Capt. Stuart Anderson poses with 'Jeopardy!' host Alex Trebek. Anderson competed in four episodes and won $51,601. (Air Force)
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Members from Aviano Air Base, Italy, cheer on Anderson, 31st judge advocate chief of military justice, during a 'Jeopardy!' viewing party. (Senior Airman Michael Battles / Air Force)
Just one question stood between Capt. Stuart Anderson and a decade-old ambition to win on “Jeopardy!”
Anderson, wearing his dress blues, went into the final round of his first appearance on the quiz show in the lead. The category was “novels,” a topic he knew well. He did some quick math and made a cautious wager: Just enough to come out $1 ahead if he got the question wrong and his closest competitor got it right.
His bet was more than enough. Anderson was the only one to respond to the clue correctly — a quote he knew to be from John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.”
“I was very happy to be there in uniform, even though it added pressure,” said Anderson, a judge advocate at Aviano Air Base, Italy. “It was about making the [Air Force] team look good.”
The win earned Anderson a spot in the next game, where he came out on top again. Then he won a third time. He lost the fourth game during the final “Jeopardy!” round after after wagering all his fourth-game earnings.
Still, Anderson walked away with $51,601 altogether. He’s not sure how he’ll spend the money. When show host Alex Trebek asked that question, Anderson told him he planned to buy a pair of lederhosen — traditional German breeches — to celebrate Oktoberfest in Germany.
“I wasn’t kidding. I wasn’t even remotely kidding. I do have a sweet pair of lederhosen. I do have that going for me,” Anderson said. “They are a luxury item. But they didn’t cost $50,000.”
The shows were filmed in a single day in September at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif., and aired Oct. 15-18.
Anderson started reading trivia books as a child growing up in New Orleans. He remembers watching “Jeopardy!” with his babysitter. In a hobby shop near his home, Anderson went up against a small group of friends in a trivia game they called “Stump Stu.” He also spent three years on the varsity quiz bowl team at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, helping lead the team to one state championship and two division championships.
“My reputation with my friends was I was the one who knew all the random things,” he said.
But of all the trivia games and competitions out there, Anderson said, “Jeopardy!” stood apart. “It’s the one that’s the most pure trivia — less pop culture.”
He first tried out for the show in college. The interview portion of the auditions fell during exam week. He decided not to go.
He got another shot when the USO and Armed Forces Entertainment sponsored a tour to Aviano in October 2012 for the game show’s military-themed week. He scored well enough on the preliminary 20-question test to take a second written exam. That score got him to next round — a mock game and an interview.
The show would notify Anderson by March if he was selected. The month came and went. But then he got an email from Sony in July.
“I called back on my cell. I don’t usually call America on my cellphone because it’s very expensive. But I called immediately. They asked if I wanted to be on in two months.”
When he asked his boss to take leave, “he looked at me like I was crazy for even asking. He said, ‘Of course. Of course you can take the time off to go on ‘Jeopardy!’ ”
He bought all the trivia books he could find. He got in touch with his Quiz Bowl teacher, who sent him hundreds of questions to study.
Support for Anderson poured in from Aviano and across the Air Force. Dozens of people came out for a viewing party at the base club Oct. 15. By the fourth and final evening, the place was packed.
“It was a pretty rowdy atmosphere by the time we ended,” Anderson said. “People would cheer when I got a question right and boo when other people got questions right. It was a blast. There was a little bit of pride seeing an airman up there.”