George and Sam McAleese will watch tonight’s episode of the popular game show “Jeopardy” with friends in a Washington, D.C., tavern.
Actually, they’ll spend a good part of the program watching their friends.
“They don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” said George McAleese, a 2003 graduate of Columbus North High School. “We do. We’re really looking forward to see how they react throughout the program.”
The McAleese brothers and their sister Elizabeth (an attorney in Atlanta) have been sharing that secret for four months. The rest of the world will be let in on it at the conclusion of the program.
That’s when Alex Trebek, host of the syndicated answer-and-question program, will reveal whether George has advanced to another round.
George, an attorney with a research firm in Washington and son of Drs. Karl and Kathryn McAleese of Columbus, was selected as a contestant for the program through a process that began in January 2012.
The show was recorded during the Christmas holiday last year. While George was on stage with host Trebek and two other contestants, his siblings watched from the audience.
“Our parents gave Sam and Elizabeth plane fare to California as their Christmas present,” George said. “They’ve also been sworn to secrecy.”
Going through the selection process was arduous enough, but it paled when compared with keeping the results secret over the past four months.
“It’s been tough both here at work and back home in Columbus,” George remarked in an interview Wednesday morning. “When we were home for the holidays, our friends and relatives kept trying to get information out of us. It’s been pretty much the same here in Washington.”
Contestants are required to sign a secrecy pledge in which they agree not to spill the beans about who won and who lost. This is a pledge that has some teeth. Contestants receive a base reward of $1,000 just for being on the program. That’s the amount given to the third-place finisher. Second place gets $2,000, and the winner gets whatever amount is posted on his or her scorecard at the end of the program.
“If you tell anybody how it turned out, you don’t get any money,” George said.
Being on “Jeopardy” is the fulfillment of what has been an almost lifelong dream for the former Columbus resident, who was a National Merit finalist in his senior year in high school.
“I’ve been watching since I was a kid. It was a nightly routine in our house. We’d all gather in the kitchen when the show went on, and each of us would try to be the first to shout out the correct answer.”
George also has been pursuing his dream of being a contestant for quite a while.
“I’ve been taking their online tests for years,” he said. “I took the most recent in January of 2012, and the following May I got a call asking me to come to one of their in-person auditions. Fortunately, there was one held in Washington.”
The audition was arduous. It started with a 50-question test followed by a personal interview. The day was capped off with a trial run for the prospective contestants, which was similar to what the selectees would experience on the actual show.
“During the interview they tried to get a feel for our background, and everybody was asked what they would do with the money if they won,” he said. “There were about 25 or 30 who went before me, and almost all of them said they planned to travel. When it came my turn, I thought I’d try something different. So I told them I would pay off student loans and take some cooking classes.”
George, who received a bachelor’s degree at Arizona State and graduated from law school at Hofstra College in 2010, had to wait another six months to find out how he had done. The call came on Election Day last November asking him to fly to Los Angeles, where his appearance on the program would be recorded.
Contestants have to pay for their own flights, an amount that is eventually reimbursed through the prize winnings.
George and his siblings won’t be the only ones watching tonight’s program with others. Their parents plan to have a “Jeopardy” party of their own.
The difference is that everybody at the Columbus party will be in the dark about the outcome until the end.