Minnesotan Eric Ahasic’s six-game winning streak on “Jeopardy” came to an end after a close battle in which he failed to answer a final question about Richard Nixon. He ended up losing just $2 to California lawyer Megan Wachspress. The episode, recorded in April, aired Tuesday on KARE, Ch. 11.
On the bright side: The Minneapolis weatherman raised over $160,000 and qualified for the Tournament of Champions. Ahasic opened up about his journey over the phone hours before viewers learned his reign was over.
Q: When did you start thinking about being on the show?
A: When I was a kid, I was always interested in knowing things, playing little trivia games in the car as we drove to Grandma’s house. The summer between 8th grade and high school, I started watching every episode. It was then that Ken Jennings became a legend. I was able to answer questions once or twice that even Ken didn’t get. I was hooked. Once I turned 16, I applied for the high school tournament, then the college tournament, and every year since. I failed the test more times than I passed. I went to the audition four times without editing. But this time, I felt like it was my year.
Q: How do you prepare once you know you are going to compete?
A: After the auditions last August, I realized I had better start watching the show again. They had a guy on it who had won 38 times. I realized that I could come across a guy like that and that I had to improve. Fortunately, Minnesota winters are quite long. You can get out and run in sub-zero temperatures or you can watch old games, read Wikipedia and learn about the kings of England.
Q: You met a formidable champion, Ryan Long, who had won 16 times in a row. Intimidating ?
A: Yeah, that was one of the most nervous times of my life. When they introduced it, I thought, “Oh, I can’t believe this is going to be it. But somehow it made my life easier. I had nothing to lose. I bet it all on Daily Doubles and just enjoyed it. The game was tight all the way, but I managed to get a small lead going into Final Jeopardy and got the answer right. As I was writing it, my hand was shaking. And I have bad handwriting to begin with. They record five episodes in one day. So as soon as you win, you take your microphone off, you change your clothes, you get your hair and makeup touched up and you come back on stage. It’s a 15-minute break. It was one of the craziest emotional roller coasters.
Q: So you go back to the hotel after winning five in a row. How do you mentally prepare for the next day?
A: I went back to my room, my face still covered in makeup, and I looked in the mirror and said, “What did I just do? It’s exhausting emotionally and physically too, because you’re on your feet all the time. Due to COVID, there is no studio audience, so my fiancée didn’t know how I did. We celebrated a bit. I only managed to get some sleep around midnight and had to be back by 7am the next morning.
Q: One of the funny things about watching you is that I’m never really sure if you know the answer or not. You never seem quite sure you’re right. You guess ?
A: It is my thinking face. About 75% is just stuff you know. The rest of the questions often have few clues. You can prepare very well by just watching old episodes. There are only so many things they can ask questions about. They’ll never reuse a question verbatim, but they’ll ask pretty much the same things about certain actors and presidents. As long as you know a few main points about a topic, you’ll be on the right track.
Q: One of your strategies seems to be to bet big on daily doubles. Are you a gamer by nature?
A: I’m not going to Las Vegas or anything because the odds are in favor of the casino. I am a calculated player. When I was playing hundreds of games at home, my record on Daily Doubles was around 80%. It’s a bet I’ll take any day. It has worked for me so far.
Q: Former contestants always talk about the importance of knowing how to use the buzzer. What is the secret to using it correctly?
A: Nothing prepares you for the buzzer. Everyone knows about half the answers, so who’s fastest makes a difference. But it’s not just speed. If you buzz too soon, you’ll be blocked for a quarter of a second. You don’t really know how it works until you get here. You have to get into a rhythm.
Q: You begin to be recognized. Does it make you want to stop working behind the scenes at the National Weather Service and maybe present the weather on the air?
A: A few fans stopped me during my run last week, which is pretty cool. I thought about hiding and letting the tide wash over me, but I learned so much about strategy by reading stories about other competitors, so I really want to pay it forward. I’m not really a social media guy. I know there have been negative comments, but I feel like I have the best job preparing for this. Meteorologists and referees are criticized all the time. I’ve always loved being behind the scenes. When you’re the weather guy on TV, you can’t turn that off when you just want to go picnicking. But who knows? We’ll see what happens.
“Jeopardy” airs at 4:30 p.m. weekdays on KARE, Ch. 11