Simply hearing the phrase “Daily Double” is enough to send most people into an adrenaline rush. How could it not? Most people grew up watching Jeopardy, agonizing over the questions for the answers from the comfort of their living room couch. For Zach Safford ’09, the anxiety of answering the Daily Double is an all too familiar experience. Competing on the beloved trivia show for the first time at the age of 11, Safford will appear again on tomorrow’s episode as a part of the Jeopardy Kid’s Week reunion.
“I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to come onto Jeopardy … twice,” he said. “It’s a big piece of American popular culture.”
As sixth-graders, Safford and his fellow contestants were asked to display their knowledge in categories ranging from Bible Heroes to Cereals. “I knew I was sunk when the Bible and Spelling came up as categories,” Safford admitted jokingly.
Before Safford even began his television debut, he was already fraught with nervousness. Waiting over five hours before going onstage, Safford had to use the bathroom every 25 minutes to calm his edginess. “When I went on as a kid, I was definitely nervous,” Safford said. “But as a pre-pubescent boy, I don’t think I was fully aware of the judgment being cast on me.”
After an hour of intense intellectual combat, Safford finished a closely contested third place. For all his efforts, Safford did not walk out from the show empty handed. The 11-year-old won an assorted set of prizes including a new computer, a trip for four to Universal Studios, a blow dryer and 2000 jelly beans. “I have no idea why they gave me jelly beans. They came in an enormous bucket,” Safford said. “It took about two years to get through them all, and I must admit I was sad to discover that Jelly Belly was not sponsoring the most recent show.”
The results were disappointing for the young Safford, especially given the measures he went through to get on the show. “To get on the show, my family had to drive down to Miami for an audition. Then I had to take a general knowledge test, which, afterpassing, brought me to a little mock show that examined character and ability to perform under pressure,” he said.
Ten years later, Safford emerged from a near-decade of early retirement to once again make an appearance on the famed show. Safford, along with fourteen other original contestants from the inaugural Jeopardy Kid’s Week, were invited back for a reunion show. This time – with three quarters of a college education under their belts – the contestants found the questions to be infinitely more difficult.
It was his one opportunity to redeem himself, and this time, Safford was playing to win. The returning contestant wasn’t just competing for his own pride, but also for the pride of his college. “Competing against students from Northwestern and the University of Maryland, I felt the weight of Williams on my shoulders,” he said.
However, as soon as the cameras started rolling, Safford’s trepidation instantly subsided. “I can tell you that the competition does get heated. It’s definitely a close finish. Enough said,” Safford teased about the results.
Along with the heated competition amongst veteran Jeopardy contestants, the reunion episode also featured snippets from the original show. “I’m not sure what they’re going to use, but there’s definitely a wealth of embarrassment from the first show,” Safford said. “Especially when, as an 11-year-old, I said that I wanted to be a crypto-zoologist when I grew up.”
Safford’s embarrassment wasn’t just limited to his peculiar childhood aspirations. This time, Safford said that he regretted not thinking fully before answering his Daily Double. “It was about popular American songs. But it’s alright. I think I made up for it,” he said.
Although Safford could not reveal the results of his reunion show, he did nonchalantly mention the prize-winnings for the contestants. The first place finisher won $25,000, second place $5,000 and third place $2,500 – not too shabby prizes compared to the hoards of jelly beans Safford won in his Jeopardy debut.
It’s been a long time since Safford’s introduction to the celebrated quiz show, and the stakes have only multiplied. Will Safford rise to the occasion or will his pride be battered once again? That’s a question that only tomorrow’s episode of Jeopardy can answer. Tune into WWLP-TV tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.to see if Safford is now $25,000 richer.