FREEPORT — Growing up in a household that regularly tuned into “Jeopardy,” little did Tiffany Eisenhauer know that one day she’d participate in the popular TV game show not from her couch, but on the studio set itself, standing behind one of the three podiums, face-to-face with Alex Trebeck.

Having watched the show since around the time Trebeck became its host in 1984, Eisenhauer appeared on the program April 2. Although she ended up with just $1 at the end, the neurosurgery physician assistant came away with the experience of a lifetime.

“It was kind of a nightly ritual in our home,” she said of watching the show in her youth. “We’d eat dinner and then we’d sit down and ‘Jeopardy.'”

Witnessing her aptitude in answering the show’s trivia questions, particularly those related to the sciences and medicine, friends and family would encourage her to go on the show. “Trust me, I’m trying,” Eisenhauer would reply.

Now 45, she’d tried out for the show in her 20s and 30s, but the third time was the charm last year, when she finally reached the audition level. In Boston, she took an 80-question test and a participated in a mock game and interview. Her name was then put into a pool for 18 months for potential random selection.

“And then they called me,” just before last Christmas, when she was working in the operating room at Central Maine Medical Center, Eisenhauer recalled. “It was all a little bit crazy and surreal, right from the beginning.”


She had to decide then and there whether she could attend the once-in-a-lifetime Jan. 29 taping.

“Unfortunately, the date they had picked was in the middle of a pre-paid fishing trip we had already booked, to Cuba,” she said. “… Thankfully, my husband was very understanding and accommodating.”

Able to bring six guests to the taping, Eisenhauer was accompanied by her husband, son, mother, sister, nephew and best friend.

“Being on the set was just really amazing,” she said. “The game board is much larger than you think; it was sort of impressive.”

Eisenhauer experienced the proverbial butterflies in her stomach leading up to the taping, particularly after reading that 9 million Americans watch the show. But her nerves calmed a bit once she was on the show, empowered by the support she’d received and the knowledge that win or lose, the fact she had gotten onto “Jeopardy” was worth some pride.

“When I felt myself get a little nervous, I would refocus” and tell herself, “‘just look around. You’re here,'” she said. “That ‘being present’ kind of thing really helped calm me down.”


Trebeck was “so gracious” and has a quick wit, Eisenhauer said. During the commercial breaks, he walks to the front of the stage and chats with the audience, taking a variety of questions. One of them was about how Trebeck – who is battling stage IV pancreatic cancer – was feeling.

“He was very honest; he’s a very, very genuine person,” Eisenhauer said. The host was energetic and showed no signs of slowing down.

Eisenhauer was also impressed by the sense of family among the people working on the set, the most junior person had been there 12 years. Their love for Trebeck was “very, very evident,” she said.

“Really this sense of them treasuring every day they get to keep doing their job with him, because they know that it’s finite.”

Eisenhauer, who won the first round, had amassed $6,000 and was in third place as she and her two fellow contestants entered the third and last round. They knew only the category of that final question – classic American novels – and had make a wager before knowing the question itself.

Tasked with naming a 1926 novel partly based in Spain with a character based on British socialite Lady Duff Twysden, Eisenhauer guessed “A Farewell to Arms.” She was correct about the author, Ernest Hemingway, but not about the book, “The Sun Also Rises.”


In order to potentially best her opponents, who were ahead with $9,400 and $7,600, Eisenhauer wagered $5,999 in the case she had the correct answer and they did not.

“That was the only chance I had to win, so I took it,” she said, adding with a laugh, “I didn’t want to go to zero, so I said ‘I’ll leave a buck.'”

Despite finishing with $1, Eisenhauer took home $1,000 for coming in third. It used to be that second- and third-place finishers didn’t receive any money, she said.

As April 2 approached, Eisenhauer planned a Facebook Live watch party so her friends who didn’t have cable could still tune in. That proved fortuitous, given the social distancing that has been put into effect amid the coronavirus pandemic; they could still watch together, despite having to be apart.

“So many people said that something else to focus on for a half hour was really such a blessing,” Eisenhauer said. “And that part has made going on ‘Jeopardy’ even better for me, the fact that it’s giving people something right now.”

Watching herself on TV was “surreal” and “definitely amusing,” Eisenhauer said. “I was like ‘oh, I didn’t realize that I had that nervous tic.’ To be truthful, I don’t really remember anything I was doing at the time, because I was so focused on the game.”


Eisenhauer’s nephew Tim Charleson, eight years her junior, grew up in the same “Jeopardy”-watching household.

“So to then be out there in the studio and be witnessing it firsthand, it didn’t seem real,” he said. “It was an incredible experience.”

Charleson likened watching Eisenhauer on the show to cheering on a favorite Superbowl team: “You really felt the intensity behind the whole competition.”

Having witnessed the show’s inner workings and spent a day with its crew has given Eisenhauer’s watching-from-home experience a unique twist.

“I guess it makes me feel a little special,” she said.

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