Members of the McGill community who are fans of the popular gameshow JEOPARDY! should tune in to tomorrow’s show (February 14) to cheer on contestant Vince Bacani, a McGill Engineering graduate (B.Eng ’93, M.Eng ’95), and a member of the School of Continuing Studies’ Faculty Advisory Board.
If the name rings a bell, that’s because Bacani is a JEOPARDY! veteran, appearing on the famed quiz show on January 17, 2023. Although Bacani won that episode, he lost the following match.
However, that solitary victory qualified Bacani for the JEOPARDY! Champions Wild Card Tournament for Season 39, Group 2. The Wild Card Tournament pits Season 39 winners of one or two games against each other in a knock-out competition en route to the show’s Tournament of Champions finale.
“Getting to be on JEOPARDY! the first time was kind of a dream come true,” says Bacani of his seven-year effort to qualify. “Being invited back was even more special.”
Everyone’s a winner
Bacani was flown to Los Angeles this past January to play in the Wild Card quarterfinals. While he can’t divulge how he fared, if Bacani wins, he moves on to the next round. Regardless of the outcome, the experience has been wonderful.
“Win or lose, the players in the Wild Card Tournament get a minimum $5,000 and a free vacation to LA in the winter,” says Bacani.
In general, as many of five JEOPARDY! shows are taped each day. Contestants are on site, but they don’t know when they will be called or who their opponents will be until minutes before taping.
But for the Wild Card Tournament, players know in advance both when their taping takes place and who they will be playing against.
“As far as managing your energy level is concerned, it is very different knowing exactly when you’re going on,” says Bacani.
“This time around, I got the dreaded after-lunch spot which meant I had to skip lunch so I wouldn’t crash – and it’s a really good lunch that is catered by Wolfgang Puck,” laughs Bacani. “Instead, I drank lots of water.”
After the first appearance, Bacani garnered some local media attention. On top of being featured in the McGill Reporter, he appeared on CJAD, was on the front page of the Montreal Gazette, and got some coverage in Kahnawá:ke, where he plays organ at a church. “It was a nice 15 minutes, but life goes back to normal fairly quickly,” he says with a smile.
“It did remind me of how many Montrealers still love the show,” he says. “There’s a generational aspect. Like me, kids learn to love JEOPARDY! by watching it with their family.”
Bacani says one of the secrets to the show’s longevity (now in its 40th season) is its consistency. “They really have the formula down, so, if you take a break from watching it, there is a real sense of familiarity when you tune back in. It really is a finely tuned machine.”
In praise of Ken Jennings
Bacani has nothing but praise for Ken Jennings who is the show’s permanent host after the passing of Alex Trebek in 2020. Jennings hosted Bacani in his initial appearance on the show and in the Wild Card quarterfinals.
“I was too nervous the first time, so I don’t think I really appreciated, how funny he is – and how nice! It always feels like he is really pulling for us,” says Bacani. “With my second appearance there was that added familiarity. Although none of us are anywhere near being his peer [as a contestant, Jennings won an unprecedented 74 consecutive games and more than $2.5 million], it feels like we belong to the same club.”
Tougher than it looks from home
Bacani spent several hours a day prepping for the Wild Card Tournament, playing seven-years worth of archived JEOPARDY! games online and carrying textbooks with him wherever he went. “I’m an engineer who reads and likes music, so I’m pretty good in science, literature, and entertainment,” he says. “But, because it is an American show, I really had to bone up on U.S. history and geography.”
“I think I know the Constitution better than most U.S. citizens,” he chuckles.
Bacani says his experience as a JEOPARDY! contestant has changed the way he watches the show.
“I’m definitely less critical when people miss. It used to be ‘how could you miss that one!’ But I didn’t realize how many factors come into play,” he says. “The buzzer plays a huge role, and there is an element of randomness – if you hit the Daily Doubles, if you get categories that you’re strong in, how other people are playing… And, of course, there are the nerves. When I see champions who win 5 or 10 games, I’m so impressed.”
To watch Vince Bacani play, tune into JEOPARDY! at 7 p.m. tomorrow night, February 14. In Montreal, JEOPARDY! is aired by the NBC affiliate WPTZ-5 out of Plattsburgh on weeknights at 7 p.m., or check your local listings.