A Downers Grove North alumna who has appeared twice on Jeopardy! Who is Erin Portman?


By Maureen Callahan l Photos courtesy of Jeopardy!

Downers Grove North alumna and Plainfield High School teacher Erin Portman has a lot of curiosity about life. Portman knows at least a little about a lot of topics. She recently put her acquired knowledge to good use, playing a game that focuses on inklings of vast categories. After appearing on two regular season Jeopardy! episodes in January 2023, she was invited to return for the Champions Wildcard Tournament this past January.

How did you qualify to be a contestant?

Contestants qualify by taking the test on Jeopardy!’s website. It’s up there all the time. If you score high enough, you go through the audition process. I waited in the contestant pool for about a year and a half, starting in 2020, before they called me. It’s very common for people to go through the process once and not be called for the show. Hopefuls are encouraged to try out again if they don’t hear back after 18 months. So, I tried it again in spring 2022. I got the call after the second time. My first show was recorded in November 2022.

“My main goal both times, though,
was to have fun and enjoy the experience.
It helped me play it more like a game than a competition.”

– Erin Portman on her Jeopardy! experience

Did you do anything to prepare for the show?

I always half-jokingly say that preparing for Jeopardy! is the project of a lifetime. I’ve been accumulating facts, trivia, and interesting tidbits my whole life and sharing them with anyone who would listen. I did a lot of reviewing of things I already knew so that my recall would be as fast as possible. I know less about sports and pop culture than some other things, so I also spent some time with lists of trivia in those areas, such as Grammy and Oscar winners, names of sports teams, and player nicknames, etc., trying to commit them to memory. I’m not sure if any of those things directly helped me answer questions on the show. The ultimate goal was to train my brain to recall facts quickly, over recalling any individual fact.

Did you follow a certain strategy?

I’ve never been a very strategic or competitive person, but I did spend a little time studying betting strategies so that I had something to go on during my games. My main goal both times, though, was to have fun and enjoy the experience. It helped me play it more like a game than a competition.

Were there any categories you were particularly excited or nervous about?
Not really. As a lifelong fan of the game, I think all categories are fun and interesting in their own ways.

How was the day you were taping?

Taping the show takes all day. On my original tape day, they were taping a whole week of episodes in one day. The order in which contestants appear on those episodes is randomized. So, there’s a lot of waiting around on set for your turn. For the tournament, they split our quarterfinal tapings into two groups. Each half was taped on one of two days. Then, the semifinals and finals were taped on the third day. So, we were all in Los Angeles for the tournament for five days, including travel days on either end.

How is the competition/camaraderie among the contestants?

Without exception, the contestants are brilliant and interesting people who are curious about the world. This game attracts the type of person who likes sharing what they know. It makes for a fun group of people to be around! My group had very kind people. I’m glad to have shared this wild, fun, uncanny experience with them.

There’s a nervous energy in the green room, but it’s great! The producers and staff who take care of the contestants are wonderful. They shepherded us from place to place for hair and makeup, wardrobe checks, lunch, etc. It was fun watching the episodes being taped from backstage while we waited our turn. We shouted out answers since we were in a separate room.

Did you have any stage fright?

Not really. My nerves and adrenaline were manageable during both of my taping days. It’s a lot of fun, which distracts from the fact that you’re in the Jeopardy! episode instead of watching it on TV.

What advice would you have for would-be Jeopardy! contestants?

Anyone interested in trying out for Jeopardy! should take the online test at any time. It’s easy to do and you can keep trying out if you don’t do well the first time. I think being excited about curiosity helps, too. You can definitely study or prepare seriously for Jeopardy!, but in the end, it’s a great game that lets you live out that curiosity to the fullest. My main advice is to enjoy the experience. There’s nothing like it!




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