Catholic trivia, pop music smarts almost pay off

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

Amy Yacorzynski’s lifelong fascination with seeking answers to questions she had landed her as a contestant on the game show “Jeopardy!” Her segment aired Thursday, March 15.

“I’d call it an out-of-body experience with lights and cameras,” Yacorzynski said about being a contestant. “I don’t think I really warmed up until two-thirds of the way through the program.”

She placed second overall but had won the Daily Double on a answer about ’80s Pop Songs with the question: “Who was Weird Al Yankovich?”

Answering several religious questions with the answers “tabernacle” and “Vatican City” helped her gain the lead going into the final Jeopardy category of “European Rivers.” But her competing champion wagered more money to win.

“It’s a once-in-a lifetime opportunity,” she said, something Yacorzynski can cross off her bucket list.

The Southern California native attended Villanova University, a Catholic institution, and is now a private attorney focusing on criminal defense cases, helping those not always treated fairly in life.

She started watching “Jeopardy” in elementary school.

“I basically have always watched it,” she said. “My friends would laugh at me in high school because I had to get home to eat dinner and watch ‘Jeopardy.’”

Even in college, her sorority sisters and friends knew of her “standing invitation of people coming to watch,” but being a nerd about the show didn’t bother her.

“I’ve always wanted to learn things and be able to educate people, and it’s fun to wow people with interesting stories,” she said. “Yes, it’s dorky, but cool being someone you know who knows interesting facts.”

How she got on show

The first step to being a contestant was taking an online, 50-question test to determine if she knew enough to be a viable candidate. Without much time to prepare, Yacorzynski said she reviewed the latest almanac, brushed up on U.S. presidents and watched multiple game shows.

She made the first cut and, in October 2017, auditioned in Los Angeles, her hometown.

“I figured, if for some miracle I got selected, I could see my family,” she said.

Picture Courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment

Once there, she endured another 50-question test. Her godmother, Arleen Reed, who lives in Los Angeles, attended for moral support as she completed a mock “Jeopardy” round and an interview round to mimic the quick tidbits host Alex Trebek might ask about her.

“Now you are in the contestant pool,” she said, “They never tell you how you do at the end, so you don’t even know.” She left Los Angeles with the producer’s words, “We will call you within the next 18 months.”

“You have no idea if they will call you at all,” she said. “You just sit and wait.”

During another trip to Los Angeles while boarding her return flight to New Orleans, Yacorzynski received a call from “Jeopardy’s” casting director, saying they wanted her on the show within four weeks.

“It was a crazy experience,” she said. “Jeopardy” tapes one week of shows in a day. “You get on the lot by 8:30 a.m.; you have to have your hair done (takes time since she has long hair) and bring your own wardrobe. … They put you in the green room (with about 20 other people waiting for selection at random), and you sign releases. … Previous champions show up and tell you about their experience.”

Due to the show’s relatively sedate nature, producers liven up the contestants before taping each episode, imparting encouragement, explaining what to expect and how it’s going to be intimidating. The show is considered the “Holy Grail of getting on TV,” and no matter how they place, contestants are medalists.

“It’s an elite group who is smart, but not just smart, but have taken the time to dive in and love learning,” Yacorzynski said.

Why New Orleans?

Yacorzynski’s Catholic background of wanting to help her neighbors brought her to New Orleans a few years after Hurricane Katrina as a pro-bono Villanova law student for a week.

“I just totally fell in love with the city and made some connections here that led to work opportunities,” the 33-year-old said, immersing herself in the city and legal culture. The following summer in 2008, she clerked for Municipal Court Judge Sean Early. And, in 2009, she earned a fellowship, requiring work for a nonprofit. That led her to the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana.

“I knew I wanted to be here, so I stayed an extra semester,” she said, taking a full load of classes (in successions, Louisiana civil procedure, mortgages and conveyances, personal and community property) at Loyola University New Orleans Law School to familiarize herself with Louisiana’s Napoleonic Code in preparation for the Louisiana bar. She also took the bar in California.

“They (Villanova) sort of created a program for me,” she said about her semester at Loyola. “I was into pro-bono and death penalty work.”

She graduated from Villanova Law School in 2010 and drove to New Orleans the day after graduation.

Picture Courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment

Lights, camera, action

She calls “Jeopardy!” a well-oiled machine.

“It’s funny how it’s this meticulously produced show. There are no retakes; it just goes. … (Once they start the game), it’s show time!”

She was in seventh heaven while perusing the show’s hall of fame of Emmys and pictures of record-setting champions she remembered such as Ken Jennings.

“You have all of those touchstones throughout the year, and Alex Trebek through the ’80s to now. That was cool to see all that memorabilia,” she said.

Even with her busy life as a mother, lawyer, political activist and theater enthusiast, she still watches “Jeopardy!” – only now she DVRs it to binge-watch later.

“I think it’s always been a chance to see someone like you who cares about knowledge (even though it’s trivia)on television,” she said of the game show. “I’ve always enjoyed learning interesting and fascinating facts that maybe people didn’t know.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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