After Years of Trying, Beth Tfiloh Member Makes it on ‘Jeopardy!’

Carol Oppenheim and "Jeopardy!" host Ken Jennings
Carol Oppenheim and “Jeopardy!” host Ken Jennings (Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Be persistent. And keep watching.

That’s the advice Carol Oppenheim, 72, gives to anyone who aspires to be on “Jeopardy!” like she was.

The Owings Mills resident and Beth Tfiloh Congregation member earned a place on the popular quiz show that aired on July 6. She came in second, racking up a total score of $14,001. Second- and third-place winners are awarded $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.

The retired computer programmer joined two contestants — a social media coordinator and a medical student — trying to win money as they were quizzed on all types of trivia. The answers to clues are phrased in the form of a question.

Host Ken Jennings, who had the longest winning streak on “Jeopardy!” with 74 consecutive wins, inspired Oppenheim to audition for the nearly 60-year-old show.

“He had a very long run years ago, and it looked like he was having fun,” Oppenheim said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”

Oppenheim vied for eligibility at different times during a 12-year period. During that time, she took online tests and made it to the interview stage in 2015 and 2021. The latter led to her appearance. In February, she learned that she would be a contestant in a May taping. She and her husband traveled to Culver City, Calif., where she got her chance to be on the production stage, named for longtime host, the late Alex Trebek.

She didn’t do anything extraordinary to prepare for the show, she said.

“I felt like I didn’t want to make myself crazy by studying all the time and no one would know what to study anyway,” she said. “The chances of me happening to learn one new fact that happened to be on the show were pretty slim. I knew enough to get selected and I was going to go with that.

“The main thing I did was watch the show faithfully and pretend I had a buzzer in my hand and try to answer in the form of a question,” she added.

Besides watching “Jeopardy!” religiously, she listens to a series of “Jeopardy!” podcasts.
Oppenheim was in Iceland at the time the show aired and wound up watching the episode with her family on YouTube.

“I thought I seemed nervous,” she said.

Oppenheim remembers seeing “Jeopardy!” when Art Fleming was the host in 1964. She has watched the show regularly over the past 20 years.

The best part about being on “Jeopardy!” was “hanging out with the other contestants in what is called the party room,” she said.

“We were all yelling out answers and talking and being rowdy,” Oppenheim added.

That experience, she said, took the pressure off from being on a televised show watched by more than 9 million viewers.

Oppenheim and her husband, Carl, a dentist, spent four days in L.A.

“We went out for meals and just hung out,” Oppenheim said. “I wanted to be relaxed. I didn’t want sore feet.”

Her favorite categories in “Jeopardy!” are anything that has to do with wordplay.

“I was actually lucky,” she said. “Anagrams came up as one of my categories.”

Oppenheim said she knows how to tease out an answer even if “you don’t know a thing about the subject. A large part of this is unpacking the clue. There might be one word in the clue that actually points you in the direction of the answer.

“That’s why they recommend watching the show as a way to get ready,” she said.
The subject she finds most challenging is sports. And she needs stronger buzzer skills, she said.

“There were times I could not get my thumb in there quick enough when I did know the answers,” she said. “You can’t buzz in before Ken Jennings is finished reading the clue. There are two panels of lights to the side. When those are lit, the buzz window is open. I wasn’t listening to Ken’s voice at all. I was looking at the lights trying to time my buzzing.”
Oppenheim was thrilled to be on the stage with Jennings. She also admires another famous “Jeopardy!” contestant, Sam Buttrey, a professor who is more her age. “He is an inspiration,” she said.

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here