Wood won nearly $92,000 as a four-time ‘Jeopardy!’ champion last year
Andy Wood can tell you firsthand that lifelong dreams come true.
Ever since the 43-year-old was a teenager, he wanted to be on “Jeopardy!”. He tried out for the long-running show’s teen tournament in 1993, but didn’t make it past the first round and promptly gave up on appearing on the show as an achievable goal. But when Alex Trebek announced he had pancreatic cancer in March 2019, Wood thought the game show host might retire soon and wanted to give it one more shot.
“That lit a fire under me again and reminded me that, ‘This is a possible thing you can do,’” Wood says.
About 18 months later, Wood had not only made it onto “Jeopardy!” but was a four-time champion whose earnings came in just shy of $92,000. Because of the pandemic, Wood says, it’s fairly easy to try out for the show virtually. He completed the whole audition process—from a 50-question online test to casting interviews—from the kitchen counter at his temporary home in Joshua Tree National Park.
Wood went through a second round of auditions last spring and got a call in the middle of August asking if he could be at the studio in Culver City, California, three weeks later to tape the show.
“So, I had three weeks to pick out my TV-ready clothes and know all the British monarchs,” Wood says.
Wood made it onto five episodes, all of which were taped in one day, he says. The normal procedure for “Jeopardy!” is to shoot a week’s worth of episodes over two days. All of Wood’s episodes were taped on Sept. 9, 2020, and aired Nov. 16–20.
The quick turnaround didn’t allow for downtime between episodes. For Wood, he’d win an episode, rush to the dressing room, throw on some new clothes, and be back in the studio ready to film the next one.
Picking outfits was actually one of the more stressful parts of the show, Wood says, because contestants aren’t supposed to wear the same thing two episodes in a row. Wood had been living about two hours east of Los Angeles, wearing flip flops and shorts every day, but needed, as he described it, “job interview” clothes. He went to Nordstrom Rack but couldn’t try on anything because of pandemic safety restrictions in place, so he just bought a bunch of new stuff.
“I figured I’d just return what I don’t use and keep the tags on, and then if I have to cut tags off, it means I just won a game,” Wood says.
As far as preparation goes, Wood says there’s not much you can do except watch a lot of “Jeopardy!”. That’s what Ken Jennings, one of the show’s new hosts and who holds the longest winning streak with 74 consecutive wins, advises. Wood had been doing that anyway because he ruptured a disc in his back in 2019 and had been binging the show on his couch.
Wood also studied archived questions on the fan site J! Archive and reviewed categories such as U.S. presidents, state and world capitals, and rivers.
Although knowing trivia is of the utmost importance, what matters more is buzzer timing.
“If you can’t get in, you’re screwed,” Wood says, noting that in one episode, there was a stretch of eight questions that he knew the answers to but couldn’t get in. “And you can’t really practice that.”
Wood says people always ask him if he has any good stories about Trebek, who died the week before Wood’s episodes aired. Wood says there wasn’t much “off-camera pal-ing-around time” and that he was awed watching Trebek host five games in a row.
“I think he only had to redo one question and that’s because he was rewriting it on the fly,” Wood says. “He’s such a pro. It was unbelievable how good he was at that job and it never came off at all that he wasn’t 100 percent. You never would have known [he had cancer]. He really loved the game and wanted the players to shine.”
In two episodes, Wood fell behind going into Final Jeopardy and believes he should’ve lost. The toughest Final Jeopardy question he received went something along the lines of, “This island nation was named for a Spanish king who himself was named for loving horses.” Wood recalls that his thought process to answer went something like, “I know horse is hippo in Latin or Greek, hippopotamus means water horse, Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love, phil is love [in Greek], does Philippines mean horse lover?” At the last second, he wrote Philippines, but misspelled it, and managed to squeak by since the lead contestant wrote “hipp.”
When Wood isn’t watching or competing on “Jeopardy!”, he’s writing episodes for TV shows. Wood grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, majored in electrical engineering at Cornell University, and after getting laid off from a consulting job, pursued a career in standup comedy. He also plays the guitar and joked that he’d use some of his “Jeopardy!” winnings to buy a new one. His skill set later led him to opportunities in TV writing and production in Los Angeles, specifically for science shows. He’s writing for the second season of the YouTube original “Could You Survive the Movies?” and “The Great Debate” on the Science Channel.
Wood doesn’t have access to a pool in Joshua Tree, so he hasn’t swum in a long time. He’s been cross training by running and rock climbing to stay in shape, but he misses the pool.
“Whatever I’m working on, I tend to do it better if I’m swimming,” Wood says. “It’s a great way to meditate. I’m a better balanced person [when I swim].”
Wood jokes that if he’d had access to a pool while preparing for “Jeopardy!”, “I probably could have listed all the presidents in order.”
Wood swam through high school and later for Cornell from 1995 to 1999. He took a break from the water for several years but got back into it competitively when he joined Golden Road Aquatics in 2016. He’s recorded eight individual Top 10s since then, specializing in sprint freestyle.
“He’s such an amazing athlete,” says Golden Road Aquatics Coach Mike Lucero, who describes Wood as easygoing yet competitive and the kind of person you want on your relay. “He’s a sprinter, a 50-, 100-meter guy. Usually [that type of swimmer] doesn’t place top 10 in the country [in the 200].”
Wood’s Masters swimming experience came up during the Nov. 20, 2020, show.
Trebek spent a few moments during each episode introducing the contestants and asked Wood about his being a competitive swimmer. Wood responded that he’s on a Masters club, which Trebek asked him to explain.
“It’s for all ages, 19 through 100 if you want,” Wood said, misstating the starting age for Masters by one year. “It’s great because you don’t have to be fast. You just have to be fast for your age.”
Trebek then said he and Wood wouldn’t be competing against each other and made a self-deprecating joke about his being more than 35 years Wood’s elder.
Wood is anxious to swim with his Golden Road teammates again but doesn’t plan on moving back to Los Angeles until after the pandemic. But for now, he’s busy preparing for his upcoming appearance on the “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions, a special tournament for competitors who won multiple shows, fulfilling his life-long dream again when it airs on May 21.
- Human Interest