UCF alumnus Imar DaCunha ’97 will have his trivia knowledge put to the test Wednesday when he appears on Jeopardy! – but he may have to compete against one of the show’s all-time winningest players, who took just 14 days to win more than $1 million.
DaCunha, 44, who has a bachelor’s in history, is a business systems analyst at Red Lobster in Orlando, where he works to help create menus with meal descriptions, prices, nutrition and other information. If current Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer wins today and Tuesday, DaCunha will face the player who at the moment holds the show’s top seven biggest daily prizes.
DaCunha says the Jeopardy! taping seemed to go so fast that he can’t remember most of the categories. The taping of the show might have been a blur rushing by, but his path to reach the show took a year.
“When I got the call from one of the producers, I had totally forgotten about my tryout,” he says.
“When I found out I would be on, my main goal was not to embarrass my family.”
He took the show’s online test in April 2018, had his regional audition in June, and taped his episode Feb. 27. He says show producers told him about 80,000 people a year take the online test, and about 5,000 advance to the regional winnowing, at which contestants take a timed written test and compete in a mock game against two other contestants. Of those, between 300 and 400 are flown to Los Angeles each year to compete on the show.
“I’d say my love of reading was my biggest asset to getting on the show.”
“I’d say my love of reading was my biggest asset to getting on the show,” DaCunha says. “That was definitely encouraged at UCF. I was in the honors program [now Burnett Honors College] and remember reading so many great books for my classes. Also, the library was one of my favorite places to hang out.”
He says Richard Crepeau and Ed Kallina, both now retired, were two of his favorite professors because “they did such a great job of making their classes interesting,” and his all-time favorite class was Crepeau’s Sport in American History.
Crepeau says he remembers DaCunha as an excellent student “and I am not at all surprised that he will be a contestant on Jeopardy!. I wish him best of luck. I hope he does not have to face the current champion who is just demolishing everyone he plays and setting records for single-day prize money.”
DaCunha also credits reaching the show to his time as a student assistant hired by history department coordinators Carole Gonzalez ’01 and Nancy Rauscher.
“Spending all that time in the history department exposed me to many different fields of research and discussions between professors,” he says. “I treasured my time there and will always be grateful to them for giving me that opportunity.”
Coincidentally, DaCunha’s wife, Carly, also appeared as a contestant on the show in 2012. The University of North Carolina graduate is now a textbook editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“She didn’t win, but every response she gave was correct, including her Final Jeopardy! response,” he says.
At home, DaCunha says his favorite Jeopardy! questions are the ones he doesn’t know because they’re the ones that teach him something.
And as for show host Alex Trebek, “He is a genuine class act…He is pretty much what you see on TV—a gentleman and a scholar.”