Bismarck High graduate wins $64,000 on ‘Jeopardy!’

Kyle Becker – a Bismarck High School graduate and trivia enthusiast – is a four-time “Jeopardy!” champion. Kyle appeared on five episodes of the buzz-worthy TV game show, which aired in December.

“I was definitely surprised,” says Kyle. “I was not expecting to do that well. I retain a lot of random knowledge, but I was definitely not expecting to be a four-time ‘Jeopardy!’ champion.”

But, his success on the show came as no surprise to his parents. “We knew he was smart enough,” says Kyle’s mother, Donna Jean Becker. “Kyle was always taking advance placement classes. He’s a nerd. We tell him that.”

Appearing on “Jeopardy!” was a bucket-list item for Kyle, but getting on the show wasn’t easy. The selection process is highly competitive. Before appearing on the show, contestants must take an online test. Kyle says
about 70,000 people take the test every year. Of that number, only 2,000 or 3,000 people are invited for an in-person audition. Kyle took the test 12 times before being invited to audition for the show in April. In August,
he traveled to Los Angeles as a contestant.

“The day of taping was just a whirlwind. They tape five shows in a day. You show up, and everyone goes through make-up and the legal stuff. And then, everyone goes on stage to practice. And then, they bring in the live audience. At 11 a.m., they started filming the first episode.”

Kyle says it takes more than book smarts to win “Jeopardy!” Knowing the right answer is only half the battle. It’s a lesson he learned during his first appearance on the show.

“I had a little difficulty figuring out the buzzer in my first half. I was either a little too early or a little too late,” says Kyle. “They time opening the buzzers up to the end of Alex [Trebeck] reading the clue. If you buzz in too
soon, you’re locked out for a quarter of a second. It’s not a long time, but it’s enough time for your competitors to ring in if they know the answer.”

Contestants know the buzzer is active when they see a set of lights that are out of view of the audience. “I was trying to go off of the lights. After the first half, I realized that wasn’t working, so I started going more off of
Alex’s voice than the lights.”

After the second half, Becker had a comfortable lead. When the final category was revealed, Kyle knew he had a chance to win. The category was children’s literature.

“My aunt used to be Mother Goose at the Bismarck Public Library,” says Kyle. “We always got books as Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. So, I felt pretty confident.”

In his first appearance, Kyle won more than $18,000. He would go on to appear in four more episodes, winning more than $64,000. He says most of his winnings will be used to pay off student loans. “After that, I haven’t quite decided yet,” says Kyle. “I’ll probably go on a vacation or two to start.”

Kyle currently lives in Nashville, Tenn., where he works as a research scientist at Vanderbilt University. His team’s research area is programming nanoparticles to make the immune system attack cancers. Kyle’s parents, Donna Jean and Wayne Becker, live in Bismarck and are CEC member-owners.

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