Harrison woman on 'Jeopardy!'

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, May 1, 2014, 11:53 a.m.

Michelle Flaherty dislikes mayonnaise so much she doesn't even like saying the word.

So that she had to say it as a contestant on “Jeopardy!” was just, well, yuck.

“I can't believe I had to say mayonnaise on TV. I can't even stand it exists. It's so gross,” she said. “I was debating on if I wanted to answer it or not.”

But Flaherty, 29, of Harrison, buzzed in and got the right question in response to a video clue describing the ingredients of her least favorite condiment. She did well in an episode of the long-running game show that aired on WPXI-TV Thursday evening, but in the end fell to the reigning champion.

Her second place finish among the three contestants on the answer-question trivia show hosted by Alex Trebek earned her a $2,000 prize.

“It was really a fun experience even though I didn't win, which I was trying to do,” she said. “I was winning for some of it. Final Jeopardy! kind of got me. I was disappointed. We were able to watch the other shows being taped on the day we were there.

“The only Final Jeopardy! the whole time I did not know the answer to was the one I got.”

The Final Jeopardy! she faced was: Other than Q, these two letters appear the least in the names of states, each appearing only once.

Flaherty guessed Z and X. The correction question was, “What are Z and J?”

Reigning champion Julia Collins got it right, bringing her nine-day winnings to nearly $200,000.

Collins is the longest-running female champion in the show's history.

Even if Flaherty had gotten the question right, Collins bet enough that she would've won anyway.

“That's OK,” Flaherty said. “Throughout the show I got a bunch of questions right. I made a good showing of myself. I didn't get that many wrong.”

Flaherty gathered with family Thursday night to watch the airing of the show she recorded in February in Culver City, Calif., near Los Angeles. Her journey to Jeopardy! began with an online test open to anyone that lead to an audition in Niagara Falls in April 2013.

“I've watched ‘Jeopardy!' since I was a little kid,” she said. “I've always kind of had an aptitude for trivia. For some reason I just retain things you never really need to know.”

Flaherty said she felt good about her audition performance, but wasn't expecting to get on the show.

“They tell you that twice as many pass the audition as what are needed to be on the show,” she said. “Even if you did really well, you still may never get called to be on the show. It's just kind of the luck of the draw who they choose to be on.”

It wasn't until January that she got the call. Flaherty travelled to California, at her own expense, with her boyfriend and five relatives for three days, staying in a hotel with other contestants.

“We all became like friends and buddies in the hotel,” she said. “We'd sit in the lobby in the evening and watch ‘Jeopardy!.' It was really fun.”

Flaherty said her show was one of five recorded that day. She was three months pregnant — which she didn't know at the time. Her baby is due in late July.

A native of Allegheny Township, Flaherty is a child and family advocate for the Alle-Kiski Area HOPE Center, a domestic violence shelter. She didn't study or prepare for the show, figuring any attempt to cram her brain would just make her confused.

Although the show's categories are random, Flaherty said some of the ones she faced seemed to be written just for her. There was a category about casino games, and her boyfriend works at a casino; one was about psychology, and her degree is in psychology; another was about Huey Lewis, and she shares a birthday with the singer.

“It was just kind of magical I had these questions come up that I know,” she said. “I got all of those ones correct.”

Flaherty admits to having been a vocal and critical viewer of the show. Now, she's more understanding.

“It really isn't as easy as it looks. So many factors go into how well the contestants do,” she said. “I knew so many of the answers that I didn't get to ring in for.”

Flaherty said contestants get a lot of makeup put on.

“I don't look that way in real life,” she said. “Nobody looks the way they look on the show. I don't know what Alex Trebek really looks like. He's in his mid-70s and he doesn't look that old on the show.”

The only time contestants get with Trebek is on stage.

“He seemed nice,” Flaherty said.

Flaherty said contestants are told they can never be on the show again while Trebek is the host.

“It was a once in a lifetime thing,” she said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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