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JEOPARDY Emmaus High School graduate wins big

This 21-year-old Macungie resident graduated from Emmaus High School in 2015, earned his Eagle Scout rank in 2015 and was a recent contestant on JEOPARDY!.

The question? Who is Ryan Bilger?

Bilger is the son of Cathy and Kurt and older brother of Kaitlin. He graduated from Gettysburg College this spring and will attend West Virginia University in the two-year graduate program to study public history.

And on July 4 for five days, viewers saw him compete on JEOPARDY!.

The audition process began with an online test.

“If you pass, you are told you could randomly be selected to go to an audition,” Bilger said. He received an email telling him he was selected and went to Philadelphia in September 2018 for the live audition. He had been through the process once before for the college tournament but didn’t get selected for the next step.

In Philadelphia, Bilger was given another written test, “probably to make sure we didn’t cheat,” Bilger said.

The tests are then graded and contestants are invited to play a practice game with just a couple of questions.

“They work with you,” Bilger said about using the buzzer and playing the game.

Bilger said he was not nervous about using the buzzer, citing his experience with quiz bowl competitions, academic team and Scholastic Scrimmage for three years at Emmaus High School.

During the audition, they asked him about his interests and they discussed his love of history and the Abraham Lincoln socks he wore to the audition.

At the end of the audition, the JEOPARDY! folks told Bilger he could be called anywhere up to two years for a taping.

Bilger received a call six months later and he and his father traveled to Culver City, Calif., at their own expense for the taping.

The show is taped at the Sony Pictures Studio. The show tapes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with five shows taped each day.

Bilger taped two shows March 26 and three shows March 27.

“You get to the studio and they take you through the paperwork and explain how everything works. We also had practice with the buzzer. I’m used to this; this is what I do for fun.”

Bilger said there are lights on the side of the board that tell you when you can buzz in. A production assistant sits off camera and activates the light board.

His JEOPARDY! appearances were aired July 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10.

In total, Bilger won $109,049.

“I don’t have the money yet; it comes after the show airs,” Bilger said. He doesn’t actually know how much he will receive after taxes, but he estimates it to be around $81,000.

“My dad is in accounting so he knows what to do. I plan to kill off my remaining student debt, pay for living expenses in West Virginia, start an IRA, invest and save up for a nice vacation with my girlfriend Laurel.”

This summer he is working at Manassas National Battlefield Park in Manassas, Va. He works in the national park and museum “interacting with the public to express our history,” Bilger said. “It’s been my dream job for a long time.”

Bilger is no stranger to readers of East Penn Press.

He was featured as a student of the week Oct. 22, 2014 and his Eagle Scout accomplishment was published Feb. 17, 2016. He was a National Merit Scholar semifinalist, was on the Principal’s Honor Roll every quarter in his high school career and was a member of National Honor Society. Bilger’s Eagle Scout project with Troop 71 included installing cemetery software at Solomon United Church of Christ and photographing grave sites to create a database for the church.

Bilger said Alex Trebek was “super nice to me even though he proclaimed to have clothing older than me.”

He said contestants don’t really interact with Trebek outside of what viewers see. Between tapings, Trebek and contestants have their makeup redone and change clothes for the next game.

On July 10, the final question was, “For help with research, the author of this 2003 novel acknowledged The Louvre, Catholic World News and ‘Five members of Opus Dei.’”

Bilger had the correct answer, “What is the Da Vinci Code?” but did not win that match. The winner was Sam Kavanaugh, a teacher from Minneapolis, Minn.

“I knew the answer right away. Even if I bet everything, I still would have lost,” Bilger said.

Bilger found a blog “The Final Wager,” by 2003 College Champion Keith Williams, which discusses game theory. “I read up about wagering strategies. Wagering a small amount gives you two possible outcomes rather than just one. There were two scenarios in which I knew I was going to bet small. I knew my best chance to win was if we all got it wrong. So my goal was to make a bet; if my answer was correct, I would be above his pre-final total but if I got it wrong I wouldn’t lose a lot of money.”

Bilger went into the finals with $19,000. “Sam ended up with $38,001 so even if I had bet everything I wouldn’t have won,” Bilger said.

“I was very happy for Sam. I wish him the best of luck.”

After the airing on July 10, Bilger was questioned on Facebook why he didn’t shake Kavanaugh’s hand.

“The producers tell us to try to hold on the handshaking, etc. until after the episode wraps. What you don’t see is that there are risers behind each podium to make the contestants the same height and they don’t want anybody to turn to shake hands and trip on camera. I made sure to wish him the best of luck after he got to talk to Alex and I’m excited to see how he does tomorrow!”

Bilger said the best part of the experience was “being out there and working with the people on the set. They are very passionate about the show and making it the best for the viewer.”

If he had any regrets, he wished he had picked a square with a daily double.

“In my final win on Tuesday, about halfway through, I thought, it’s been fun. Then I realized the last category was art and I am an art history dork on the side. Then I hit the daily double. I wasn’t even sure I had it. There was a photo of a room with various pictures and I needed the name of a blemished artist. I was staring at the monitor and I noticed some chubby women. I knew that was a giveaway for Reubens. He wasn’t the only person to paint naked women in the Renaissance era but I was hoping it was Reubens. I saved myself right there.”

Bilger said he is “a super competitive guy, I got to win four times and I had an insane comeback on Tuesday. I really can’t complain about anything.”

I want to thank everyone for their support – my friends, families and the local community. It’s been fantastic. People have been so nice and supportive.”

PHOTO Courtesy of Jeopardy! Productions, Inc.Ryan Bilger, of Macungie, competes on Jeopardy which aired July 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10.