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Rugby High grad, Jeopardy contestant shines spotlight on hometown

By Sue Sitter - | Jan 23, 2021

Submitted Photo Rugby High 2003 graduate Josiah Jenkins stands on the Jeopardy! stage near guest host Ken Jennings.

When Rugby High graduate Josiah Jenkins appeared on Jeopardy! Jan. 13, the Glendale, California, resident made sure to give credit to the town where he grew up.

Show announcer Johnny Gilbert introduced Jenkins as “originally from Rugby, North Dakota.”

In an email to the Tribune, Jenkins said of his choice to highlight his hometown, “It was important to me that I be announced as ‘originally from Rugby, North Dakota’ instead (of Glendale). I feel I’ve been very lucky in life, and I attribute any success that I have had to growing up in such a special place – and, with regard to Jeopardy! specifically, to all of my amazing teachers in the Rugby Public Schools.”

The 2003 Rugby High grad attributed his love for knowledge and courage onstage to his formative years with his parents and involvement with Rugby’s Village Arts.

“I’m so lucky to have basically grown up on stage through Village Arts productions every summer,” Jenkins said, recalling his audition for the show.

Jenkins described the audition process for Jeopardy.

“The first portion is a written test that you can take on the Jeopardy! website. If you do well enough on that, then you get invited for a live test,” he noted.

“Because of COVID, all of the testing was done through Zoom,” Jenkins added. “In the live trivia test, I got asked 50 questions, one after the other. Then I waited to hear if I had done well enough to make it to the next phase, where you play a mock game and conduct a contestant interview,” he said.

“I’ve heard that in the past they would actually let you use buzzers, but because of COVID, to ring in you had to click furiously at a ball-point pen. I waited for a few weeks after that, and then out of the blue I got the call that I was going to be on the show!” Jenkins said.

“I think some people get more nervous for the interview than the trivia, but my background in Village Arts and broadcasting for KZZJ gave me a lot of confidence that I would be able to present myself well,” Jenkins added.

Jenkins said he also developed an affinity for game shows during his childhood. His interest motivated him to try out for Jeopardy.

“I used to watch the show all the time after school when I was growing up,” Jenkins said. “It’s probably where I learned all kinds of weird trivia that I don’t know how I know. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve always enjoyed watching the show and my wife and I watch it every night. I always wondered how I’d do if I were up on the stage, and I thought it was worth it to find out.”

Jenkins also created and hosts a podcast called “The 8 Dollar Game Show.” Winners of the show receive prizes of eight dollars.

Jenkins said his game show and places of residence over his adult life figured into his appearance on Jeopardy.

“I had so many people text me to say they couldn’t believe I missed “Chicago River” since I lived in Chicago for over a decade. And I have had to reply back that I did know it – my fingers just weren’t fast enough to buzz in first!” Jenkins said.

Jenkins and fellow contestant Cameron Whiteside trailed leader Lucy Ricketts by a considerable sum. Jenkins, in second place with $9,400, was $22,000 behind Ricketts.

“When I got to Final Jeopardy, I realized that Lucy would have to make the betting mistake of all time in order to catch her,” Jenkins said. “At that point I was pretty much locked into second place, so in the spur of the moment, I decided to do something fun and wager $8 in honor of my podcast The $8 Game Show.”

Wagering played a key role in the final round. Ricketts missed the Final Jeopardy question; Jenkins and Whiteside did not.

“I wish that my whole game had gone quite as well as Final Jeopardy!” Jenkins said. “Lucy is incredibly smart and definitely deserved to win. Still, I take some consolation knowing­ that if I had been just a little quicker on the buzzer or if I had found a Daily Double, then I likely would have been in a position to win.”

Jenkins and his fellow contestants appeared during a week of shows guest hosted by Ken Jennings, who holds the record for the most money won on Jeopardy. Jenkins said he did not have the chance to meet eminent host Alex Trebek, who died Nov. 8, 2020.

“I feel so lucky that I have always had people around me who inspired a love for learning,” Jenkins, a risk manager for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said.

“My dad (Robert Jenkins) was a big believer in always learning more,” Jenkins reflected. “I can remember that my senior year in high school, after physics study group, my dad would pour a pot of coffee (that was when I was in high school and able to drink caffeine and still get to sleep afterward) and we would sit and talk about the history books he was reading or philosophical ideas that he had. My dad’s philosophy on learning was never ‘when are you going to use that.’ Instead he was a big believer in learning a lot about a lot of different things.”

“My mom was the same way,” Jenkins said of Deborah Jenkins, who chaired Rugby’s Village Arts for many years.

“She was a lifelong learner not just in getting her Ph.D. after my dad passed, but also in the way that she would constantly read and learn new things. My parents nurtured that love of learning, and I feel like so many other people in the community saw learning as a virtue as well,” Jenkins noted.

“Not only has the education I received and the passion for learning I received from my parents gotten me onto Jeopardy, it has also made my life more enjoyable every single day. If I had one piece of advice for the youth of my hometown it would be to learn about every single thing that interests you … and also choreography.”

Why choreography?

“Ha ha, because that’s the category that sealed my fate at the end of Double Jeopardy,” Jenkins wrote.

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