Nathan Berger of Portland, seen with host Alex Trebek, appears on “Jeopardy!” Wednesday.  Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

A restaurateur and sommelier from Portland won Wednesday’s round of  “Jeopardy!”, defeating a returning champion and another contestant to walk away with nearly $12,000.

Nathan Berger correctly answered the Final Jeopardy question under the category of Classic TV Sitcoms to earn the victory over returning champion Ben Scripps, a television director from Cadillac, Michigan, and Rachel Keen, a compliance specialist from Washington, D.C.

The Final Jeopardy question was:  ” ‘I love Lucy’ (a television show) used the French word enceinte in a 1952 episode title because CBS didn’t want this word used.” Berger and Scripps each gave the correct answer, “what is pregnant,” but Scripps only wagered $601 leaving him with $5,801. Berger wagered $199 and won $11,999.

“And he gets to play again,” host Alex Trebek said as the show ended. Wednesday’s show was taped before a live audience in March.

Contacted Wednesday evening, Berger said that he’ll appear Thursday night to defend his title. “Jeopardy!” airs at 7:30 p.m. on WMTW-TV locally, an ABC affiliate.

“It was a lot of fun,” Berger said of his appearance on the nationally televised game show, which Trebek has hosted since 1984.

Berger, 38, of Portland, made it onto his favorite game show at nearly the last possible moment before production was halted indefinitely by the coronavirus pandemic. He filmed his first appearance in Los Angeles on March 10, just days before the shutdown. He filmed his second appearance the same day.

The show’s staff was already taking safety precautions, sanitizing surfaces often and limiting the show’s audience to invited guests of the contestants. Trebek is fighting pancreatic cancer, and crew and guests were aware of the need to keep him safe from COVID-19, Berger said.

Even without a looming pandemic, Berger said, being on “Jeopardy!” was “surreal” and somewhat of a blur. Though the show is a half-hour with commercials, questions are only asked of contestants for about 15 minutes, he said. Even if he was allowed to talk about his appearance beforehand – he’s not – he said he probably could only recall three or four categories that were featured.

“It was really a whirlwind. I couldn’t believe how fast it goes,” Berger said.

And like several Maine contestants before him, Berger said buzzing in at the right time is the hardest part. Contestants cannot buzz in to answer a question until Trebek is finished giving the clue, and if they do, they get frozen out from buzzing again for a fraction of a second.

Berger said contestants don’t really get comfortable with buzzing correctly until they get a category they feel very confident with. That allows them to focus on buzzing at the right time and not worry too much about whether they know the answer.

“The only hard part is the buzzer,” said Berger. “As far as the answer, you either know it or you don’t.”

Berger works as wine director for Eighty Ate Hospitality, a Maine restaurant group that includes Lio and Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland and Tao Yuan in Brunswick. Though he can’t say if he got any food and wine categories, Berger did say he studied subjects he’s seen often on “Jeopardy!” Those include American presidents, European royals, British literature and U.S. state capitols and birds.

Berger will be the third Mainer this year to compete on the show, and at least the fourth since last fall. Tiffany Eisenhauer, a physician assistant from Freeport, appeared on one show in April, while Dennis Coffey, a bartender from Old Orchard Beach, won three games and more than $52,000 in January. Jessica Garsed of Augusta, a medical librarian, won more than $53,000 during four shows in October.

“Jeopardy!” had been airing older episodes the last couple of weeks, and new episodes began airing this week. Since five episodes are filmed each day, there will be new episodes this week and the week of June 8-12. From May 25 to June 5, the show’s annual Teacher’s Tournament, taped in February, will air.

 


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