made it to “contestant pool” in 2010. Like the questions selected on the show, Wilke knows it’s a matter of luck and skill to be one of 400 competitors chosen from more than 250,000 applicants who reportedly test each year.

He applied for this season by passing the online test in January 2020, did a screen test over Zoom in the summer, got the confirmation call in November, then flew to Los Angeles for the taping in December. Because of the pandemic, he stayed just one night in Southern California.

“It was masks-on the whole time except when you were filming,” he said. “And instead of having the regular green room, it was the ‘Wheel of Fortune’ set.”

Wilke’s taping session in December was his first time seeing new guest host Ken Jennings, the show’s most successful competitor who is attempting to fill the role left by Trebek.

“I was really sad I never got to meet Alex Trebek, but I think Ken Jennings has done a wonderful job, and I thought he did a great job while I was there,” he said.

Wilke said a key challenge is simply beating other contestants to the buzzer. He got off to a slow start even though he knew the answers to the first four questions. The pivotal moment for Wilke’s game came after he went on a roll during the Double Jeopardy round, and with $8,000 he was closing in on Focht, who had $10,300.

As a math teacher, Wilke figured he was in good shape with the “Math In The World” category. Sure enough, he answered three questions from the category before answering two “3-Named Authors” correctly. He then wagered $5,000 on the Daily Double question. Jennings read this to Wilke: “Simon & Schuster sponsors an award for suspense fiction named for this female author of ‘A Stranger Is Watching.’”

Wilke pondered past the allotted time and he dropped down to third with $3,000. The answer he never gave is one he’ll likely never forget: “Who is Mary Higgins Clark?”

“I guarantee you, if I was hosting Geeks Who Drink right now, there would be a whole round on Mary Higgins Clark next week,” he said.

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