Ryan Bilger, West Virginia University alumnus, starred as a semi-finalist on this year's "Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions," just two years after his initial appearance on the show. Bilger ended his exhilarating run Tuesday night with $10,000, allowing contestant Veronica Vichit-Vadakan to advance to the finals.
Bilger, a 19th century history specialist, graduated from WVU this year with a masters degree in public history and now works in the National Park Service in Mississippi.
“I've loved history since I was a very small child, and it comes from a place of being able to share that love with other people and give something to think about and learn in the process,” Bilger said.
Bilger said his interest in trivia developed early on in his childhood and was rooted in his curiosity for the world. In high school, Bilger participated in academic teams which led him to continue participation in academic teams during his undergrad years at Gettysburg College.
He went on to create a quiz bowl club at WVU, which provided a venue for students to grow and learn together.
“So many wonderful people showed interest, participated and were involved in the club — it was really touching the way it all worked out so well,” Bilger said.
This year’s show marked the first "Tournament of the Champions" without the late Alex Trebek, who hosted "Jeopardy!" for 37 seasons. Since 1984, Trebek has made a remarkable impact on millions of Americans.
Bilger made his first appearance on the show under Trebek. After the television personality’s passing, Bilger said he was still able to feel Trebek’s influence on the set everyday.
Buzzy Cohen, former “Tournament of Champions” winner, was this year’s guest host. Bilger said Cohen “did a good job of making everybody feel at home again" but remains neutral on the opinion of a new host.
“I trust the people who work on Jeopardy! to make the right choice, but I know, whoever the person will be, can’t replace Alex Trebek but can still carry on his legacy,” Bilger said.
“Alex Trebek made knowing things cool. I think the experience of 'Jeopardy!' validates that in a way. It’s cool to know things, and there's a great community of people out there who appreciate that,” Bilger said. “I've made some fabulous friends during this tournament.”
Bilger’s advice to those looking to audition for jeopardy is to “have fun with it.”
“It's very easy to be nervous. Show your personality in a fun way,” Bilger said. “If you don't get on, try again.”