Like many people of a certain generation, Vince Bacani has fond memories of watching TV with his family. In particular, they loved JEOPARDY!, the iconic U.S.-based quiz show.
“It was a real family thing. We always watched it together,” he says.
Bacani has now seen the show from a whole different perspective – as a contestant. While he can’t disclose how he fared (shows are pre-recorded), if people tune in tonight, January 17, they can watch the McGill Engineering grad (B.Eng ’93, M.Eng ’95) in action.
Originally, Bacani didn’t consider trying to become a contestant on his favourite game show. “For the longest time, Canadians were not eligible to compete,” he says. “I never dreamt of going.”
However, in 2016, producers of the show opened its doors to its northern neighbours and everything changed. “For the last seven years I’ve been trying,” he says in a phone interview with the Reporter. “It’s been a long road, but it’s been lots of fun.”
Skill, luck and camera presence
Qualifying for JEOPARDY! is an involved process that is equal parts skill, luck and casting call.
It begins with an online quiz that people can complete on their own at any time. If that goes well, aspiring contestants may be invited to take a written test under the watchful eyes of JEOPARDY! staffers.
But doing well on the test is no guarantee of moving on. “Not everyone gets picked,” says Bacani. “Once you pass a certain threshold, everyone is equal. If your name gets selected [randomly], you move on.”
Next, people play a mock game, in front of cameras, complete with a short interview – just like they do on TV. “It’s not so much to see how well you play,” says Bacani. “They want to see how well you speak and how well you present in front of the cameras. It’s an audition.”
After finally making it through to the auditions in 2021, he was told his name would be on file for 18 months. If he didn’t hear anything by then, he was free to start the lengthy qualifying process once again.
Nineteen months later, Bacani says he “had given up.” Then, one day, he got a call inviting him to fly to L.A. and appear on JEOPARDY!
Shoring up the weak spots
Many JEOPARDY! contestants hone their knowledge in trivia leagues, quiz bowls and highly competitive tournaments. “I play the JEOPARDY! app and some other informal things, but I’ve never done a tournament in my life,” says Bacani.
Once he got the word that he passed the audition, Bacani put together “an informal learning plan.”
“I’m an engineer, so I’m strong in science and math. I’m also pretty good in literature, art and sports,” he says. “But I’m not very strong in geography, pop culture, technology or things like video games. And history. That’s my real weakness.”
“Traditionally, Canadians on JEOPARDY! get hammered by American history, so I really concentrated on that. I bought all kinds of History for Dummies books, says Bacani with a chuckle. “Now I know all the Amendments to the Constitution, the Civil War, how the U.S. government works.”
“But,” he says ruefully, “once I passed the 12-month mark, I stopped studying.”
Behind the scenes
Bacani can’t divulge any details about his JEOPARDY! appearance, but he does offer some behind-the-scenes insights.
He says the set is “a lot smaller” than it appears on TV, and that playing in front of a live audience is quite different than writing a test. “I was pretty nervous,” he says.
A huge fan of beloved host Alex Trebek, Bacani says it was touching to learn that the studio where the show is taped is called the Alex Trebek Stage. Trebek hosted JEOPARDY! from 1984 until his death from pancreatic cancer in 2020. “We’re Canadians. We have an affinity for Alex Trebek,” he says.
Host Ken Jennings, considered the greatest JEOPARDY! champion of all time, is “really nice,” says Bacani. “He really wants everyone to do well. When I missed a few questions, I could tell he was pulling for me.”
Finally, he says the whole experience was well worth the seven-year wait. “It was so much fun and the people were great,” says Bacani. “It really was a dream.”
To watch Vince Bacani play, tune into JEOPARDY! at 7 p.m. tonight. 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.
Billy Wisse, a McGill alumnus, is the head writer on Jeopardy! Whenever there is a “College and University” category McGill is usually included, most recently a couple of weeks ago.
McGill Alumni – Behind the scenes at Jeopardy!
I am lucky enough to follow Marius Galczynski, also from McGill, onto the Jeopardy set. He was a Jeopardy champion in 2014. Hopefully I can keep the winning tradition going.
Billy Wisse has a connection to Montreal through family
We are so proud of our dear friend Vince! We love you! Randi, Monika and Nadia!
Thanks for the support and the watch party, Randi, Monika, and Nadia!
Watching Jeopardy! is a family affair at my house; we will be proud to watch a McGill alumni on tonight!
Thanks for watching, Rosetta!
Hi Vince. Were you a student at St F X in LaPrairie?
Hi, Ms. Zinkewich. Yes that was me, Class of 1987. How are you doing?
Congratulations to Vince Bacani, a Montrealer and McGill Alumnus. Well done. My son and I watched Jeopardy and were so very happy for his win. Definitely watching tomorrow night. My three children went to McGill.
Thanks for watching, Franca and Family!
It was a pleasure watching you. We were also so very happy that you won! Watching again tonight.
We saw you on Jeopardy, tonight September 18, 2023 and we are still very proud of you. Keep up the hard work. Best of luck in all that you do.
Correction – Vince Bacani. We saw you on jeopardy, tonight January 18, 2023 and we are still very proud of you. Keep up the hard work. Best of luck in all that you do.
Thanks again for watching and for posting these notes, Franca. That’s very kind.
It’s wonderful to hear about a contestant who talks about how much it means to him to be part of this show. Especially in Vince’s case. He’s been trying to get a chance on Jeopardy for years and never gave up. Very inspirational story. Hope he does well. Break a leg.
Thank you for the support, Roxanne!
Congratulations Vince! I remember when you worked at portage to fort paper mail. John Maheral and I(Lou Stafford )worked and I Ate a lot of good meals while we were there. You were extremely liked by everyone that knew you. Now .we are extremely proud. We wish you the best of luck.
Thanks so much, Lou. So nice to hear from you! I do miss those days hanging out with you, John, Bill, and C Shift, especially on Sundays in the bleach plant kitchen. Those were some choice meals. Thanks for watching and for your support. I hope I didn’t let you guys down. Cheers.
Congratulations Vincent. The buzz has been going around the South Shore amongst your former teachers at Good Shepherd and St. F of X.
Hi, Mr. Yaworski. (I can’t adjust to calling you Peter even though my hair is greyer than yours.). Thanks so much for watching. I’m so glad that my teachers still remember me, and I’m grateful for all your support. I’ll continue this thought in an email. Cheers
It’s great to see fellow Canadians doing so well on Jeopardy. Best of luck and cheers from Ottawa. Buona fortuna!
Mille grazie, John. It’s so nice to get support from fellow Canadians, and we can’t let Toronto contestants have all the fun, n’est-ce pas?