UMass Amherst English professor to appear on Jeopardy!

  • University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst Professor Joseph Bartolomeo, who will soon appear on game show Jeopardy!

Published: 1/3/2017 3:59:00 PM

AMHERST — He walked away empty handed from “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” 16 years ago, but a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor will get another chance to win some dough on national television on “Jeopardy!” Thursday.

Joseph Bartolomeo, an English professor specializing in 18th century British literature, has been a trivia buff all his life, competing in school and local competitions, according to a statement from UMass.

“It was a very enjoyable experience, something I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do,” Bartolomeo said in an interview.

In 2000, Bartolomeo was selected to be a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” but did not make it past the “Fastest Finger” round to the “hot seat.”

“When I was a child, my family and I were great game players,” Bartolomeo told the Gazette back in 2000, shortly after his stint on Millionaire. “We’d play the home version of ‘Jeopardy’ and ‘Trivial Pursuit.’ I have a reasonably good memory for otherwise useless pieces of information.”

Getting to be on “Jeopardy!” has been an item on Bartolomeo’s bucket list for some time. He passed the qualifying round from a pool of 70,000 online test takers to get to the audition round of 3,000 people. From that group, 400 people per year are invited to appear as contestants on the show.

The appearance, which will air Thursday, was filmed in September, when Bartolomeo traveled to Culver City, California, for the taping.

“They had a recommended hotel and a shuttle to come pick us up,” Bartolomeo said. “They do film two weeks worth of shows in two days so there were plenty of people there.”

If someone wins, they do then sometimes have to play again the same day, Bartolomeo said.

“They ask people to bring a change of clothes,” he said.

According to the show’s website, Bartolomeo is slated to compete against an actuary from Charlottesville, Virginia, and the defending champion from Wednesday night’s show.

“After years of watching ‘Jeopardy!’, appearing on the show was even better than I expected,” he said in the statement. “The production staff was good-humored and supportive, the other contestants friendly and engaging and Alex Trebek was a consummate professional.”

In the interview Bartolomeo said he didn’t get much face time with host Alex Trebek, his theory being that producers don’t want it to seem that Trebek shows favoritism toward any particular player.

“Really you don’t get to talk to him anymore than what people see on TV and I think that’s deliberate,” Bartolomeo said.

Other than that, he could not reveal details about his performance.

The program will air locally at 7:30 p.m. on WWLP-TV 22.

Bartolomeo’s appearance on the trivia contest comes less than a year after Northampton poet and Smith College employee Jennifer Jabaily Blackburn come from behind to win the show last March and take home $19,700.

Blackburn works as an administrative assistant at Smith in the Poetry Center and the department of French studies.

“Jeopardy!” averages 26 million viewers per week, according to the website. It was created in 1964 by Merv Griffin and has been in syndication in its current version since 1984.

The three contestants get clues that are worded as answers, and must buzz in and respond in the form of a question. A correct response adds cash to the contestant’s potential winnings, while an incorrect response means he or she loses money. In the last round, called Final Jeopardy, contestants can wager all their money, or none of it, or anything in between, before they see the final question.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at Jack Suntrup of the Gazette contributed to this report.

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