A Thornhill, Ont. lawyer says his experience as a litigator prepared him well for his adventure as a contestant on Jeopardy!
After ironically being dubbed “the foreigner” by the popular game show’s Canadian-born host Alex Trebek, Queen’s Law grad Jordan Nussbaum’s fatigue prevented his brain from summoning “New Jersey” to answer which U.S. state is named for a European island. Falling behind after leading the whole game, Nussbaum’s Jeopardy! career concluded after a two-episode campaign.
“It's an experience that most people don’t tend to get,” says Nussbaum.
The 28-year-old civil litigator from Romano Law Office flew to Los Angeles with family in February to be a contestant on the show he watched as a kid. Nussbaum appeared in two episodes, winning the first round and nearly progressing to a third before being defeated by a late-game comeback by a contestant from Mississippi.
“But you know I'm very proud of myself I played a strong second game and I'm happy just being a Jeopardy champion,” he says. “Can’t take that away.”
Nussbaum says as a litigator, he was trained to be successful with the buzzer at the Jeopardy podium. At his work he’s tested to recall minute details and facts from the case or documents, on the spot. Nussbaum’s litigation skills of improvisation and quick reaction time were also honed by his experience in theater as a child. But it was his humour, he says, that propelled him through the audition process.
After filling out an online questionnaire, which he does annually along with 70,000 other Jeopardy fans, Nussbaum got an email inviting him to an audition at Toronto’s The Fairmont Royal York Hotel in November 2017. After 50 general knowledge trivia questions, the prospects were called up three at a time to simulate a game.
Nussbaum says he got as many wrong as he did right in this exercise.
“But I don't think they were looking for right answers. They're kind of looking to see if you were enthusiastic, if you smiled, you know, if you were loud and kind of engaging,” he says.
He then prepared for the personal moment where Trebek asks the contestants individually to talk about themselves. He was to prepare five interesting facts about himself and decided to describe how if he “set a new record on Jeopardy!,” he would purchase a “modestly priced home” in Toronto.
“I had heard that you're supposed to use funny stories, so I tried to make the room laugh and I think it worked pretty well,” he says.
At the end of the audition, the contestants were told they may be called anytime in the next 18 months to appear on the show. Two months later, Nussbaum got a call from a California number and knew immediately who it was.
He was asked to appear at Sony Pictures Studios a month later, in February. Thrilled for his young lawyer, Nussbaum’s boss Bernie Romano gave him the week off. Together with his parents, two cousins and grandmother he headed west.
Nussbaum is a history and geography buff. In undergrad he was in the University of Guelph’s bachelor of arts and sciences program, taking history and biology. With his extraordinary memory he says he excelled retaining names, dates and facts. His weak area was literature. To prepare for his big day, he read three volumes of a series his aunt gave him, which was composed of two-page summaries of classic literature. The extra reading was not fruitful, however.
“That's how I studied but it didn't help. I don't think I got a literature question right,” he says.
To “shore up the flank” on other obscure facts, he studied the names of rivers, lakes, bridges and even operas.
The show only films 39 days out of the year and they film a whole week’s worth of episodes in a single day, Nussbaum says. On his first episode Nussbaum says he beat a three-time champion, a teacher from B.C. named Ali.
Nussbaum won $17,800 and is awaiting his cheque. The second episode on which he appeared aired on June 25, his birthday.
Romano Law Office is located near highway 27 and Steeles Avenue and the three-lawyer firm has a general civil litigation practice.
“Being at such a small firm affords me kind of the opportunity to do and to do things that more junior players at the large firms would never be able to do,” he says. “I appeared solo at the Court of Appeal earlier this year, within my first two years of practice. I was successful in having the appeal dismissed.”
Nussbaum says he is happy in his current role but hopes to do more employment law in the future, such as acting for employees in wrongful dismissal suits.