'I mentally visualized this day for years': Vermont contestant aims high on 'Jeopardy!'

Editor's note: Read an article about the outcome of DeArruda's game here.

Jake DeArruda has been ready for this moment for a long time.

A couple of years before he was selected to appear on “Jeopardy!” the longtime resident of Ludlow began standing up to watch his favorite TV quiz show, as if he were standing at a podium on the “Jeopardy!” set in southern California. He studied he ins and outs of wagering and flash cards containing trivia.

He ramped that routine up once he learned in mid-November that he would become a contestant on “Jeopardy!”

“On top of standing behind my recliner while watching the show and simulating buzzing in, I started wearing my dress clothes in the process and found a lamp to shine directly in my face as a simulator for stage lights,” DeArruda writes in his blog. “I’d marathon anywhere from three to five shows consecutively in the same conditions to mimic the bang bang bang five episodes that the show tapes in one day, and noticed no changes in my scores between games one and three.”

DeArruda gets his moment in the bright lights of “Jeopardy!” on Friday when the episode he taped in December will be shown. The show hosted by all-time “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings airs in the Burlington area at 7 p.m. weeknights on WPTZ-TV.

"Jeopardy!" host Ken Jennings, left, stands on the TV quiz-show's set with contestant Jake DeArruda of Ludlow.
"Jeopardy!" host Ken Jennings, left, stands on the TV quiz-show's set with contestant Jake DeArruda of Ludlow.

‘We’ve got this’

As he writes in his blog, DeArruda was born in Massachusetts, moved to Vermont and in 2017 moved back to Massachusetts with his parents and younger brother. He works as a delivery dispatcher for Boston-based Yale Appliance.

The 2021 graduate of Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts “became known quickly as the kid who knew all the presidents at age five, the sports expert by age eight,” according to his blog. He attended Black River Middle and High Schools in Ludlow, where he writes that he began “to indulge my new interest in broadcast media, working closely with the high school’s media and journalism classes.”

After receiving a text from “Jeopardy!” staff that he was selected for the show — he writes that he had been in the contestant pool after auditioning for the show in the summer of 2021 — DeArruda went next door to tell his parents, “Guess what? I got what I wanted for Christmas!” That began three hectic weeks of booking a trip to California, filling out various forms for contestant information and studying intensely for his appearance.

He didn’t feel intimidated.

“I mentally visualized this day for years,” DeArruda writes. “There’s nothing to be worried about. Life is good, and it’s about to be great. We’ve got this.”

‘Today is a celebration’

In a blog entry posted Wednesday detailing the events of Dec. 6, DeArruda writes that before he arrived at the studio that day he decided what he would wear on the show. “First choice?” he writes. “Lucky maroon. Always lucky maroon. Today is a celebration, and in Black River maroon is where this silly little dream truly began in earnest.”

He felt cautiously optimistic. “I wanted to win, desperately, and thought I could win and play for eligibility in the Tournament of Champions (4-5 wins) if things broke right,” DeArruda writes. “But, also trying to be realistic, my first goal was not to embarrass myself, finish in the black and enjoy the experience before anything else. If I face a big-time champ… No shame in losing to them. Today is a celebration, first and foremost.”

The intimidation factor rose when DeArruda realized that among the pool of a dozen or so contestants gathered in a room awaiting taping that day was Troy Meyer. He describes Meyer in his blog as “the top-ranked United States quizzer in the 2021 standings in the World Quizzing Championship. The number-one-ranked quizzer in the entire country.

Self-doubt crept in.

“Eight years, flushed down the drain via bad luck? Should I have stayed home or waited five more years?” DeArruda writes. “I’m not meek enough to adjust my goal of winning, but man it’s going to be harder than I thought it would be now.”

That’s where DeArruda’s story ends on his blog, at least for now. He writes that “your money can be held if the secret slips,” so he hasn’t revealed how his big day ended.

It’s been a good month for "Jeopardy!" and Vermont-connected contestants. Claire Theoret of Essex, a registrar at Burlington High School, finished in a strong third place in an episode that aired Jan. 3.

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at bhallenbeck@freepressmedia.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.

This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: 'Jeopardy!' contestant with Vermont connections aims high on show