Tag Archives: Alex Trebek

Astoria woman to compete on ‘Jeopardy!’ Thursday

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

UPDATE: Levinson won $16,800 on “Jeopardy!” appearance on Thursday, March 20.  


Jeopardy!” is in Diane Levinson’s genes.

The 44-year-old Astoria book publicist is one of several family members to compete on the popular TV quiz show.

Her cousin, Brian, represented the borough on the program in 2008. He became a three-day champion, winning about $73,000.

“That’s what made me say ‘if he can do it, I can do it,’” Levinson said.

A periodic watcher of the Alex Trebek-hosted show since its premiere 30 years ago, Levinson, like many fans, has always enjoyed shouting out the right answers.

But playing at home in front of the TV is a lot easier than competing live.

Online tryouts are held only once a year, in January. After three attempts, Levinson finally made it to an in-person audition.

“What you don’t realize is that all three of the contestants know most of the answers most of the time and it’s really about ringing in first,” she said.

After making it to the televised version, Levinson taped her appearance this past December. The episode will air on Thursday, March, 20 at 7 p.m. on WABC.

She had five weeks notice before facing the cameras.

“Working in book publishing is actually good preparation for being on the show because you learn a little bit about a lot of different topics,” said Levinson, who is a publicist with Princeton Architectural Press and Chronicle Books.

In that time she prepared by reviewing old show questions on the “Jeopardy!” fan site J! Archive, and read through reference books and atlases, memorizing facts, such as bodies of water, 19th-century vice presidents and Civil War battles.

She even recruited her friends to help by having them randomly quiz her on state capitals and asking her other questions.

Though Levinson is sworn to secrecy about her outcome until the show airs, she said most of the answers she knew on the show were facts she knew beforehand.

“It was a great experience,” she said. “Everybody who has ever thought about [going on ‘Jeopardy!’] should try out.”



Queens teen comes in second on ‘Jeopardy!’ College Championship

| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Queens whiz kid Laurie Beckoff came up a little short Tuesday in her match-up on Jeopardy’s College Championship.

The 19-year-old from Hollis Hills was the runner-up, amongst two other young geniuses, with a grand total of $13,400.

Though it was not enough to earn a winner’s spot, the University of Chicago sophomore will see Friday if she qualifies for one of four “wild card” spots given to top scorers amongst non-winners.

“It was more fantastic than I could have ever imagined,” she said. “Having people watch it makes me relive all the nervousness.”

Beckoff, who automatically gets $5,000 for going on the show, is now facing some heat from friends and strangers from the Twittersphere for not wagering enough money to force a tie.

“I knew that if I got it wrong and wagered everything and gone for that tie, I would be completely out,” she said. “I won’t say it was the wisest choice, but it was what went on in my head at that time.”

The experience was still a dream come true for the ambitious scholar, who had tried three times before to get on the long-running quiz show, but did not advance past the audition.

“It definitely seems to go a lot faster than when you’re sitting at home,” said the English and political science major.

Beckoff, a Harry Potter fanatic, is also a former salutatorian at Townsend Harris High School and a previous volunteer for Councilmember Mark Weprin.

The two-week tournament started Feb. 10.

“It was really just amazing,” Beckoff said. “It was the time of my life.”



Queens teen to compete Tuesday in ‘Jeopardy!’ College Championship

| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

A teen whiz from Queens will put her brains and button-smashing reflexes to the test Tuesday, when she competes in the “Jeopardy!” College Championship.

Laurie Beckoff, 19, will vie against 15 other young geniuses nationwide Feb. 11 for $100,000 and an automatic berth in the next Tournament of Champions.

“It was amazing. It was a life goal of mine. I’ve always wanted to do it,” said the University of Chicago sophomore. “It was more fantastic than I could have ever imagined.”

The Hollis Hills teen had tried three times before to get on the long-running quiz show, but did not advance past the audition.

A motivation to meet the show’s host, Alex Trebek — a nightly, though virtual, dinner guest — kept her going, her mother said.

“She has been determined to get on this show,” said mom, Esther Beckoff. “She grew up with Alex. He is part of our dinner ritual. I purposely have dinner ready just about 7 o’ clock, so that we can all watch ‘Jeopardy!’ together. It’s a family tradition.”

Beckoff, who studies English and political science in Chicago, said he was “really cool, very friendly.”

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” she said. “Most of the time, your head is so in the game that you don’t consider the fact that there is a camera on you. It’s definitely seems to go a lot faster than when you’re sitting at home.”

The ambitious scholar, a Harry Potter fanatic, is also a former salutatorian at Townsend Harris High School and a previous volunteer for Councilmember Mark Weprin.

