UA instructor and alumnus competes on "Jeopardy!"

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Alex Trebek, left, with Tucker Dunn, right, an instructor at the UA Center for English as a Second Language (CESL). Dunn was chosen as a contestant in an episode of "Jeopardy!" that aired on Friday, June 9.

Educated and employed by the UA, Tucker Dunn earned an incredible opportunity to participate as a contestant on “Jeopardy!,” a popular game show known for its blue category screens and catchy theme song.

Dunn graduated with a B.A. in Germanic Studies and Linguistics, then pursued an M.A. in English Language and Linguistics. He now uses his strength in linguistics to teach English here at UA.

As an instructor at the Center for English as a Second Language (CESL), Dunn assists students who are not native English speakers improve their understanding of the language and prepare them for a university-level education.

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As a show based in knowing facts, “Jeopardy!” was rooted in Dunn’s childhood and stayed with him well into adulthood. He and his family would regularly come together and watch “Jeopardy!.” Like many other families, they would all try to come up with answers to the questions asked on the TV show in hopes of being the first one to answer.

“I’ve always loved the show and I’ve always loved trivia and games where you have to know answers about random facts,” Dunn said.

During one of those family get-togethers, Dunn was encouraged to try to make the jump from his living room to the actual “Jeopardy!” show. As a quick reader, he would have an answer ready even before Alex Trebek — the host of “Jeopardy!” — finished reading the question.

“It got to the point where I would be doing this a lot at our house and my family would be giving me a dirty look and telling me, ‘Why don’t you just go on the show if you’re so smart?’” Dunn recalled.

He did exactly that: Dunn underwent an online test in December, an in-person mock “Jeopardy!” show audition in January and then waited for a phone call .

Awaiting a response, Dunn remembers feeling that he didn’t do well during the mock game show audition due to a couple of mistakes he made. However, this did not prevent him from earning his very own spot on “Jeopardy!.”

“I had fun with it and that’s one of the things that they told you—that they’re looking for people who look like they’re having a good time,” Dunn said.

Dunn believed that his eagerness towards the game worked for him, because he received his call to come on the show only a week after his audition. Most of the applicants typically wait up to a year for a response .

“I could hardly believe it; it was a very fast turnaround. So, I must have done something right because they apparently wanted me on the show right away,” Dunn said with a laugh.

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When the day came for Dunn to be a contestant on “Jeopardy!,”he said that while being nervous, he was also excited to be accomplishing a lifelong dream. According to Dunn, only 400 of the 70,000 people who apply become contestants on “Jeopardy!.”

“Just by making it on the show, you’ve already won,” Dunn said.

His mother and wife accompanied him on his big day for moral support. Dunn said that before the show taping they bought champagne to celebrate, no matter what the outcome would be.

“Either way we were celebrating — celebrating that I won or celebrating that I made it that far,” Dunn said. “It’s something that I can talk about for the rest of my life ... something that nobody can take away from me.”

Although Dunn could not discuss the outcome of the show, he shared some of the valuable insight that he gained from the experience.

“Enjoy it; I guess that was probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned. Like anything in life, sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses,” Dunn said.

More trivia game shows may be in Dunn’s future, perhaps one where he could include his family.

“I think it would be really cool to do ‘Family Feud’ and bring my family with [me] because they are all how I got into all of this trivia stuff,” Dunn said. “I think that we have a bunch of big personalities in my family too, so I think that they would like us..” 

As of Tuesday, Dunn’s two-day earnings were $27,600. Friends and family watched the episode with him on Tuesday at No Anchovies.


Follow Melissa Vasquez on Twitter.



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