“Dreams come true” would be a suitable category to feature on an upcoming episode of NBC’s popular trivia game show, “Jeopardy!.”
The clue filed under $500 would read, “This Bismarck native applied to be a Jeopardy! contestant each of the last 10 years before being selected to compete in 2017.”
“Who is Kyle Becker?” would be the winning response.
Becker, a 2005 Bismarck High School graduate and former Tribune carrier, will be one of three contestants competing for the top cash prize on Monday’s show, which was filmed in August.
“Competing on Jeopardy! has definitely been a bucket-list item,” said Becker, who began watching the show in middle school. “It’s just one of those things I’ve always wanted to do.”
The 30-year-old enjoys weekly team trivia get-togethers and has a knack for memorizing random facts.
“With Jeopardy!, you don’t need to have expertise in just one area,” said Becker, who may or may not be depositing a nice chunk of change in his bank account next week. He is “sworn to secrecy” about the outcome of the episode until it airs.
“Everyone keeps asking me if I won,” he said. “My response is, ‘I haven’t even told my mother, why would I tell you?’”
Donna Jean Becker, of Bismarck, said her son had one goal going into the competition: making it to the Final Jeopardy! round with a positive balance, to ensure the opportunity to wager and answer the final clue.
“He is a very smart kid … an overachiever, definitely,” she said, noting he was an Eagle Scout and took several AP classes in high school. “I’m very happy for him. This is something he’s wanted to do forever. It's nice that he can cross it off his bucket list.”
Applying for the show is a two-step process. First is completing an online test made up of 50 clues from 50 categories. Potential contestants have 15 seconds to answer each clue.
“They give you enough time to answer, but not enough time to Google it,” Becker said.
Apbout 70,000 people take the online test each year, and no more than 3,000 people make it to the second step, which is regional in-person auditions, he said.
Becker made the cut and, in May, was invited to an audition in Nashville, Tenn., where he currently resides and works as a research assistant at Vanderbilt University.
Divided into groups of 20, potential contestants must, once again, complete a 50-clue quiz, using pencil and paper to jot down their answers. Fast thinking and writing is required, as individuals only have eight seconds to answer each question.
The quiz is followed by a mock "Jeopardy!" competition, in which auditionees, in groups of three, practice playing the game. Correct answers are not a requirement for this round, but individuals must display their best on-air qualities, such as good energy and a confident voice.
“The idea is to see if you can keep the game moving and go with the flow,” Becker said.
Auditions are considered valid for 18 months, so potential contestants aren’t sure if or when they will receive “the call.”
Luckily for Becker, the wait wasn’t very long. In late July, he was notified that he was one of about 400 contestants selected to fill out the 2017 season. Filming would take place in August in Los Angeles, Calif.
“I was really excited,” he said. “They don’t give you a lot of notice or time to study.”
In the little time he did have, Becker studied flash cards with information pertinent to Jeopardy!’s more frequent categories, with Shakespeare, opera and geography being among them.
“I tried to pick the categories that come up with some regularity and tried to remember as much as I could,” Becker said. “You can’t study ‘12-letter words.’”
It’s also difficult to prepare oneself for “butterflies in the stomach.”
“When you get up on the stage with all the bright lights and the studio audience, it’s nerve-wracking,” Becker said. “I didn’t have anyone to make the trip with me on such short notice, which I was kind of glad about. Having friends or family in the audience would’ve made me even more nervous.”
Contestants’ interactions with host Alex Trebek are limited.
“He doesn’t come and talk to the contestants during commercial breaks or take them out to lunch,” Becker said. “My only interactions with him are, pretty much, what you see on the filming.”
He did say Trebek is a “nice guy.”
The rest of the story has yet to unfold. Come Monday, Becker plans to watch the episode with a group of his Nashville friends. North Dakota family and friends will gather at The Stadium Sports Bar & Lodge to learn the outcome together.
“No matter how he does, his mom and dad are both very proud of him,” Donna Jean Becker said. “Just being selected to be on is a great accomplishment. We know it’s something he’s wanted to do for a long time, and we’re glad he achieved it.”