For Matt Brooks (right), meeting Jeopardy host Ken Jennings "was like something out of a dream." (submitted photo)

Who is Matt Brooks? Fredericksburg resident to appear on Jeopardy!

by | Jun 29, 2024 | ALLFFP, Arts and Entertainment, Fredericksburg

When Matt Brooks saw the California area code appear on his phone, he knew almost immediately that it was the call he’d been expecting for almost 20 years.

Brooks, a Fredericksburg native and Chancellor High School graduate, started watching Jeopardy as a kid, the quiz show’s 7:30 p.m. time slot engrained as a cherished part of his childhood routine. That he had a preternatural penchant for supplying the correct answers questions quickly became apparent to his folks.

“Matthew would answer something, and I would say, ‘How would you know that?’” recalled his mother, Susan.

“I’m into trivia pretty big,” added Brooks, 49. “And I essentially just watch Jeopardy every night.”

On Monday, Brooks will take his turn being watched by millions in prime time as he appears as a Jeopardy! contestant. His appearance was teased briefly at the conclusion of Friday’s episode.

While Brooks first tried out for the show two decades ago, his most recent efforts date back to 2019, when he took a 50-question online test.

“If you pass that, they make you do it again while they watch you,” he explained. “If you pass that, then you get to do a Zoom interview or audition. They’re not testing your knowledge but if you’re camera-ready or whatever.”

Brooks’ interview took place in 2022, but he hadn’t heard anything until two months ago when he received a call during his workday at Mary Washington Hospital, where he’s in IT.

“I kind of just wheeled my chair away from my coworkers and took the call,” Brooks recalled. “I said, ‘Is this who I think it is?’ They were like, ‘Yeah, this is Sony Picture Studios.”

The filming took place back in May, and Brooks was allowed to bring three guests — his husband, Daniel, and his two parents — on the trip. They flew out to Culver City, California, the home of Sony Picture Studios, on Mother’s Day.

Like golfers preparing to tee off in a major, Brooks was invited on stage in the early morning to warm up with a couple of practice rounds. Behind each of the contestants’ podiums is an adjustable riser, which is raised or lowered so that each appears roughly the same height on camera.

Beyond his experience as a long-time Jeopardy! viewer, Brooks prepared by perusing blogs that detail every aspect of the contestant experience, going so far as to experiment with different buzzer grips using a clicky ballpoint pen as a stand-in for the device.

“Do I want to hold it with one hand and use my thumb?” he offered. “Do I want to use two hands and use my index finger to trigger it? I practiced a couple of different ways. I knew how far I was going to be standing from the actual board, but you don’t get an actual perception of it until you’re standing there.”

But it wasn’t until Brooks met Jeopardy! legend-turned-host Ken Jennings that he realized he’d reached the zenith of his trivial pursuit.

“It was like something out of a dream,” he said with a laugh.

Jeopardy! films several episodes in a given day, but Brooks’ name was among the first three contestants called when the cameras started rolling that morning.

“When he came out on the stage, I looked out at Daniel and Bennie, and all three of us, our eyes just welled up,” Susan Brooks said.

The tears were especially joyous for Brooks’ husband Daniel DiBona. On one of their first dates, Brooks produced a pencil he’d received as consolation from making it to the interview round almost 20 years ago. Inspired by his partner, DiBona initiated the process to become a contestant on Wheel of Fortune, making it onto the show in 2012 with Brooks attending the filming.

“I checked my box, and was like, ‘Now we are like full force — full throttle — we’re doing this, we’re getting you on Jeopardy!,’” he said.

Perhaps more challenging than the game board itself was keeping the outcome a secret until Monday night, when more than 125 people will gather with Brooks, his family and friends for a watch party at Hard Times Cafe in Four Mile Fork.

“After the dust settled and after we did it,” said Brooks, “I told them, ‘You know what happened. Don’t tell anyone what happened, let it unfold on TV for everyone to maintain the surprise.’ And, for the most part, they’ve been able to do that.”

Susan Brooks, however, found a cryptic way of laundering information about her son’s performance. Contestants are asked to pack multiple shirts, one for each episode in which they appear.

“All of his mom’s friends were asking us, ‘How many shirts did he wear?’” DiBona said. “That was our roundabout way of letting people know how he did.”

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