GREENBUSH, Maine — A Greenbush woman finally saw a dream come true Wednesday evening, when she appeared as a contestant on the popular television quiz show “Jeopardy!”
Kathy Nitschke had been vying for a spot on the game show for at least a decade when, while cleaning her oven shortly before Christmas, she received a telephone call inviting her to compete.
Nitschke said she almost didn’t answer the call. Her phone’s caller ID said the incoming call was from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, the show’s distributor, and she figured the call was from a telemarketer trying to sell her something.
But she picked up the phone and learned she was invited to Los Angeles as a contestant, Nitschke said Wednesday afternoon in a telephone interview.
Nitschke said she was a fan of the show long before 2003, when she entered a “Jeopardy!” tryout in Bangor organized by WVII Channel 7, the area’s ABC affiliate. She wasn’t selected at that time but kept trying online, making it as far as the regional tryouts in Boston a few times.
To prepare for her shot at game-show fame, Nitschke practiced giving answers in the form of questions and when ready to answer questions, clicked a retractable pen to simulate the hand-held buzzer that “Jeopardy!” contestants use on the show. She also read a lot, including almanacs.
Despite her efforts, Nitschke ended Wednesday’s show in last place, with $398 in winnings compared with the $12,201 and $9,000 racked up by her competitors.
Nitschke and her partner, Rob Weeks, watched the show, which was taped in late January, with her son and daughter-in-law, Ben and Samantha Hale, at the Hales’ home in Orono.
“I did OK,” she said in a brief telephone interview several hours before the show’s 7:30 p.m. start time. “It was fun. It was very fast-paced. It was something I’d wanted to do for years. It was a whirlwind trip to Los Angeles. Everyone was very nice, very cordial.”
Nitschke said it was a thrill to meet Alex Trebek, whom she describes as gentlemanly.
Nitschke said that her “Jeopardy!” appearance created a bit of a stir when promotional ads began appearance in local broadcast and print media.
Originally from the Albany, N.Y., area and a former Maine Forest Service forester who retired in 2003 after a 25-year career, Nitsche has been in Maine since 1970, when she moved to the Pine Tree State to attend the University of Maine.
She works as a customer service representative for L.L. Bean, although she wasn’t allowed to disclose the name of her employer during her national television appearance Wednesday.
Nitschke said she used her winning to buy a few plants for her home, where she gardens and raises chickens in her spare time.
Nitschke’s advice for other game-show star wannabes?
“Keep trying. Don’t lose faith in it. And have fun. They kept reminding us not to be so serious. It’s a game,” she said.