This is ‘Jeopardy!’
Fresno State alum wins big on popular TV game show
by Lisa Maria Boyles
He spent four days competing on a national TV trivia show and won enough money to take a European vacation and give back to several community organizations.
Who is “Jeopardy!” winner Peter Guekguezian of Fresno?
Peter Guekguezian, 31, appeared on four episodes of the popular ABC game show in June, racking up $46,800 in winnings. He was the champion on June 16, 19 and 20, losing on June 21 to challenger Lisa Evans of Easthampton, Massachusetts.
Since the episodes aired, Guekguezian, his wife and their 2-year-old son, Zekiel, moved to New York, where he is pursuing post-doctoral work. The couple met while they were both graduate students at Fresno State, and Marilyn taught at Fresno State’s American English Institute. Guekguezian earned his master’s degree in linguistics in 2011 and was part of the first graduating class at University High School, a charter school on campus.
“I really appreciated the support of my community,” Guekguezian says. “People seemed really proud and supportive of me being on the show and representing Fresno. That made me happy. A lot of times we can feel down on ourselves about Fresno, especially people my age. There’s a lot of good stuff going on there, a lot of potential.”
Fresno State Magazine asked Guekguezian about his experiences and how he reached his potential on the show.
Fresno State Magazine:
How did you prepare to be a contestant on “Jeopardy!”?
Guekguezian: It’s hard to prepare because the questions can literally be about anything.
I decided the best strategy was to focus on things that are easily memorized and are over-represented in “Jeopardy!” categories like Nobel Peace Prize winners, Oscar winners, that sort of thing.
The most important thing was studying how to wager. Most games are won or lost in Final Jeopardy, and it comes down to whether or not you wager correctly. I have a friend, Jesse Thoren, also from University High, who is a complete math genius, and he broke down how I should bet in every situation.
What was it like to compete on the show?
It’s a fun break from real life. To be living your real, everyday life knowing in a few days you’re going to be transported to this completely different experience — you just can’t wait for it to start.
But then you’re also a little nervous because you want to win, you don’t want to make a fool of yourself on national TV. I was able to do both at the same time. That [second show] was a train wreck.
There was one where I got the answer right, but I didn’t put it in the form of a question, and I realized it too late. That’s the cardinal sin of “Jeopardy!”
What was the hardest question?
That was the train wreck game. I missed all three Daily Doubles. But I was still able to win because I answered Final Jeopardy correctly. The question was, “On June 17, 1929, this airline’s first passenger flight left Dallas, making stops at Shreveport, Monroe and Jackson.” And you’re supposed to name the airline. That doesn’t give you a lot to work with.
My first instinct was Southwest because they are based in Dallas, but then I realized they weren’t around in the ’20s.
I thought about the cities, and they are all around the Mississippi Delta region, near the border of Louisiana and Mississippi. I thought maybe that’s the clue, maybe they’re telling me it’s Delta. That was right, and no one else was able to figure it out. I wouldn’t have won if
I hadn’t gotten that question right.
Did you record the programs you appeared on to share with your son when he is older?
Yes, we did. I think it would be pretty cool for him to know that his dad was on “Jeopardy!” and I’d love to watch with him when he gets more interested.
What do you plan to do with your winnings?
I hope to take my family on a trip to Europe. My son is obsessed with Disneyland, so I would love to take him to Disneyland Paris, and then to see the rest of Paris and other parts of Europe.
I’d also like to do something related to Armenian causes. There are some foundations that are doing excellent work in that area, like the Armenian Missionary Association of America. I’d really like to give some money to some LGBT organizations in Fresno. I’d also like to help out the Chukchansi language preservation project at Fresno State. The Linguistics Department really does a lot of good work on endangered languages.