Being on “Jeopardy!” was a natural next step for Helmes, who, since graduating in 1996, has been rubbing elbows with the rich and famous in a pattern that not even she could have predicted. The English major and former Newswire editor landed a job with a national college magazine in Santa Monica, Calif., that put her in a beachfront apartment owned by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then she became a writer for a soap opera magazine.
When she decided to try for “Jeopardy!” she surprised herself by being one of 15 selected out of about 100 tryouts last spring. Once on the show, which was taped in April, she met longtime host Alex Trebek and found herself opposite Jennings, who had already amassed $1.3 million.
“There were times I was just standing there frantically pressing the signaling button,” she says. “I knew 75 percent of the answers and was just helpless. But I’m proud of myself for even getting on in the first place. I didn’t totally embarrass myself. And if I had to lose on ‘Jeopardy!’ there’s no shame in losing to the greatest champ of all time.”
Her consolation prize? Third place, $1,000 and a framed photo of herself with host Trebek. Best of all, though, was the knowledge that Jennings missed the last question, too.