Skaar makes three-day ‘Jeopardy’ champion

Last month, Bob and Marcia Skaar’s phone at their home in Alamogordo was ringing off the hook.

“We heard from people we hadn’t heard from in 30 years,” she said.

That’s because their son David was a three-day champion on “Jeopardy.” He won $104,000 in three days, and then was defeated on the fourth day and won $2,000 as runner-up.

“It was the roughest weeks of my life, and the most fun weeks,” David Skaar said last week in a telephone interview from his home in Raleigh, N.C.

“We thought it was fantastic. It was wonderful, we are very proud of him,” Bob and Marcia Skaar agreed.

David, 35, is a 1990 graduate of Alamogordo High School.

“Alex Trebek has been doing (Jeopardy) for 25 years and I’ve been watching it for 25 years,” he said. “I was probably 12 or 13 when they did the first teen tournament, and I applied to get on it then, several times when I was in high school. I sent in a postcard and they never drew my name.

“Then I sent in the postcards for the college tournament when I was in college, and nothing ever happened there.”

For the last 12 years David has been trying to get to the regular Jeopardy tryouts. Then, a few years ago, the show started online tryouts with a 50-question test on the Internet. The first time he did the test three years ago he was invited to an interview in Orlando, but he never was called back.

“You can keep trying out as long as you can stand it,” David said. “So this spring I took the computer test again. It’s
50 questions, and you get 10 seconds or less to answer each one. There’s literature, history, science, music, vocabulary words, movies.

“They are as difficult as the most difficult questions on the game, so they’re as tough as they get.”

In July David was invited to a tryout in Washington D.C.

“I drove there and back in one day, and I missed the going-away lunch for a colleague who was going back to Korea, so if I missed his party, I had to make it worthwhile,” he said. “This time in about a month they called me, and said ‘Do you want to be on the show?’ and I said ‘yes.’ “

And then the real contest drama began.

David went to Los Angels and taped the show in September. They taped five shows in one day, he said.

“Again, we did some practice in the actual studio, to get used to the buttons and the lights and the screens,” David said.

Armed with this practice, he went into the fray.

“So I got to see how good this guy was and then I got to play him. We went in and started the first game, and at some point I actually realized I was beating him. And we got to the end of the game, and he turned to the woman who was the other player in the game, and he said, ‘looks like we’re playing for second place.’

“I didn’t even realize that going into Final Jeopardy I was far enough ahead that they couldn’t catch me. As it turns out all three of got the right answer, but I won. Everyone wagers from their score on the final question. So as long as I didn’t do anything stupid, they couldn’t catch my score, because I had theirs more than doubled.”

When he was younger, David wanted to win a lot of money on Jeopardy so he wouldn’t have to grow up. Now he wants to keep learning. But first he has to figure out how much of the $104,000 the government wants.

“My own priority is I can continue being a scientist and not worry about how much it pays right now,” David said. “What I’m doing now isn’t really a real-world job; I’m still acting like a student even though I’m not really one.”

David is a research scientist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., doing research into the genetic causes of diseases. He holds a PhD. in biochemistry from Duke.

David and his wife, Dawn, haven’t run right out to buy anything, because they doesn’t have the money yet. “Jeopardy” generally pays off within 120 days after the program airs, David said. He won’t spend the money until he has it. And even then he wants to see how much he can hang onto, “for a college plan, a retirement plan, a go-back-to-school plan.”

David’s parents considered the whole thing “a fantastic experience.”

The went to Los Angeles in September and watched Jeopardy tape all four shows in one day.

“We got to see all the taping and how they put shows together and how they correct mistakes that were made,” David’s mom Marcia said.

Because the shows aired Nov. 3, 4, 5, and 6, David Skaar said nobody in Raleigh got to see the games I was on, Monday was preelection coverage, Tuesday was the election, Wednesday was post-election coverage. So the only day he was on in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill television area was the day he lost.

“The station was sent the show and burned me a DVD copy and sent me a copy of the three shows, so I’ve been passing it around so everybody could actually see me win,” he said. “I was hearing from all over the country who saw me on Jeopardy, but the people here only saw me lose.”

David and Dawn met through Mensa.

“The only qualification to join Mensa is to score in the top 2 percent in an IQ test, typically 130-135 on the Stanford-Binet test,” David Skaar said. The couple met when members of the Mensa group got together to watch “The Full Monty,” he said, and they clicked.

“He’s a hell of a lot smarter than I ever thought of being,” David’s father Bob said. “I think he’s amazing, very talented and very bright and he’s lots of fun.”

“We are just very proud of him and very happy he got on the show, he’s wanted to do it for a long time, he’s been able to live his dream,” Marcia said.
Alamogordo Daily News
By Bev Eckman-Onyskow, For the Daily News
Posted: 12/09/2008 12:00:00 AM MST