NAPLES, Italy — Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Ben Warner has tuned into the trivia show “Jeopardy!” since he was 10 years old, confident that one day he would be on the other side of the television screen, chatting up host Alex Trebek and wowing viewers with his trivia knowledge.
So he was more than a little nervous on Saturday when Trebek high-fived his son and directed Warner to take a preliminary audition test for the show.
“It was awesome,” Warner said. “He sounds just like he does on TV.”
Trebek and several of the show’s producers opened a multi-day contestant search across U.S. military bases in Europe at Naval Support Activity Naples on Saturday. Trebek will also host tryouts Tuesday at the Aviano Air Base in northern Italy, at the Officers’ Club at Ramstein Air Base Thursday, and the Clay Kaserne Community Activity Center in Wiesbaden Friday during the USO tour. All events are scheduled from 9 to 11 a.m.
“A lot of folks back home think the USO is only important when there is a big conflict and we send entertainers out, but there is a lot more to it than that,” Trebek said after Saturday’s event.
Only servicemembers and their spouses can audition during the tour for the longstanding quiz show, in which contestants compete for cash prizes. Those who pass the preliminary test could be chosen to participate in the show’s 2013 “Salute to the Military” competition. Active-duty servicemembers can also apply for the military competition by taking an online test Tuesday night at Jeopardy.com.
The first hurdle for would-be contestants: a 10-question trivia test covering politics, government, science, geography and pop culture. Applicants who receive a passing score are asked to return in the afternoon for a camera test, when they might be quizzed by Trebek.
In Naples, Trebek urged several reluctant servicemembers to audition.
“No, I’m not smart enough for that,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse Crawford, 28, as he collected an autographed photo from Trebek.
“I’ll tell you if you are smart enough,” Trebek said.
For many, the USO tour was an opportunity to test their knowledge after decades of rattling off answers at the television screen while watching the show.
“I don’t think I got any right,” said Army Sgt. First Class Jim “Jimbo” Jones after taking the test. But he was later tapped to return for further testing.
Jones said his wife urged him to audition because he often yells answers while watching the show. The preliminary test was difficult, except for a clue asking for the name of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Jones said.
“That was the easy one, right?” Jones said.
Mark Lantsberger, a 43-year-old substitute teacher at Naples American High School, was also invited back for further testing after correctly answering most of the preliminary questions. As a military spouse, Lantsberger qualified to participate.
“Whenever it’s on, I’m just saying bing, bing, bing, all the answers,” he said.
Far from the comfort of his living room, the clues seemed more difficult, said Lantsberger, who teaches science.
“The pop stuff kills me,” he said.
For more information about the tour, visit USO.org.