Dennis Wright admits he can’t tell you much about Shakespeare, but he can tell you about traveling around the world. If you’re lucky he might even tell you about lending his hat to the president of Mexico.
The 54-year-old Council Grove native’s travels and love for reading helped him win about $25,000 on America’s favorite quiz show, Jeopardy! Wright appeared on the show twice last month, Friday March 23 and Monday March 26.
Wright, who is a welder and farmer, among many other things, learned to read at age four and read the entire World Book Encyclopedia set when he was in second grade. Despite his voracious appetite for reading, he never liked school too much.
“I don’t like to study, but I like to read,” Wright said. “It seems like stuff sticks with me pretty good.”
However, there was no outlet for all the information Wright absorbed while reading when he was younger. There was no quiz bowl team at his high school, and he said debate team just amounted to who had the “bigger stack of note cards.” During the same period, when he was in high school and college, Jeopardy! was on hiatus before coming back in 1984 with Alex Trebek.
Shortly after Jeopardy! returned, Wright bought his first VCR to record the show each night.
“I owned a machine shop at that time, so I was working 10, 12 hours a day, but I would always watch Jeopardy! every night,” Wright said.
But, at the time, it didn’t occur to Wright to tryout for the show. Before the proliferation of the Internet, trying out for the show required traveling to big city with thousands of other people. The online test made things much easier.
Wright took the online test, which is made up of 50 questions on various topics, last year. After the test, 3,000 people, including Wright were asked to audition for the show. In June, he traveled to Kansas City for the audition, where he took another 50-question test and played a mock game.
“In November, I got a call from one of the producers who said ‘you remember me? Would you still like to be on Jeopardy!?’” Wright said.
He was on his tractor at the time, making it the first time the producer had delivered the good news to someone on farm equipment.
Wright traveled to Los Angeles with most of his family and stayed with his brother, who works as an advertising professional in the city.
Five shows are recorded each day, but contestants from a group of 12 are selected randomly for each show. The waiting is the hardest part. Wright said there was an ebb and flow of adrenaline throughout the day.
“I didn’t get picked until the last game of the day,” Wright said. “Well, I had the ole’ adrenaline still up.”
He described it like going skydiving, if someone threw your parachute out of the plane and said “go get it.”
Wright won his first game (he didn’t even have to bet anything on final Jeopardy!) and was pleased with his performance.
“It was a little more stressful—I thought next game—because then you’re defending, and you’ve got some expectations at that point,” Wright said.
Wright lost his next game but noted the categories were tough. He also felt his timing was bit off with the buzzer, but it’s just one of the challenges of actually being on the show rather than playing along at home.
“Sitting at home, spraying out answers through a mouthful of chips, that’s no big deal,” Wright said. “I win every game at home.”
For now, Wright plans to enjoy his winnings. He said he has invested some of the money in reopening the Hays House. He also plans to buy another piece of land and start a new farm. If there’s anything left over, he said the family will be getting a new vehicle.
“It was just a great experience,” Wright said.