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‘Absolutely Amazing’

Former Warren Resident Recalls Recent Jeopardy! Run

Jeopardy Guest Host Savannah Guthrie appears with contestant Katie Sekelsky of Kent, Ohio, formerly of Warren. Photos courtesy of Jeopardy

WARREN, Pa. — When Katie Sekelsky was growing up in Warren, she knew she wanted to be on Jeopardy. She held onto that dream for decades.

This month, she appeared on four episodes.

“It was absolutely amazing,” Sekelsky said. “It was everything I expected it to be and more. I went in thinking I might be able to win a game. I did not anticipate keeping the run going as long as I did.”

Her winnings over three days added up to $37,899. That’s not a lot of money for someone in her case.

But, for Sekelsky, the dollars were just icing on the cake.

She didn’t hesitate at all when asked if the money or being on the show was the bigger deal. “It’s the being on Jeopardy,” Sekelsky said. “Compared to the average winnings of a three-time Jeopardy champion, mine were on the low side.”

Some of the explanation for the amounts being limited goes back to her preparation for the show. “I spent a lot of time studying wager theory,” Sekelsky said. “That paid off for me, big time.”

In a close second-place position with third far behind, she didn’t wager heavily.

The wager theory was clear on what her first-place opponent would do. “The optimal bet for first place is always to cover an all-in bet,” she said.

“I needed first place to get it wrong to win,” Sekelsky said. “Knowing that, I knew that I could bet small.”

During her first appearance, neither of the players answered the Final Jeopardy question correctly. Her opponent lost a lot of money while Sekelsky lost a little.

The Final Jeopardy category didn’t matter. She was sticking to her theoretical training regardless … almost.

“I was going to wager what I was going to wager, no matter what,” she said. “If the category was graphic designers…” that might have been a little different.

Sekelsky was in the last group of the day when she initially reported to the set.

“I knew going into that game, if I won, I was going to be flying a week later,” she said. “Going into it, the second game, I knew I was going to be the first one called.”

It wasn’t a situation where warming up helped. Sekelsky played three times that second day on the set. “The day gets long fast,” she said.

She was experiencing that drain by the end, but it also took her a while to warm up.

“The first couple of games, I was still getting into the groove,” she said. “There was a chance I could be beaten on the buzzer every single time.”

There is a sweet spot for hitting the buzzer. “If you buzz in before the question is done being read, you get locked out for a fraction of a second,” she said. “I did get the rhythm down. I was pretty good on the buzzer.”

Early on, maybe too good.

“I was ringing in way more often than I should,” she said. “I wasn’t reading the whole question.”

That allowed her to ring in a moment sooner, but resulted in more wrong answers.

“By the third game, I had figured out that I needed to stop and think,” she said.

Some of the experience on-set is a little different from what is seen at home.

When there are video and audio clues, the viewer at home hears the voice of a special guest. At the studio, the competitors see the text of the clue in addition to hearing it.

At the end of her fourth episode — the one that would have put her in a position to possibly return for the Tournament of Champions, Sekelsky didn’t have the Final Jeopardy answer.

“The response, Buzz Lightyear, did not cross my mind,” she said. “Given five minutes I might have come up with the final answer.”

Producers had encouraged the contestants to make sure they put down some answer in Final Jeopardy. “I went with the silliest movie character I could think of,” she said. “Osmosis Jones — a box office flop from 2001. I knew it was not a right answer.”

Sekelsky will forever occupy a niche in Jeopardy-related trivia.

“I have the distinction of being the only person to be on Jeopardy with two different female hosts,” she said.

Her first episode was guest host Mayim Bialik’s final show. Guest host Savannah Guthrie’s first episode was Sekelsky’s second.

It was the first time there had been back-to-back female hosts. There wasn’t much of a transition for Sekelsky.

“Between the two hosts I had, it didn’t feel that different,” she said. “It was pretty smooth for me.”

The Jeopardy rules are such that Sekelsky does not expect to be allowed to be on the show again. The Tournament of Champions was her best path to that.

“It has been strange, having this goal for so long,” she said. “I definitely do need to find a new goal to work toward. I could always go on other game shows.”

There was plenty of support for Sekelsky in her home of Kent, Ohio, and around her former home of Warren.

“My dad and several of his siblings got special permission to watch with my grandmother at the Lutheran Home in Kane,” she said. “They watched with my grandmother twice.”

As usual, there was an adult in the room, trying to keep the kids in line.

“I know that my aunts and uncles were yelling and jumping up and down and my grandmother told them to be quiet, she was trying to watch,” Sekelsky said.

She also hosted a watch party of 14 people — an interesting experience. She had the ability to give spoilers at every turn.

“I was told I had a good poker face, at least in terms of how it played out,” Sekelsky said. There were clues throughout, though. She showed a bit of a cringe, “every time I knew I was about to ring in with a wrong answer.”

She was also a bit of a celebrity in the community.

Sekelsky went to a bar on Saturday, the day after her first episode — and first win — aired. “I hear someone yell, ‘Katie Sekelsky!'”

She didn’t recognize the woman. “She recognized me from the night before,” she said. “She asked me for a selfie.”

That moment of fame was special for Sekelsky, too. “Then, I asked her for a selfie,” she said.

On Wednesday, she was at a bar again and her group asked to have Jeopardy on the televisions. “A lot of people didn’t know why Jeopardy was on,” she said.

They figured it out quickly.

“Once they recognized that I was there, that was an amazing experience,” she said. “I signed at least one autograph that was going to be sent to someone’s grandmother.”

“Watching with a bunch of at least mildly intoxicated people… as at least a temporary celebrity, that was a good ending,” she said.,

“It’s been less than a week since I lost,” she said. “I’m still enjoying my time in the spotlight.”

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