Hilliard Northwest News

Who is Michael Ellis?

This Hilliard resident won an episode of Jeopardy!

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Science-fiction movie knowledge was the key to a Hilliard resident's success on the popular TV quiz show, Jeopardy!

Michael Ellis, 28, a law clerk and Hilliard resident, knew Sigourney Weaver, who played Ellen Ripley in the 1986 film Aliens, was the first Academy Award nominee for best actress in a leading role to star in a science-fiction move.

Ellis' opponents also knew the answer, but Ellis was the leader entering the Final Jeopardy! round and won $16,400 on his first show that aired April 22.

"It was exciting to win," said Ellis, who with about 25 friends and family members, hosted a viewing party for the episodes.

The episode, and four others representing a week's worth of episodes, were all recorded in the Los Angeles area on a single day, Dec. 5.

"It looks like each one is done separately, but as soon as we were done with one, we went on to the next (and) they introduce us as if we had just arrived again at the show," Ellis said.

Ellis' time on the show came to an end during the next aired episode.

He and one of his opponents missed the Final Jeopardy! question, allowing the third-place contestant to win the game.

"Geographic math" was the category.

"I thought, 'Math was never my strong suit'," Ellis said.

Contestants were told the number of states and provinces in all of North America was 91, and were asked to name the number of states in Mexico.

If a contestant did not know the answer, it was possible to solve it by knowing the number of states in the United States and provinces in Canada.

"I overestimated the number of Canadian provinces (and) wound up with a smaller number (than the true number of states in Mexico)," Ellis said.

For the record, Mexico has 31 states, Canada has 10 provinces, and the U.S. has 50 states, for a total of 91 states and provinces in North America.

Ellis' journey to Jeopardy! began in January 2012 with an online test.

"There are 50 open-ended questions and you have about 10 seconds to answer each one," Ellis said. "I didn't hear anything back until April when the show called to invite me to an in-person audition in Cleveland."

The purpose of the audition, Ellis said, was for producers to gauge how a contestant reacts on camera.

"Some people might have great recall (of information) but not perform as well on camera," Ellis said. "There were about 30 to 40 of us at the rehearsal in Cleveland."

Ellis didn't hear again from the show until early November.

"They called and invited me to a taping that was Dec. 5," said Ellis, whose wife and parents accompanied him on the trip to Southern California.

"After I got the call, I began studying. There are even books specific to preparing as a Jeopardy contestant," he said.

"The pace of the show is quick," Ellis said. "You hardly have time to think of answers. You know it or you don't."

He said there is a learning curve to handling the buzzer.

"It took me about half of the first show to time it," Ellis said.

Contestants must wait for host Alex Trebek to finish reading the question to buzz in, or the contestant is locked out.

"It's a careful matter of timing," Ellis said. "It's tricky, but I got much better at it."

Ellis said he did not meet Trebek until filming began.

"There isn't too much contestant interaction with Alex," said Ellis, surmising it was a security issue, as Trebek knows questions in advance of the filming.

"The contestants are kept in a separate room until the start of the show. But I of course met Alex (after the shows) and he is very personable," Ellis said.

Ellis, a native of Washington D.C., moved to central Ohio with his wife, Katherine, an active-duty captain in the U.S. Air Force, after she was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

He is a clerk for Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

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