“We’re very proud that a national television audience will see her brilliance and personality,” Weprin said.

The two-week tournament starts Feb. 10. Beckoff’s episode airs Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. on ABC7.

“It was really just amazing,” Beckoff said. “It was the time of my life.”



Astoria’s trivia buff

| brennison@queenscourier.com

Answer: A Queens trivia junkie, “Jeopardy!” champion, singer, mixologist and podcast host.

Question: Who is Tony Hightower?

Hightower, whose array of interests is matched only by his passion for knowledge, appeared on two episodes of “Jeopardy!” in December after “half-heartedly” taking the popular game show’s test.

The 43 year old has harbored a soft spot for trivia and facts since childhood — he lists Trivial Pursuit as a favorite game.

“My parents convinced me that knowing stuff was good,” the Astoria resident remembered. “And that has never stopped.”

Though “knowing stuff” is vital to competing on “Jeopardy!,” the seemingly endless collection of categories makes it near impossible to prepare in the short time you have following notification. Once the “shock” of receiving the call to appear on the show subsided, Hightower decided, for a little peace of mind, to bone up on one subject United States Vice Presidents. During his time on the show, there were, of course, no questions on the second in command.

Until the cameras began rolling, Hightower’s nerves were active. Pumped full of coffee and given time to familiarize himself with the actual game board helped ease some of the anxiety.

“Once I rang in and answered I was fine,” he said. “It was all a blur.”

His goal for his appearance was simple: don’t pull a Wolf Blitzer, referencing the cable talk show host who entered the “Final Jeopardy!” round in the red.

Appearing on “Jeopardy!” comes with abiding by an ode of silence. Contestants are forbidden from divulging the details of their performance until the show airs. Keeping his victory secret may have proven more difficult than actually competing on the show.

“It was so hard. You can’t say anything. I had to convince myself I had lost. I had to play a little Jedi mind trick on myself,” Hightower said.

A viewing party was held at Dempsey’s in Manhattan, where Hightower holds weekly trivia nights. Once the supportive crowd — who shouted his name throughout the episode — realized Hightower was on the precipice of victory, a roar erupted through the throng of supporters.

“It got pretty loud in there,” Hightower said.

The next night did not prove as successful, though Hightower is not complaining. He walked away with more than $23,000 for about an hour’s worth of work.

A well-rounded trivia buff, Hightower tries to avoid having one area of expertise — though he is an admitted music nerd. When he feels his knowledge of a subject is lacking he finds a way to immerse himself in it — even if that means starting a blog.

Hightower launched “Cocktailians,” a blog about cocktails, in 2008 with his friend Sam — the alchemist behind the project — in order to learn more on the subject.

“We get to go to parties and people make us exciting and interesting drinks. It’s a fun side of life,” he said.

If you want to know if a cocktail bar is worth its weight in martinis, Hightower suggests ordering the Corpse Reviver No. 2.

Many of the other “Jeopardy!” contestants are also well-read trivia aficionados, but for most it is just a hobby, a “second” job. For Hightower, it is so much more. It is his career.

He began hosting trivia nights in February of 2006 following the breakup of his band, with whom he left Canada approximately a decade ago. Hightower also hosts a subscription-only trivia league which has four seven-week seasons a year.

“A really good trivia night is going to start conversations. That’s the real attraction of trivia nights and trivia. It gives people other things to talk about,” said Hightower, who can effortlessly weave from a conversation about cinema to chatting about the God particle.

For a taste of the conversations good trivia can start, Hightower also produces weekly podcasts that are a funny, fact-filled look at the world of trivia. He even once interviewed “Jeopardy!” legend and 74-time victor Ken Jennings.

In addition to the trivia nights and leagues, Hightower hosts private and corporate trivia events that can be catered to small get-togethers to large business functions. Gigs are already booked for the year, including trips to Las Vegas and Florida. He is also considering opening a few more trivia nights.

“There are a lot of horrible trivia nights, maybe I can make a few less,” he said.

Hightower writes all the questions for his trivia nights, though he and his business partner, Lisa, are considering hiring writers as the business, Trivia NYC, expands.

The Toronto native has been living in Astoria for the past six years after moving from Manhattan.

“I love [Astoria]. It’s great. I like the fact that it’s relaxed, hugely diverse, open all night and you can get into Manhattan quickly,” he said.

Oh, and for those wondering, Alex Trebek, “is a lot nicer than the editors allow him to be,” Hightower said, while also managing to be “wickedly funny.”

For more information on the trivia nights, or booking a private gig log onto www.trivianyc.net.