Becoming a contestant on Jeopardy is not an easy thing to do, just ask Susan Hill. Hill, who has called Halifax home for the last quarter of a century; she auditioned several times in decades past. Despite making it into the contestant pool a few times, Hill was never called to be a contestant. That all changed this past December while she was attending the funeral of her beloved ninety-four-year-old aunt. Hill said her phone was turned to silent, but her husband first noticed the email from Jeopardy. Hill called them back and was invited to California in early January to be a contestant on the show. Hill said she took it as a sign from her aunt, who she lovingly refers to as a “hot ticket.”
Jeopardy! first premiered in 1964 with Art Fleming as host. The version we watch today made its debut in 1984 hosted by Alex Trebek. Each year 70,000 people apply but only 400 will be selected as contestants.
Hill grew up in a neighborhood in Dorchester that she describes as having homes that were very close together. It was this experience, she says, that ultimately led to her and her husband’s decision to build on an acre of land in Halifax. Hill initially attended public school before moving on to parochial school and eventually landing at Fontbonne Academy in Milton on a scholarship. She later earned a degree in broadcasting and film from Boston University, but chose not to pursue a career in that industry.
A self-described free spirit, Hill said she has spent most of her adult life changing jobs every five or so years. Her husband, who she credits with keeping her grounded, is the yin to her yang, having spent the last forty years employed by Stop and Shop.
Hill’s last job was helping to run golf tournaments for the Women’s Golf Association of MA before her most recent endeavor. Hill credits her current title of dog walker as helping her get a leg in the door at Jeopardy. Not only do you have to have the smarts to pass the online test, you also must have the charisma and backstory to do well in the in-person interview. Hill said that in a sea of doctors and lawyers, her status as a dog walker stood out.
About a year ago Hill decided to take the online test which led to a call asking her to come for an in-person interview in April of 2019. Hill, who said she has always considered herself to be a shy person, said that the biggest difference between her interview this time and her interview decades before, was a lack of inhibition. Hill said, “Back then I was not as…” She stopped, searching for the right word before settling on “alive.” “I was kind of shy and subdued and didn’t make as good of an impression on them,” She continued. Asked what was most surprising about her Jeopardy experience, Hill says simply, “how animated I found myself to be.”
After getting that call at her aunt’s funeral in December, Hill had about a month’s notice to plan her trip to California for filming on January 6. Asked about what kind of preparation she did, Hill said, “You can’t really study up, though some people say study everything you can and maybe if I was younger and my brain a little more flexible, I could have done that.” Instead, she said she thought of the topics she would be most afraid of and decided to learn or relearn the basics. Opera, state capitals, and American history were all on that list.
Hill said she approached the entire experience as a once in a lifetime adventure. She said that she told herself if she won third place, she could pay for her airfare, second place earnings would cover airfare and hotel expenses, and were she to win, it would just be the icing on the cake.
Two weeks’ worth of shows are taped over a two-day period with winners returning to tape a second episode during that same block of time. If you win two games, you return at a later date on the show’s dime.
Hill said she was randomly selected to be in the final game of the first day. This placement afforded her the opportunity to sit in the audience and watch the earlier games. Hill said that she was initially nervous that she would be star struck around longtime host Alex Trebek or overwhelmed by the many TV cameras. “As the process went on and I got going in my game, it was almost like playing a trivia game in a bar,” Hill explained. Hill also said that she had a conversation with Trebek about whether or not Tom Brady will be returning to Boston. She described Trebek as a “normal person” and “just a nice guy.”
Hill said she thinks she accomplished her main goal which in her words was just to “not make a fool of myself.” Since this is a spoiler-free zone you’ll have to tune in on Friday, February 28 to see how she did.