Middletown Student Competes In Jeopardy! Teen Tournament

Photographer / Blue Harvest Photography

During the past couple of decades fans of the television quiz show, Jeopardy!, have been captivated by the skills and knowledge presented by trivia phenoms like Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer, who both won millions. Yet this past June, local fans of the show were particularly interested in the program because it featured a young man from Middletown, 17-year-old Jackson Jones, who was a contestant in the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament.   

Once the metro Louisville area caught wind of Jackson’s appearances, he became a bona fide hometown celebrity. Friends, neighbors and even those who don’t know him personally were messaging each other about his television debut. His school counselor, Heidi Weber, announced his appearance during the Junior Ring Ceremony held at his high school. He was featured locally in the Courier-Journal newspaper and on TV stations such as WKLY.

Jackson and his mom, Noelle McCloud, have lived in Middletown for about 10 years. He’s attended school locally, first Stopher Elementary, then Crosby Middle School, and now he’s a rising senior at Eastern High. His favorite subjects are math and world history, and his extra-curricular activities include being a member of the Academic Team, which he’s participated in one way or another since fifth grade, and he’s the editor-in-chief of the school’s yearbook which he enjoys.

“I wanted to be on the yearbook because a lot of my friends were applying, and I like doing graphic arts, so I applied, too,” he says. “As editor-in-chief, I oversee the entire production and make sure things are running smoothly.”

One of Jackson’s favorite activities is reading, which he admits is where he’s gained a good deal of knowledge, leading him to try out for Jeopardy!

“I’ve always enjoyed reading in order to learn new things,” he says.

He says he doesn’t really have one subject area or genre that appeals to him when selecting books.

“I like a mix of fiction and non-fiction, nothing too specific, Jackson adds.” 

One of his favorite places to visit to purchase reading material is Half-Price books.

Jackson says he’s been a loyal Jeopardy! fan for years, watching it for as long as he can remember. He began trying out for the show when he was in fifth grade. Applicants take an online test which consists of 50 questions, and they need to be able to complete each question within 15 seconds. Unfortunately, Jackson never received the call for an audition after his first try. His second attempt was in eighth grade, and after he completed the online test he was contacted for an audition two days later. He and his mother traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina for that audition, but he didn’t receive a callback to appear on the show.

Jackson took the online test again last year, in March, and received an email two months later calling him in for an audition. He began prepping for the show in different ways, such as using a pen with a ‘clicker’ to simulate pressing the buzzer they use on the show, and by studying different subject areas.

“I brushed up on some of the content area I didn’t feel confident in,” he says. “Like reading about different wars and battles, and I also studied different areas of science.”

Finally, the time to audition happened in June, so he and his mom traveled together to the audition which was held in Kansas City, Missouri. They both admit it was a long, somewhat boring, 10-hour drive from Louisville. He and his mom then arrived a couple of days before the audition so they could settle into their hotel and do some sight-seeing.

The day of the audition finally arrived.

“The first thing you do is take another 50-question test, but you write down the answers instead of typing them in like you do on the computer,” Jackson explains. “Then, they have you do an in-person mock game with two other people who are also auditioning for the game. After you finish the game, you tell a couple of stories about yourself, and that’s pretty much the extent of it.”

The third attempt to become a contestant worked out, and Jackson was contacted by a Jeopardy! producer to let him know he’d be on the show. Taping was scheduled for December 2018.

Noelle and Jackson headed off to Los Angeles for the taping of the Teen Tournament. The contestants and their families were put up at hotels at Universal Studios. Jackson says he and his mom had a chance to do sightseeing, visiting the Universal City Walk and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Taping took place over just two days, with five shows being taped each day. The first five shows consisted of the quarter-finals, with Jackson’s round occurring during the fourth taping. When asked what it was like that first day of the tournament, Jackson admits it was very stressful. 

“We couldn’t watch any of the games before ours was filmed that day,” he says. “Since I was in the fourth game out of five on the first day, I spent the majority of my day in the green room. We couldn’t get on our phones and we couldn’t read any books, so we essentially just had to talk to each other, but they did bring us lunch.”

After waiting through a very long day, Jackson’s turn to compete in the quarter-finals round finally arrived. He was the victor of that game with a score of $21,600, but says he actually answered the Final Jeopardy! question incorrectly.

“I don’t remember the details, but I do remember the correct answer was ‘Benjamin Franklin’,” he says. “I didn’t get it right, but I still had the highest score so I did get to progress to the semi-finals.”

On the second day when semi-finals were taped, Jackson’s appearance was during the third round. He and another contestant, Avi Gupta from Portland, Oregon, ended the game in a tie, resulting in a tie-breaker question. Avi buzzed in first, answered correctly, and he was crowned the victor. Even though he didn’t reach the finals, Jackson was still awarded $10,000. He says some of his earnings are earmarked for college. His mom adds that the contestants are also researching donating a part of their winnings to a charity.

Although Jackson didn’t walk away with the top prize in the end, he’s still quite happy he had the opportunity to participate in the Teen Tournament.

“I am really glad I did this, and I’m glad I got to meet so many great people,” he says. “I’ve thought about doing other game shows, but not sure if I will or not.” 

Jackson has advice for other teens that might have an interest in being a contestant on the Jeopardy Teen Tournament or any other game show.

“I would say if it doesn’t work out the first time, try again, you’ll get there eventually,” he says.

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