Justin Vossler, a Homer resident and history teacher at Moravia High School, is now a two-day "Jeopardy!" champion.
Vossler, 28, defeated two challengers — George Buri, an educator from Winnipeg, and Connie Rudd, a writer from Oklahoma — with another large Final Jeopardy wager.
Entering the final round, Buri had $16,800 and Vossler was in second place with $14,400. The Final Jeopardy category was Americana. The clue: "This official U.S. government song traces its roots to a song about Roderick Dhu, the leader of a Highland Clan."
The correct response was "Hail to the Chief." Vossler answered correctly. Buri did not.
Vossler, much like he did Thursday night, wagered most of his winnings from the first two rounds. He added $13,000 in Final Jeopardy to finish with $27,400. He's now won $54,500 in two days on the popular game show.
On Thursday's episode, Vossler defeated three-day champion Deborah Elliott, an educator from Cleveland. The game was close between Elliott and Vossler. In a phone interview Friday, Vossler said there's a screen that's visible to the contestants showing their scores. He ignored it early on, but began paying more attention to it during Double Jeopardy.
Entering Final Jeopardy, he held a $200 lead — $13,600 to $13,400 — over Elliott. Before the final round, contestants learn the category and enter a wager.
"Really just being there is a fantastic experience," Vossler said. "So I said to myself, 'Go for it.' And that's why I put the big wager in there."
Vossler wagered $13,500 — all but $100 of the money he earned in the first two rounds of competition.
Being a history teacher, he felt good about his chances because of the category — state capitals. The Final Jeopardy clue was, "In 1932, a 4,700-pound piece of the object that gave this capital its 'small' name was moved to city hall."
The correct response was Little Rock, Arkansas. Vossler and Elliott both had big wagers — Elliott bet $12,000 — but Vossler's was enough to make him the new "Jeopardy!" champion. He finished with $27,100.
"It's just this wave of relief that you've won," he said. "And Deborah, of course, was a great, great sport about it."
The episodes that aired Thursday and Friday were taped in April. Vossler flew out to California, where "Jeopardy!" is filmed, after receiving a call in March informing him that he would be a contestant on the show.
The call capped off a months-long waiting game for Vossler. He took an online test to be a "Jeopardy!" contestant and auditioned for the show in October 2016. The audition consisted of a written test, a practice game and personality interview.
At the end of the audition, Vossler was told he may be contacted within the next 18 months — or not at all. In March, he received the call he was hoping for.
When he arrived in California for the April taping, he was shuttled to the studio. Representatives from the show reviewed his application file to determine what stories he'd want to talk about during host Alex Trebek's interview segment with the contestants.
He participated in the recording of Hometown Howdies, a short video clip that recognizes the contestants and where they reside. That's one part of his "Jeopardy!" experience he considered "awkward."
"I hated it," he said.
And then came the taping. Vossler described the experience as fast. He revealed that contestants don't know who's up for the next taping until moments before it begins. The producers don't even know because the contestant selection is done by an outside compliance firm.
There are practice rounds before the taping so the players can get comfortable with the setup, such as the buzzer they're required to use to respond to clues.
Once the three contestants are in place, filming begins.
Vossler's participation in the game show likely wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for his late grandmother. She was a big "Jeopardy!" fan, he recalled. When they were younger, if he and his sister were at their grandmother's house while "Jeopardy!" was on, she would encourage them to watch with her.
"She used to call it 'exercise our brain,'" he said.
A native of Wellsville in Allegany County, Vossler completed his undergraduate studies at SUNY Geneseo. He earned his master's degree at SUNY Cortland.
He recently completed his sixth year as a history teacher at Moravia High School. He teaches freshmen and an economics class for seniors.
Vossler initially kept his "Jeopardy!" appearance private because he didn't want to be a distraction during what's usually a busy time for his fellow educators and students. But by the end of the school year, word started to spread and he made an announcement that he would be on the game show.
"The people at Moravia have been extremely supportive," he said.
Vossler's run will continue Monday. "Jeopardy!" airs at 7:30 p.m. on Fox 68 in the Syracuse area.