“People always want to know what Alex Trebek is like. I got to spend a quality 17 seconds with him at the podium,” Matthew Amster-Burton says, an amused twinkle in his tone. The local writer and co-host of the Spilled Milk food comedy podcast (with Molly Wizenberg) says he’s been watching Jeopardy! since he was 10—watching with his mom, shouting answers at the TV. In 2017 he took the online test and went to an audition in Seattle. “If you don’t hear from us in 18 months, you’re not going to be on the show,” he recalls them saying.
When nearly 18 months had passed, he figured he hadn’t made it. Then earlier this year he got a call from Culver City, California—could he make it in two weeks? So in mid-February he went to a taping. With only two weeks to prepare, he couldn’t give himself a trivia crash course, but he picked a couple of topics (Shakespeare, geography) to brush up on. “It felt good to be practicing every day and knowing that there was a chance it would pay off.”
He can’t discuss how the game went—his first, possibly only, episode airs on April 8—but he says it was similar to what he expected, aside from one thing. In the green room, staff warned him they keep the studio cold so contestants don’t overheat. “I figured they meant it’ll be like 62 degrees. It was like 50 degrees.” The technical staff, he says, wore winter coats, but “once you’re playing you kind of forget that you’re cold.”