What 'Jeopardy!' contestant is from Portland?
Next up for Scott Montanaro is to train to run a marathon — if the Portland Marathon, which has been canceled for now, comes back.
Montanaro has a bucket list, and he just checked off one of his life goals, appearing on "Jeopardy!" in the game show's Teachers Tournament. Now, the Wilson High School history and psychology teacher might train for a marathon.
"Move on to the next thing: I'm pretty serious about training for the Portland Marathon," he says. "But, I don't know."
The 32-year-old Montanaro appeared on two episodes of "Jeopardy!," once last week (May 9) when he won $14,400 and advanced as a wild-card entry into a semifinal berth on Monday, May 14. There, he fell short of his quest to reach the next round.
"It's been a lot of fun, and it was one of those things that I always thought would be cool to do," Montanaro says.
Montanaro was pretty tickled with his appearance on the game show hosted by Alex Trebek. He grew up in Portland, attending Central Catholic High School (Class of 2004) and the University of Oregon, and always knew he had a knack for remembering things — even trivial things, such as pop culture.
Montanaro, who previously taught at Jesuit High for six years, says he was a casual fan of "Jeopardy!" He watched the show in college with friends, and he actually took the online qualifying test for the show several times, starting in college.
"I was never on a quiz bowl team or anything, I just had a decent memory for little tidbits and, based on what I do, teaching, it's a good field to be in, in terms of knowing 'Jeopardy!' type of stuff," he says. "I've taught several subjects over the years — Spanish, history, U.S. government, psychology. And I enjoy reading, both fiction and nonfiction, and as a history teacher I read a lot of history books and biographies."
He finally passed the show's qualifying test, which includes about 50 "Jeopardy!"-style questions and answers, and earned an invitation to the in-person audition in Seattle last summer. There, he took another test and then a screen test "with a buzzer and everything." He left Seattle with a thanks and "if we want you we'll give you a call" from the producers, he says.
In January, Montanaro got the call and accepted an invitation to the show. His appearances were filmed in March in Los Angeles; the whole tournament was shot in two days.
"It was just fun. I was definitely a little nervous when they shot my episode. It got real with the lights and camera on," Montanaro says. "They put a ton of makeup on me, which was weird. You don't get to interact with Trebek that much. You meet him when he comes out, and then you get to watch other episodes and see him take questions from the studio audience.
"It was just cool just to try out and get to hit the 'Jeopardy!' buzzer."
He had to adjust to wearing makeup. "Having that level of intense stage makeup for television is weird," he adds. "In person you look almost comical, how much makeup you have on. But, on camera, HD camera, it doesn't look that weird."
Before the tapings, he had to study quite a bit and, with a wife and a 7-month-old daughter, "it made it tough to study."
Montanaro remembers doing well in a couple categories, including Spanish literature, in which he swept the whole category. "There was a bunch of stuff I remembered from high school Spanish class, and from being a Spanish teacher," he says.
But when the subject turned to knots, as in tying knots, "I'm not a scout or anything like that, so I didn't have anywhere to go on that." Also, the "Final Jeopardy" question in his first appearance was about opera, and "I have no clue about opera."
In Monday's episode, Montanaro finished with no money, after he answered incorrectly on the "Final Jeopardy," risking and losing $1,200.
The question: "In 'Gone With the Wind,' Rhett Butler says this city named for a monarch 'is the South, only intensified.'" The answer: "What is Charleston?"
Montanaro's answer: "What is Charlottesville?"
Two other contestants also answered incorrectly, but finished with more money than Montanaro.
It's been fun for him to interact with fellow teachers and students, who watched his "Jeopardy!" episodes.
"It's been fun to talk about this type of stuff," he says.
Montanaro doesn't aspire to appear on another game show.
"What I realized is my interest in 'Jeopardy!' is just the trivia aspect of it, and not the TV aspect of it," he says. "When I was flying down there (to L.A.), it dawned on me that I was going to be on national TV, and it was weird. Not my personality."