Local “Jeopardy!” fans might recall Hunter Appler’s appearance on the television series in June 2016, when the former Mount Airy resident won six games and then disappeared from the limelight into the realm of its former champs.
Well, he’s back, to coin a phrase — as a contestant in the “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions — including competing in the first game of the event on Monday night. It will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. by area TV station WFMY (Channel 2).
Appler, a 2002 Mount Airy High School graduate who just turned 34, took the quiz show world by storm after he became a contestant on “Jeopardy!” for the first time on June 8, 2016.
The attorney who now lives in Augusta, Georgia, won $14,200 on that initial show and then returned to capture five more games before losing a seventh on June 16 of that year, taking away total cash winnings of $145,603.
Though he was deposed as “Jeopardy!” champ, the door was left open for Appler — son of Dr. Mark and Kate Appler of Mount Airy — to return for its Tournament of Champions. Contestants who win at least five games generally are invited back for that event, and the opportunity became official for Hunter Appler when he recently was named as one of 15 former winners who will participate.
The tournament is pitting the best contestants over the past two “Jeopardy!” seasons against each other in a two-week affair promising a top prize of $250,000 to the winner. It will include a series of quarterfinal matches, beginning with the one involving Appler on Monday night, with winners advancing to semifinal contests.
Losing a game does not automatically eliminate someone from the tournament, since those amassing the most money among non-winners will be tapped for four wild-card spots.
A final two-night session among the last three contestants standing on Nov. 16-17 will decide the championship, the winner being determined by who accumulates the most total cash for those games.
While the episode featuring Hunter Appler will premiere Monday night, it actually was produced nearly two months ago.
“They taped it on Sept. 18-19,” Kate Appler said of tournament competition in Los Angeles that included supporters of Hunter from back home in the audience. In addition to Mark and Kate Appler, other family members and friends made the trip.
“There were eight of us that went out,” she said.
Appearing in a regular “Jeopardy!” game can be a challenge for first-time contestants, knowing they must pit their knowledge of a wide range of categories against worthy opponents who’ve also cleared preliminary testing and other hurdles.
And by the time players win five or more games, as did Appler, they usually are battle-hardened and have experience under their belts to make them confident.
However, her son actually was more nervous for his second “Jeopardy!” experience, as a contestant in the tournament, than he was for his initial appearance, Kate Appler said, realizing the caliber of opponents he’d be facing.
“He did know he was going up against people who were all going to be superior.”
The list includes winners of “Jeopardy!” Teacher and College tournaments in each of the past two seasons, along with a pair of 12-game winners. The latter includes Austin Rogers, who recently created a sensation during the current season of the show with an impressive string of victories.
Appler’s opponents Monday night will be Buzzy Cohen of Los Angeles (who won nine games, totaling $164,603), and Pranjal Vachaspati from Urbana, Illinois (six games and $137,088).
Yet Appler is a formidable foe in his own right, who before winning six games on “Jeopardy!” was a member of a Quiz Bowl team at Mount Airy High which contended for a state championship.
His hobby is accumulating random facts and along with being a longtime viewer of the “Jeopardy!’ program with his wife Abigail, they have an active bar trivia team.
That kind of preparation seemed to make Hunter Appler a natural as a contestant. “The thing that stuck with me most, once it started, was how much fun it was,” he said after his “Jeopardy!” victories in 2016.
“I had a list of things that, ideally, I would get to do on ‘Jeopardy!’” he added, which included saying “let’s make it a true Daily Double, Alex,” and then getting the answer right.
One drawback for the second time around is that Appler will not be introduced as “originally from Mount Airy, North Carolina,” as was the case in 2016, but announced as a resident of his present home in Georgia.
“I know that will be disappointing for people from Mount Airy,” said Kate Appler, who is optimistic that area “Jeopardy!” viewers will still recognize Hunter.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.