Something magical has happened for Rhode Islanders who love “Jeopardy!”: In a one-week span, there were two Rhody contestants from Rhode Island, a clue about us, and a winner with Rhode Island ties.
North Smithfield’s Meghan Mello, 39, and Providence’s Matt Harvey, 47, each had the herculean task of facing super-champ Cris Pannullo.
Mello and Harvey placed second in their respective games, each earning $2,000. And Mello witnessed Pannullo’s fall in her game, which aired Dec. 6. Pannullo, a 21-game super-champ, ended his run with a total of $748,286, losing to Andy Tirrell, of San Diego.
“Andy’s from San Diego, but he has family in Rhode Island,” Mello told me. We’ll take it.
Mello, a Burrillville native and former gymnast for Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket, now works at Mass General Brigham as an athletic training supervisor.
Harvey, a St. Louis native whose episode aired Nov. 29, arrived in Providence in 1993 to attend Brown. He’s now senior director of government programs at Integra Community Care Network in Providence.
Both got “the call” in September and taped in October. We chatted with them about their experience.
Q: So, has “Jeopardy!” been a lifelong goal?
Mello: Oh, absolutely. I’ve been watching “Jeopardy!” for as long as I can remember. I’ve been trying out since I was 18. So 20 years.
Harvey: I feel terrible saying this, but I got on the first time I tried out.
What inspired you to take the test?
Harvey: My 14-year-old twins and my wife were like, “You should take the test.” I was like, “No, I’m not gonna take the test.” And then I was like, “Maybe I’ll take the test.” I had a free afternoon and I just went for it.
Did you grow up watching it?
Harvey: I did. It’s baked into our culture. Everyone sings the “Jeopardy!” music when someone’s thinking. But it never occurred to me that being on “Jeopardy!” could happen to a regular person.
Mello: It was an absolute dream come true. I was geeking out. I had a big stupid grin on my face the whole time. It’s just so surreal.
Were you scared going up against Cris?
Mello: Yeah. [laughs] We got to the studio for taping and he was the first person I saw and I’m like: “Oh, no.”
Harvey: When we got to LA my, my wife joked: “Wouldn’t it be funny if Cris Pannullo was still there?” Of course when I walk in, he’s sitting right there. My heart sank. I watched him just demolish people four games in a row, so I had some serious nerves. Then I decided Tuesday morning: “You know what? I’m just gonna crush him.” I didn’t.
Mello: I like wordplay categories, so I planned on going for those. I was trying to think about scores, dollar amounts, how much I needed. I wasn’t hunting for Daily Doubles. I was just trying to survive and have fun.
How did you prepare?
Harvey: The challenge, of course, is how do you study for a show that covers everything? I’m shaky on geography, so I studied that. I didn’t know opera, so I [studied that] — and of course, neither of those things came up in my game. But there’s a website called J! Archive that has every game ever. I went through that.
Mello: I listened to podcasts — Trivial Warfare, Triviality and Miss Information. I participate in online trivia, and play pub-trivia with New England Trivia at Adeline’s in Cumberland, and with Wise Guys Trivia at Box Seats in Attleboro. My watch-party was actually at Adeline’s. The place was erupting. You’d think the Patriots were in the Super Bowl.
What was it like to meet host and GOAT Ken Jennings?
Mello: He was so chill. We didn’t get a lot of interaction with him because of federal laws preventing tampering and such. But he talked to us at rehearsal and was really friendly. He was really cool.
Harvey: Because they are, appropriately, pretty religious about ensuring the integrity of the game, he doesn’t really socialize with the contestants. Really all of my interactions with him were on camera. But he’s so great. He’s funny.
They film the entire week in one day.
Mello: Yes, five episodes in a day. We got to the lot at 7:45 a.m., do hair and makeup, rehearsals. Then they sent us over to the Green Room, which was actually the “Wheel of Fortune” studio.
Mello: Yeah, that was cool. We watched the show from there. Everybody was shouting out answers, having a grand old time, shooting the breeze.
Harvey: I think in the pre-pandemic era, there was a contestant green room. But because of COVID protocols, they couldn’t squeeze everyone in. So they have the contestants hanging out on the “Wheel of Fortune” set.
Mello: My dad was with me, so after my show, I watched the remaining shows with him from the audience. That was special.
I love that. Meghan, you must have met A.Z. Madonna (a Boston Globe writer) on the Dec. 8 episode?
A: Yeah, she came to my watch-party. I’m going to Malden, Mass. for hers on Thursday. We broke out the knitting needles in the greenroom and started chatting.
What surprised you most?
Harvey: Ken is great, but not perfect. He’ll make mistakes, and watching them do pickups and fix voiceovers — it’s fun to see how [the show is made.]
Mello: How quickly it goes by. It’s one big blur.
Meghan, the show before yours had a question about Rhode Island that no one knew.
Mello: Yes! We were watching in the greenroom and everybody said [to me,] “Rhode Island, you got this!”
Harvey: I think the whole state was screaming. How could you not know PVD? If only that had been my episode.
Interviews have been edited and condensed.