St. Louis Band Teacher’s Jeopardy! Run Is No Fiasco

She won more than a year’s salary in just three days

click to enlarge St. Louis band teacher Emily Fiasco has been trying to be a contestant on Jeopardy! since 2008. - Courtesy of Emily Fiasco
Courtesy of Emily Fiasco
St. Louis band teacher Emily Fiasco has been trying to be a contestant on Jeopardy! since 2008.

Emily Fiasco, a St. Louis middle school band teacher, has watched Jeopardy! since she was her students’ age. Technically, Fiasco says she started watching with her dad when she was even younger than that, but since her elementary school got out late, she couldn’t catch the beginning of the episodes, which aired at 4:30 p.m.

It took until Fiasco attended middle school in the Mehlville School District — where she now teaches — for her to get home early enough to catch the show each afternoon.

The years of watching paid off last week when Fiasco won three straight Jeopardy! contests, amassing nearly $88,000, more than her typical year’s salary.

“I had been working towards it for so long,” Fiasco says with a laugh. “I know it’s a weird goal, but I was really excited.”

Fiasco has been trying to get on the show since 2008, when she was a sophomore at the University of North Texas. She made it past the initial online quiz, then the proctored quiz and finally to the in-person audition.

“They won’t ever let you know, ‘Yes, you made it’ or ‘No, you didn’t,” Fiasco says. Instead, an applicant is “in the audition pool” for 18 months. If you don’t hear back within that time frame, you’re out. Fiasco never heard back. In the years following, she made it to three more in-person auditions — flying either to Chicago or Oklahoma City each time. She never heard back from those either.

Finally, in the summer of 2020, Fiasco took the online quizzes a fifth time. In 2021, she found out that she had made it to the audition again, this time on Zoom due to the pandemic.

In April 2022, Fiasco was driving to pick up her kids, ages four and one, when she got a text saying a representative from Jeopardy! would like to speak with her. When they called, the representative informed her that she had made it on the show and had a couple of dates they were considering taping. Did Fiasco have any work commitments that would conflict?

“I was like, ‘Anytime. Anytime you want to let me on I will make it work,’” Fiasco recalls. Back at home, she told her husband the good news first.

“I had been crying in the car, which my kids didn’t notice,” she says. “And I walked in and my husband was like, ‘Oh?’ and I said, ‘I think it’s finally happening!’”

In May of 2022, Fiasco and her family flew out to Los Angeles for the taping. She had practiced beforehand using a computer program that her husband, an engineer, had created. The program scraped past Jeopardy questions off the internet and presented them randomly to Fiasco, who had a handheld buzzer that connected to her TV.

“I could see how many milliseconds it took me to ring in,” Fiasco says. “I don’t know if that was excessive as far as preparation went, but I feel like it helped.”

She also read a lot, though kept her repertoire mostly to low-level literature.

“Some people don't believe this, but the questions [on Jeopardy!] are very broad, but they're not in-depth. So a lot of the information that you would need you can get out of children's books,” Fiasco says.

On the show, Fiasco can be seen wearing brightly colored blouses and her signature large, black hipster glasses. She answers questions quickly, seemingly without hesitation, occasionally flashing a nervous grin. The first day, Fiasco won $28,000, well above the two other contestants. On day two, she added $25,201 more to her total. The next day, $34,000.

Though Fiasco’s run aired over four afternoons in July, she said it really only took about two hours in total to film a few months earlier.

“It goes really fast. As fast as it goes on TV is kind of as long as it takes to tape the episode,” Fiasco says. “I didn’t really have much time to process.”

Fiasco did well in the opera category, which she attributes to her master’s in music history but didn’t buzz in fast enough to a question that she should’ve gotten right.

“There was one about Meet Me in St. Louis, but I just didn’t get there in time,” Fiasco says. “So I want to defend my honor there. I knew it was St. Louis!”

Finally, in her fourth round, Fiasco lost by a single dollar to fellow contestants William Chou and Erica Weiner-Amachi. Though she pulled out the correct answer (Waiting for Godot) in Final Jeopardy!, Fiasco’s maximum wager, which doubled her score to $15,600, wasn’t quite enough to pull ahead.

On day three, host Mayim Bialik quipped that Fiasco could buy “whatever new musical instrument she chooses” with her earnings.

Fiasco, however, has other plans. She has access to all the instruments she can or would want to play — flute, clarinet, saxophone, french horn, trombone and more — so she instead wants to put her money towards a project she’s been thinking about for awhile.

“We have a bathroom that I’d like to redo,” she says. “How much money will it take? A lot. And I feel like I’m finally there.”

About The Author

Olivia Poolos

Olivia Poolos is an editorial intern for the Riverfront Times.
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