Rick Terpstra’s main strategy to win thousands of dollars on the popular game show “Jeopardy!” is simple: just recreate the show in your living room.
“I would stand up and buzz along to a pre-recorded episode of ‘Jeopardy!’ holding a pen as a buzzer,” said Terpstra, a 2005 law alumnus.
Terpstra, a substitute English teacher at Ridley High School in Folsom, Pennsylvania, won $89,199 on “Jeopardy!” and has appeared on the show three times.
In July, he closed out Season 34 of the show with $39,800 in two days’ cash winnings. Terpstra won the rest of the money during the first and second episodes of Season 35, which aired on Sept. 10 and 11.
“Whether you win or lose is up to so many factors out of your control,” he said.
Despite all his studying with flashcards and rewatching episodes, only one question came up while Terpstra was on the show that he remembered from studying, and it for another contestant to answer.
In April 2016, Terpstra’s mock game practice helped him audition for the show. The live audition in Washington, D.C. split possible contestants into groups of three to answer “Jeopardy!” questions.
After being in the contestant pool for 18 months, he completed another online test in March to qualify for the show. By the end of the week, Terpstra received a call from producers, who remembered him from the audition, to be a contestant on the show.
“‘Jeopardy!’ likes to play around with lateral thinking,” he said. “Make an inference. If you can connect the facts together, you will get answers.”
Terpstra’s trivia knowledge connects back to his time at Temple University, where he and his close friend Rich Frankel often visited bars, like the now-closed Bryan Street Pub in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, for trivia nights.
Terpstra said the pair were trivia champions at the pub several times a month until the bar told them to step down to give other people a chance.
“Rick and I were extremely competitive,” said Frankel, who is also a 2005 doctor of law alumnus and an attorney at the Cherry Hill, New Jersey-based law firm Bross & Frankel, P.A.
He added watching Terpstra live out his dream and win “Jeopardy!” reminded him of their time at law school.
The evening Terpstra’s final episode aired, he and his wife, Deb Terpstra, threw a small viewing party at their home in Havertown, Pennsylvania. The couple’s friends, in-laws and former Beasley School of Law classmates all watched Terpstra win.
Deb Terpstra said it was exciting to watch her husband’s life-long dream come true.
“It was amazing to see everything put together,” she added. “The poise and sportsmanship, it was exciting to see what happened in front of you.”
For Rick Terpstra, the best reaction at the party came when his 8-year-old son jumped on his back and hugged him after watching the show.
Once Rick Terpstra receives the “Jeopardy” money, his family plans to use it to go on a beach vacation next summer.
Terpstra also received an overwhelming amount of support from Ridley High School’s faculty and students. He was interviewed by students for the morning announcements almost every day the week his last episode aired.
“It made me feel welcomed in a new job,” he said. “Unsure of how I [would] be perceived by people, ‘Jeopardy!’ was an icebreaker.”
The friendly atmosphere at Ridley High School reflected Terpstra’s interactions with contestants on the show, which he said was his favorite takeaway from the experience.
“[It’s] not a cutthroat, stab-in-the-back kind of environment,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of my Facebook friends are people I’ve met on taping days.”
Still, Terpstra added the show is intimidating and winning felt “interesting,” because multiple episodes of “Jeopardy!” are filmed in one day.
“One minute you’re the ‘Jeopardy!’ champion, and the next minute you’re not,” Terpstra said. “Somebody said in a recent Sports Illustrated article, ‘The best thing about being a ‘Jeopardy!’ champion is how quickly you unbecome one.’”
Like his Quizzo days at the pub, Terpstra doesn’t plan on returning to “Jeopardy!” so new contestants can have a chance.
“I achieved my goal just to get on the podium,” Terpstra said. “Winning was a nice bonus.”