Nothing was going to stop Pasquale Palumbo from appearing on his favorite game show Jeopardy!
Since being contacted in late 2019 by the show’s producers following a successful online test and audition in Manhattan, the Hawthorne resident had been given a date to come to Los Angeles on three separate occasions for a taping of the show.
Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the health issues of the longtime host Alex Trebek, who would pass away in November, and the Feb. 1 blizzard that stranded Palumbo in New York, it would have been easy for him to conclude that it wasn’t meant to be.
But Palumbo, 45, finally made it for the Feb. 17 taping after arriving from New York the previous day. Viewers can watch Palumbo match wits against his opponents tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. on Channel 7 with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers serving as guest host.
“I still don’t think it was real,” Palumbo said. “Having been on the show and coming home, it still doesn’t seem real.”
It was a dream come true for Palumbo, an insurance agent for New York Life and vice president of the Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce. He had been watching Jeopardy! since he was a kid in the 1980s while growing up in Queens.
In recent years, Palumbo had contacted Jeopardy! asking what he needed to do to be considered as a contestant. He signed up to periodically receive online tests to see if he had the requisite knowledge to be competitive on the show. Finally, in the summer of 2019, Palumbo opened an e-mail asking if he would like to come to Manhattan to audition in person for a potential appearance.
The audition included a game of Jeopardy! competing against other players. He was told that if he was going to be in contention, someone would contact him within 18 months. In February 2020, Palumbo received the call.
“I’m at the office, we’re all getting a little queasy because we’re all hearing about this crazy virus that’s coming,” Palumbo recalled. “I keep getting this phone call from the 310 area code. Who the heck is calling me from L.A.? I don’t know anybody in L.A.”
It was a Jeopardy! producer who was wanting to know if he was interested in flying out to be on the show in April. But just several weeks later, the pandemic canceled tapings indefinitely.
Several months go by, and Palumbo once again hears from Jeopardy! to come out in the fall. But then Trebek had emergency surgery and another taping was canceled.
Palumbo was rescheduled for the week of Feb. 1, but most flights from New York were canceled that day after about a foot-and-a-half of snow paralyzed the northeastern U.S.
Finally, he was rescheduled for Feb. 17.
“My wife said you’ve been wanting to do this since I’ve known you. We’ll be celebrating our 15th anniversary this summer, it’s like you have to go,” Palumbo remembers his wife telling him.
Prior to the taping, the contestants played warm-up rounds before heading into the main studio. Palumbo was ecstatic to hear who the guest host would be.
“Once they told us it would be Aaron Rodgers, I was thrilled,” he said. “I both played and coached football and I’m a big fan of the NFL. So if I can’t have Alex and if I can’t have Ken Jennings because I wasn’t there when he was there, l get to meet Aaron Rodgers, which is pretty awesome.”
Sworn not to divulge the results of his performance until after the show airs, Palumbo said aside from his marriage and the birth of his two children, it was the greatest experience of his life.
“When it was my time to play, I was as calm as a pond on a windless day, and I just played to the best of my ability,” said Palumbo of the experience under the television lights. “That’s all I ever wanted to do.”