Tanner Hesse grew up in Wichita watching “Jeopardy!”
He was a prominent part of the Scholar’s Bowl teams at both Blessed Sacrament and Kapaun Mount Carmel, of which he is a Class of 2006 alumnus.
Now you could say he’s gone pro.
Hesse, who is a Navy Reserve officer based in San Diego, will be one of three contestants to compete on “Jeopardy!” on Friday afternoon – he’ll be the one in full Navy service dress blues.
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The episode will air at 4:30 p.m. on KSN, Channel 3 in Wichita.
Though Hesse was not allowed to say beforehand whether he won on the episode, he said “everybody wins something.”
Hesse said that after participating in Scholar’s Bowl and a state-televised game show in high school (formerly known as “High Q,” now known as “Quest”), he “definitely always thought ... that I wanted to do ‘Jeopardy!’ someday.”
As a mechanical engineering student at the University of Tulsa, he completed applications to participate in the show’s College Championship, but never got a response.
After graduating from Tulsa and attending the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I., he moved to Washington, D.C.
While serving on active duty with the Navy in the D.C. area, he continued to take online “Jeopardy!” contestant quizzes.
He got the call to audition for the real-life show twice – but because the Navy had reassigned him to San Diego, he missed the first audition.
After auditioning in Los Angeles, he was selected as a “local alternate,” a standby who attends film days in case a contestant can’t make it.
Then, in September, he got the call that he would be on the show.
Filming the episode was “lightning fast,” he said, as the whole thing was over in 23 minutes.
Quirks of being on the show
For those who are curious, Hesse said the show’s host, Alex Trebek, rarely interacts with his contestants beyond what you see on screen.
Hesse said he was impressed by the Los Angeles studio in which the show was filmed.
“The lighting was very different – there’s a difference between Sony Studios’ set and ... a local TV studio in Topeka,” he said, referring to where “High Q” was filmed.
A large predictor of a “Jeopardy!” contestant’s success on the show, Hesse said, is his or her ability to time their buzzer accordingly.
“On ‘Jeopardy!’, you have to wait until the indicator lights come on after Alex reads the questions. ... In Scholar’s Bowl, you can buzz in as soon as you know the answer,” Hesse said. “If you really watch closely, many times you’ll see that all three of the people know it – probably over half the questions – so it really just comes down to buzzer timing.”
Hesse, who works as an engineering duty officer, is studying for a master’s degree at San Diego State University.
The lieutenant said he’s glad his “Jeopardy!” dream was accomplished: Once a contestant has been on the show, he or she is ineligible to participate again, unless it’s for a special invite-only tournament.
“It’s one and done,” he said. “There’s no contact kept, because they don’t want any possibility of claims of favoritism.
“It’s lonely at the top, as they say.”
Fellow Kapaun Mount Carmel graduate Matthew Linnebary (Class of 2008) appeared on “Jeopardy!” in 2014. Linnebary took second place in that contest and won $2,000, according to a “Jeopardy!” archive site.