This Brandeisian tested his mettle on 'Jeopardy!'

Adam Levin chronicles his experience as a contestant on the beloved game show


ANSWER: On Feb. 27, Adam Levin fulfilled a lifelong dream by competing on this long-running quiz show.

QUESTION: What is “Jeopardy”!?

Correct – though technically, that’s inaccurate. In its current iteration with Alex Trebek, “Jeopardy!” didn’t debut until 1984, when I was 12. Until that point, my lifelong dream was to be a shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies.

But since I was always small for my age, it didn’t seem like that would pan out.

On the other hand, I was an advanced reader for my age and loved trivia. I even had a Trivial Pursuit-themed bar mitzvah, though it might have been “Jeopardy!” themed had I been born a year or two later.

My love for “Jeopardy!” culminated between April 2018 and this past February, when I auditioned as a contestant, was selected, adopted a strict training regimen that included reading books about “Jeopardy!” and studying as many episodes as possible, and going to California to appear on the show and tape an episode.

That episode aired Monday, April 29. (And until the show airs, contestants are sworn to secrecy about the game’s – or games’ – outcome.)

So where did my love for “Jeopardy!” come from?

It all started at Brandeis in 1990.

I was a first-year on campus when I enthusiastically joined College Bowl.

College Bowl (now Quiz Bowl) pits teams of four students against each other in a game of trivial recall. Players can buzz in during questions for extra points. During my Brandeis career, one College Bowl event featured a match between the current top squad against the 1968 team that was considered one of the best in the game’s televised run.

Watching those matches got me hooked on the competitive aspect of trivia. My friends and I formed an intramural team – “Cabbage Rolls and Coffee” – and though we never won a championship, I was tapped to moderate the tournament my senior year.

That was my Alex Trebek moment.

Fast-forward to 2006 and I am back at Brandeis as its sports information director. “Jeopardy!”, which I watched regularly, had now developed a 50-question online screening for candidates to try out for the show.

I took the online test that first year and did well enough to score an audition in Boston. Unfortunately, I wasn’t selected, so I took the test again in 2008 and got a call for another audition. By this time, I had moved in with my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Joy. She helped make sure I made it to the audition in time, but again it wasn’t to be.

I’m not sure what prompted me to take the online test again last April after more than 10 years. But I took it and knew I’d aced it (supposedly, you need 35 out of 50 correct answers to move on).

Lo and behold, at the end of the summer, I was called to an audition in Philadelphia.

No, I’m not a shortstop for the Phillies, but I executed by my third swing.

One Friday evening in January, I got a call from the 310 area code. “Jeopardy!” producer Lauri Janover, asked if I was still interested in being on the show. I was too stunned to answer in the form of a question, but gleefully accepted the invitation because I knew my dream would finally come true.



ANSWER: Formerly home of MGM and Columbia, the studio where “Jeopardy!” is hosted is owned by this Japanese company.

QUESTION: What is Sony?

I had about one month to prepare for “Jeopardy!” and make my family, friends, fellow Brandeisians and sports information directors proud. I was confident in my knowledge base, but it didn’t stop me from reading “Prisoner of Trebekistan” by Bob Harris and two more books by Ken Jennings, whose 74-game winning streak captivated the nation in 2004.

I also stopped watching “Jeopardy!” seated. Instead, I made sure I was always standing with a comically large purple pen in my fist – one that happened to be about the same size and shape as the buzzer I used at the audition. Also, I made sure not to answer before Alex finished reading the question, which gets contestants locked out from answering long enough to keep them out of contention on a particular question - er, answer.

I watched “Jeopardy!” every night live, plus earlier seasons on Netflix, which were especially high-quality tests since the episodes were the year-end Tournament of Champions, designed to challenge the best players from the prior year.

Joy, my son, Drew, and I arrived in California with excitement and my best-case scenario collection of shirts and ties. My first day, I went to the Sony studio with other contestants. The day of the taping was a whirlwind. It started at 7:30 with Maggie Speak, a producer who explained how the entire filming process worked. Corinna Nusu, another producer, went over the five stories about your life that Alex Trebek might ask you to tell. You could also go into the makeup room with Lisa, a 13-year veteran of the show.

Finally, after I rehearsed alliteration categories and was advised about the dollar values that I wouldn’t be allowed to bet, I went to a practice session. A chorus of “wows” erupted from the contestant pool, finally face-to-face with the famous bank of TV screens that hold the clues.

One-by-one, we got a chance to practice signing in, stepping into the white square on the black floor that would rise up and make it appear that all three contestants are the same height. Jimmy, from the show’s venerable “Clue Crew” – and not Alex, with whom there is no interaction outside the game – put 12 of the challengers to the test.

By 10 a.m the studio audience started to file in and the excitement was palpable. We had one more conversation with the producers, and the first two challengers were picked. Not me, but that’s OK – I wanted to see a game in action from the sidelines just once.



Alex Trebeck and Adam Levin

Adam Levin on set with Alex Trebek.

ANSWER: He’s hosted game shows like The Wizard of Odds, Double Dare, High Rollers, Battlestars and Classic Concentration, and the current contract for his most famous gig lasts until 2022.

QUESTION: Who is Alex Trebek?

When my name was called, I felt a rush of adrenaline. Producers mic the contestants and Maggie tries to put us at ease and calm the inevitable nerves. It’s a tremendous feeling as the game is about to start and I’m set to get up close and personal with the buzzer, the board and Alex Trebek.

As I’m introduced, I can feel one the biggest smiles I’ve ever smiled come across my face. I’m ready to buzz in and challenge the champion.

The game goes almost as well as could possibly have been expected and Alex was a delight.

Though he would announce his devastating pancreatic cancer diagnosis just a week later, shaking his hand and telling him my “interesting story” –  spoiler alert: it has a distinct Brandeis angle – was surreal. He also did his best to keep contestants at ease, though my aunt, who was also in attendance, said he didn’t look quite like his usual self.

I admit to being too caught up in the moment to notice.

During the commercial breaks, Alex took questions from the audience. My son, Drew, asked one. When Alex returned to his podium afterward, I told him that the youngster who’d been quizzing him was my son.

In response, Alex deadpanned, “Well, I’ve about had it up to here with him!”

Now my son has his own story to tell when he’s on “Jeopardy!”


I didn’t end up winning, but I was the biggest challenge new “Jeopardy!” legend James Holzhauer faced in his first month on the show. James is already widely regarded as one of the top three players in the program’s history. So far as I can tell, I’ve been the only one, at least through his first 18 games, to even be within shouting distance.

I led at the first commercial break and was still close behind him at the second. Late in the game, I landed on a coveted Daily Double, and though I didn’t quite have the guts to go for the True Daily Double – whereby I’d double everything I had – I wagered enough to make sure that James had to get his Final Jeopardy correct.

When the ultimate answer and question came, I continued to put on the pressure, answering correctly and coming just shy of doubling up again. Ultimately, my second-place total of $53,999 would have been among the top 15 all-time single-game winnings, if you leave out James and his mind-boggling performances. And after 17-straight blowouts, he only beat me by $18. 

So my once in a lifetime story doesn’t quite have the happy ending I wanted, but I’m exceptionally proud of my showing. The fact of the matter is, I’ve seen it time and again with the student-athletes that I cover here at Brandeis. Sometimes, you can give your all-out best, and it’s just not enough. But if you left everything out on the field (or stage), it’s all you can ask for.

Categories: Alumni, Athletics

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage