Alumnus Mitchell Macek, '20, competes on 'Jeopardy!'

The Call

On Wednesday night, York Country Day School alumnus Mitchell Macek competed against 35 other contestants in the “Jeopardy! National College Championship as the first-ever student contestant from Villanova University. With 36 colleges and universities playing, Mitchell said this was a lifelong dream. Although, he had his doubts on whether he would make it to the big show. 

“It all started in the fall of Freshman (2020) year, when I received information about trying out for Jeopardy!” he said. Mitchell took an online test of 50 questions, similar to the online tests open to anyone for the syndicate show. 

He waited. Finally, in January 2021, he received another email inviting him to take another, more difficult 50-question test. Two weeks later, he had an audition over zoom. 

He waited again. It was complete silence for about nine months. He made peace with the thought that he didn’t make the show and moved on. 

Then, nine months later, his phone rang over and over and over again. He was with a customer at his job, and profusely apologized citing the repetitiveness of the same number ringing his cell. Someone was really trying to get a hold of him. 


“Hi, this is Sony. We want you to fly out to Culver City in November to compete on Jeopardy!”

“This is a joke; you have got to be kidding me!”

It was no joke. After what seemed like a considerable amount of time having Sony convince him that this was indeed no joke, he hung up and finished his shift. 

“I called my mom in shock on my drive home,” Mitchell said. “I actually was going to be a contestant on Jeopardy!”
The Show 

He flew out to Culver City in November 2021 to compete over four days, which included the show taping, rehearsals, and promotional filming. 

While tight-lipped about the actual competition and outcome, Mitch definitely hoped for certain categories - mathematics, American history, technology/video games, global politics, famous scientists. And there were categories he hoped to avoid - opera, theology, art. 

Preparation was the key for Mitch. Befriending a few of his fellow contestants, they quizzed each other while they were waiting to compete in the Los Angeles studio. Sony had them wait for hours at a time on the “Wheel of Fortune” set, which was not in use at the time.

“We were isolated from the ‘Jeopardy!’ set - couldn’t see the board, couldn’t see who was in the match-up, couldn’t see any confidential information that might give a clue of content,” he said.

Mitchell said that behind-the-scenes personnel were world class and made his experience amazing. And the 45-minute hair and makeup session was nothing like he had ever encountered. 

The Nerves

The real “Jeopardy!” set. The famous host of the show. The official game board. It’s enough to make any person waiver in his or her confidence, and Mitchell felt the nerves at first. 

“Interestingly,” Mitchell said, “as soon as the game began, I was so focused on the clues and answers, that the nervousness just went away. At the end of the game, I thought to myself, ‘Wow?! It was so fast. I want to do it again!’ “ he said.
His concentration and his preparation helped him tremendously.  

The Buzzer

“The buzzer is so much more of the game than your knowledge,” Mitchell advised. 

He did have a few thoughts on the buzzer. “I practiced answering by clicking a pen up until the show, and I realized I shouldn’t have done that,” he said. 

The buzzer doesn’t feel like a pen. He said it had such a unique tactile feel that it is difficult to describe - more mushy, then actually clickable. 

Even if you have only watched “Jeopardy!” a handful of times, you can usually see contestants furiously using their thumbs to get into the game first. Apparently, they are encouraged to mash the clicker as hard and as quickly as possible. 

The Name
How would you write your name, if you were on the show? Mitchell thought long and hard about this. He had a few ideas, but he learned that writing on those podiums is not as intuitive as you would think. 
“You need to put a lot of force into writing something,” he said. “I wrote it twice before it was accepted.”
The “I” in Mitch - it’s a billiards eight ball, in case you were speculating. That’s a nod to his success playing billiards at Villanova. 
The Reflection
Despite Mitch’s newfound fame, he continues to remain humble and grounded. 
“It wasn’t all my effort - some of it was luck - but I don’t think I would have gotten to Villanova and, by extension, “Jeopardy!” without York Country Day School and my experiences,” Mitch said. “It’s important to know your influences and where you came from - for me that is YCDS and its teachers.” 
 “It’s important to know your influences and where you came from, crediting the factors that led to this and that is YCDS and it’s teachers.”

At Villanova, Mitch is a double major in mathematics and educational theory. He hopes to be a teacher, but wants to begin in corporate first to gain experience and then move into the classroom.