Devin Rossiter has always been fascinated by game shows—he remembers watching them as a child and reveling in the skills of regular people. So being a contestant on the long-running quiz show Jeopardy! “was a dream come true,” he said.
Rossiter, who graduated from Northeastern in 2005 with a degree in communications studies, ran the famous blue board for three days and won $54,204 in the process.
“Very rarely does something that you dream about live up to the experience, and this really did,” he said.
Explaining how he got to Jeopardy!, Rossiter traced a circuitous line back to Northeastern. His experience as a sports announcer for WRBB and WEEI as an undergraduate inspired him to move to the West Coast, where there were more on-air opportunities.
His first job was the play-by-play director of the Bakersfield Condors, a pro hockey team in Bakersfield, California. He couldn’t have known it at the time, but settling in Bakersfield would prove crucial to his Jeopardy! journey 15 years later.
Rossiter’s path to Jeopardy! officially began back in January, when the show released an “Anytime Test” that people could take at home for a shot to be a contestant. Rossiter, who works as an academic coach, took the 50-question test multiple times to increase his odds of being selected—“any chance I got,” he said.
In March, he heard from producers who wanted to bring him in for an audition and test. Because of the pandemic, they had to conduct the audition over Zoom—and his journey almost ended right then. Rossiter and the Jeopardy! producers had technical difficulties connecting, and it took some frantic last-minute emails to iron out the details.
He and the producers did finally connect, and Rossiter kept advancing through the audition process. Finally, producers told him they’d keep him on file for 18 months, calling him in when it was time to play. The only problem was, no one knew when that might be. The show had been on hiatus since the spring in order to protect the health of its crew and its host, Alex Trebek.
When the show finally resumed production, Rossiter encountered a stroke of luck: Producers were prioritizing any contestant who was within driving distance of the Jeopardy! set in Culver City, California. That meant Rossiter, whose home in Bakersfield is two hours away, was at the top of the list.
Two weeks after the show resumed production, Rossiter got the call.
“I was watching Jeopardy! pretty generally anyway at night, but once I got the confirmation that I would be a contestant, that’s when I went into overdrive,” he said.
Rossiter began digging through archived episodes to search for commonly used categories. He identified his own weak spots—British monarchs, Shakespeare—and boned up. And he pored over data on wagering strategies and the likelihood of Daily Doubles (a question whose answer brings in twice as much money) landing in certain areas of the board.
Rossiter was ready.
In the studio, he ran through a rehearsal to get a feel for the set and the play of the game. “You get a sense for the board—how massive it is, and how far away from the podiums it is,” he said.
Contestants can also use the rehearsal time to get a feel for the buzzer system: Tap in too early, and you’re locked out for half a second. Too late, and someone will beat you to it.
During rehearsal, Rossiter said he struggled to get the timing right.
“I felt anxious about that, but ultimately it lowered my expectations to the point where I felt like I didn’t have much to lose,” he said with a laugh. “I figured that I made it this far, I’ll just enjoy the ride.”
It was easy to enjoy. Rossiter said the contestants he competed against were gracious and supportive of each other, passing along tips and experience as they played. Trebek made a point to ask each player about their time on the show, and even ribbed Rossiter about his hair (or lack thereof) in between taping.
“Except for the audience missing, it was exactly as you’d envision the experience to be,” he said. The show has been taping without an audience to reduce density on set.
Caught up in the whirlwind, Rossiter said it wasn’t until a quiet moment between his first game and his second that reality set in.
“I just caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought, ‘I just became a Jeopardy! champion.’ That was when it really hit me.”