MILWAUKEE — Jack Bekos, 17, had always wanted to visit Washington D.C. He also used to imagine that one day he would be a contestant on the quiz show “Jeopardy.”
Last April, both of his dreams came true when he was one of 15 high school students selected to compete on “Teen Jeopardy,” taped in the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Constitution Hall in the nation’s capital.
Bekos is from Elm Grove and is a senior at Marquette University High School, where he is committed to the school’s mission of being a man for others.
“The Catholic aspect of service has been a defining theme in my life for as long as I can remember,” said Bekos. “At Marquette, I’ve found my own reason and purpose through service, it has been a very fulfilling aspect.”
Bekos is a member of Marquette’s Jesuit Honor Society, where he helps tutor underclassmen and he is also active in the Best Buddies program, which encourages friendships with students, outside of Marquette, who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. He is a member of the high school’s Unity Council, which promotes diversity in the Marquette community and he was a retreat leader, last November, for the school’s senior Kairos Retreat.
Outside of school, Bekos volunteers with the ALS Association Wisconsin Chapter, where his mother is the executive director. He also attends Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Milwaukee.
According to Victoria Temple Bonesho, a social studies teacher who taught Bekos AP European History, he was an excellent example to represent the high school on “Teen Jeopardy” because of his intelligence and maturity.
“I’ve always loved trivia and facts, for as long as I can remember. The first book I ever read was ‘The Guinness Book of World Records,’” said Bekos. “I just can’t get enough, I like to do trivia and quiz websites like ‘JetPunk’ and ‘Sporcle.’”
Bekos began to watch “Jeopardy” religiously with his father around eighth grade, when he was a student at Christ King School in Wauwatosa.
“Every night at 6 p.m. that would be our thing, we would keep score and play against each other,” said Bekos. “Eventually, I started to beat the contestants on the TV screen and I decided that I should check out their website and apply to get on the show.”
Bekos took a 50 question online test for “Teen Jeopardy,” last January, and two weeks later he was invited to tryout for an in-person audition in Detroit.
“I freaked, I couldn’t believe I made it to the second round, I felt good about it and then that April we flew out to D.C. to film the show for a week,” said Bekos. “There was a big chunk of time between when the show filmed and when it aired in November. I had to sign a waiver to be quiet about the show until it was televised, it was awful but I kept quiet much to my surprise.”
He appeared on television in the quarterfinals on Nov. 10, after the April 9 to 13 filming. His parents and twin sister, Bella, a senior at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, Milwaukee, were in attendance to support him.
“The day of the taping I was so nervous, I can remember it clearly, I couldn’t eat because I was so nervous; I just wanted to stuff my head with facts,” said Bekos. “During the practice rounds, I was beginning to feel more laid-back but stepping on the stage was a whole other world. There were thousands of people in the audience and all of the contestants were brilliant, one of the girls is going to Harvard now, so it was crazy.”
For Bekos the most surreal moment of the taping was seeing Jeopardy’s host, Alex Trebek, walking on the stage.
“It was like an out-of-body experience, when I was clapping for Alex Trebek, if you watch me on the tape I look jaw-dropped,” said Bekos. “He’s very nerdy, very smart and very arrogant; he’s perfect for his job, he’s very funny and nice.”
Behind-the-scenes, Bekos was impressed with the number of people involved in shooting the game show and the amount of time it took to film the promotions for the tournament.
Bekos noted that Marquette High was influential in fostering his dream to be on “Jeopardy.”
“The classes I’ve taken have really helped prepare me in terms of the questions on the show, like AP European History comes to mind and English, one of the answers was from a book we just read in British Literature,” said Bekos. “The whole support from the Marquette community was also really beneficial during the process.”
An incorrect answer to a theology question, however, has remained seared in his memory.
“I’m mortified for life after that. The question was about the day of rest and I said Sunday instead of the Sabbath,” said Bekos. “The day after it aired, all of my theology teachers came up to me and said, ‘Jack how could you?’ but it was all in good fun.”
Outside of the show’s taping, Bekos and his fellow contestants enjoyed some sightseeing in Washington, D.C.
“It was incredible to see the national monuments and bond with the other contestants,” said Bekos. “Because the taping was in spring, it was during the cherry blossom season, so D.C. was beautiful, I loved it.”
Bekos remains in touch with the contestants every day, through group text messaging, and once a month they video chat through Skype.
“I couldn’t have come away with a better group of friends, it’s really cool,” said Bekos.
Although Bekos did not advance to the semifinals, he earned $5,000, which will go toward his finances for college. He is still weighing his college options for next year, but he has applied to Northwestern, Duke, UW-Madison, Johns Hopkins, USC, UCLA and Berkeley.
He hasn’t decided on what he wants to major in college but is interested in history, foreign languages and biology, he also wishes to study abroad. He potentially sees himself pursuing degrees in medicine and Spanish.
“I definitely want service to be a part of my life, I would love to be involved in Third World outreach and remain active in my local community,” said Bekos.
In the meantime, Bekos is focused on ending his high school career on a strong note and is excited for the high school’s Senior Shared Life service project, where seniors are released from class for two weeks, from Feb. 20 to March 3, to work at local service agencies or institutions.
“I’m not sure where I’ll be working for Senior Shared Life, but I’m excited because I know it will be another highlight to my time in high school, just as being on ‘Jeopardy’ was,” said Bekos.