Two months after James Holzhauer’s streak, math teacher Jason Zuffranieri took his first Jeopardy! win. Now, the Albuquerque native is quietly paving his own path to the Jeopardy! Hall of Fame, ranking 10th in Highest Winnings (Regular-Season Play) as of his win today.
We caught up with our latest streaker to hear a bit about what his side of the lectern feels like.
Walk us through your Jeopardy! journey. What did it take for you to get on the show?
Back in high school in the ’90s, I tried out once and I didn't pass the test in person – in this very studio, in fact. And then in college, I didn't pass the test. I took a bus to Phoenix, and I didn't pass the test. And then I finally passed the online test five times and didn't get on the show all five times. The sixth time is when I made it through. So it was a total of nine times before I finally got to take the stage.
After being off for the summer, were you nervous that you might have lost your touch when you came back to play again?
Certainly. Yeah, absolutely. You never know. The buzzer has always been magic to me, even during those shows (last season) and even today. You never know. I never know if I'm going to get in. It's an art, not a science.
Now you have multiple wins under your belt. What’s your personal goal for being here?
I really don't know. I kind of want to reach the best I can, which I know is certainly not as good as some other people who have been on this show. But I'm certainly going to try my best, and try to limit my mistakes and maximize my winnings. Just keep it rolling as long as it can – because it's such a blessing.
We have noticed there might be a little James Holzhauer influence on your gameplay – starting from the bottom, that sort of thing. Is that intentional?
I thought about it, you know. It's not just to mimic him. Nobody is like him, but it's such a smart way to do it as well. And those kind of [higher value] clues – competitors might be more timid to take those on early, so you can really make up some ground.
You're from Albuquerque, New Mexico. What would be some of the places or areas you would recommend that we check out?
The lovely foothills in the east part of town are great for hikes and for just watching the sunset – lovely views over there. And you can always come to pub trivia, which you can spot me at a couple of times a week as well.
Other fun facts about Jason? Here are some snippets from his interviews with Alex Trebek:
He’s been mistaken for actor Nicolas Cage. Alex jokingly balked at the comparison, but we kind of see it!
On his first show back this season, he wore the same tie that his father tied for him on his first day of high school.
A few years ago, he was featured in a local magazine as one of the region’s hottest singles. Little did they know, he would add Jeopardy! champion to his list of achievements.