Alex Trebek with UA faculty member Tucker Dunn. (Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions Inc.)
Alex Trebek with UA faculty member Tucker Dunn. (Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions Inc.)

UA Faculty Member to Compete on 'Jeopardy!' This Week

It has been a lifelong dream of Tucker Dunn's to appear on "Jeopardy!" and the "random-facts kind of guy" is getting an opportunity at last.
June 5, 2017
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In Tucson, "Jeopardy!" will not air at its usual time on Friday, pre-empted by Game 4 of the NBA Finals. The episode in which UA faculty member Tucker Dunn will appear is scheduled to broadcast at 9 p.m. local time on ABC (KGUN-TV).

Tucker Dunn, who teaches English to language learners at the University of Arizona, will see a childhood dream become reality on Friday, June 9, when he appears on the television quiz show "Jeopardy!"

Under the stage lights at Sony Pictures Studios, Dunn couldn't help but think back to his family's living room in Iowa, where he tried to match wits with the contestants on television. Dunn, an instructor in the College of Humanities Center for English as a Second Language, likes to joke that he is a "bit of an insufferable know-it-all." In the realm of trivia competitions, that's a quality that matters.

"I've just always been a random-facts kind of guy. My whole family is like that and we're a competitive bunch," he said. "I remember my elementary-school teacher referring to me as a walking encyclopedia. I always had a knack for remembering little bits of information."

In Tucson, "Jeopardy!" will not air at its usual time on Friday, pre-empted by Game 4 of the NBA Finals. The episode is scheduled to broadcast at 9 p.m.

Dunn's "Jeopardy!" journey began in December, when he took the timed online test, the first step for hopeful contestants nationwide. About 70,000 people take the test each year, then the pool of potentials is winnowed to 3,000 who are invited for in-person auditions. Of that group, about 400 are selected to appear on the show.

Dunn was invited to the three-phase audition in Phoenix in January, taking another 50-question test, playing in a mock version of the game and participating in a short interview, similar to host Alex Trebek's on-screen questions. After completing the audition, it becomes a waiting game.

"You're in the pool of potential candidates for a year and a half, but I got called eight days later. I couldn't believe it," Dunn said.

In February, Dunn drove to Los Angeles with his wife and mother for the show's taping. In the hotel before making their way to the studio, his wife played "Eye of the Tiger" for inspiration. Several days of episodes are taped at a time, with the contestants sitting in their own section of the studio audience, waiting their turn.

"I had to sit through four episodes before my name got called. I didn't want to be on the first one. I wanted to sit through and watch it once, but there were three more before I got called, so I kept getting more and more nervous," Dunn said.

Although he can't disclose how it turned out, Dunn said he was hoping for some favorable categories, like when mailman Cliff Clavin lucked out with "Stamps From Around the World" and "Bar Trivia" on the "Jeopardy!"-themed episode of "Cheers." Among Dunn's favorites would be "nerdy pop culture," sports, and languages and geography (not surprising, given his years teaching students from around the world). 

"If a category was Middle Eastern geography, I would do better than most," he said. "I've had students from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, so I've learned about those places and their cultures."

Dunn joined CESL as an instructor in 2014. He is a UA alumnus, having earned bachelor's degrees in German studies and linguistics from the College of Humanities in 2007, and a master's degree in English language/linguistics in 2014, also from the college. As an undergraduate, Dunn participated in two study-abroad programs: an academic-year exchange program at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and a summer program in Leipzig, Germany.

Dunn said the inquisitive nature that helped him reach the show has been a benefit in his classroom as well.  

"Being an ESL teacher, I like to have my students explain about their countries when I give them writing assignments or presentations to do, and I end up learning a lot about their cultures," he said. "When you're giving a presentation to someone who is clearly interested, you’re going to give a better presentation."

For the show's taping, Dunn wore his grandfather's Iowa State letter sweater from the 1940s.

"It was something fun and something that has a lot of sentimental value to me," he said. "He really wished he could have finished his education, but he had to leave college after his father lost a leg in a farming accident. Being on 'Jeopardy!' is something he would've been proud of, and I thought it would give me some luck."