After graduating from Fordham College at Rose Hill in 1984, Ed Condon worked for a year before deciding to pursue a master’s degree in history at Notre Dame.
“You go into grad school thinking you know everything,” said Condon, a former business intelligence manager who retired from Verizon in 2018. He soon realized he didn’t know it all, but he began to develop a nightly routine that ended up boosting both his spirits and his range of knowledge.
“I’d go home and flip on Jeopardy! and I would answer a bunch of questions and I would feel a little better about myself,” he said.
Condon said he even looked a bit like the quiz show’s host, Alex Trebek, in the mid-1980s, something that came in handy when Halloween rolled around.
“Somebody was having a costume party, and I was either very smart or very lazy—and probably very poor too. I had a suit, had a mustache, had curly hair,” Condon said. “So I went as Alex Trebek.”
Last summer, more than 30 years later, Condon got a chance to meet Trebek in Los Angeles, when he was selected to compete on Jeopardy! He became a two-day champion, winning more than $70,000 on shows that aired from October 15 to 17.
“Alex Trebek is incredible because he’s doing all this stuff he doesn’t have to do,” Condon said, noting that Trebek, who has been undergoing treatments for pancreatic cancer, was very generous with his time, both with contestants and the studio audience, spending hours talking with people and answering their questions.
Trebek and his wife, Jean, have also been very generous to the Fordham community. In 2015, two years after their son, Matthew, earned a philosophy degree at Fordham, the couple established the Alex Trebek Endowed Scholarship Fund with a $1 million gift to benefit undergraduate students from Harlem. They recently doubled the size of their gift, expanding the fund to include students from East Harlem. The Trebeks will be honored with the Fordham Founder’s Award in Los Angeles in January 2020.
Condon’s own journey to Los Angeles started in April 2019, when he took the Jeopardy! online test for the second straight year in hopes of becoming a contestant. He got a call in May asking him to take a written test and audition for the show in June.
“‘If you don’t hear from us, you can take the test in 2021,’” Condon said he was told by one of the show’s producers. “So, you know, you go back to your normal life.”
That normal life included cleaning the upstairs bathroom at his home in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, in mid-July when his phone rang. At first, he thought it might be another level of screening for the show. Then reality set in.
“This is it, this is the call,” recalled Condon, who taught history and economics at Cathedral Prep in Elmhurst, Queens, from 1987 to 1989.
He and wife headed to Los Angeles in mid-August for the taping of what turned out to be Condon’s three appearances on the show.
For Condon, the appearances flew by, as previous contestants had warned him. While playing, Condon said he was so focused on ringing in and the categories, he barely had time to pay attention to the other contestants.
“You pay some attention to other people’s scores, but it’s more when you get a ‘Daily Double’ and you have to do the arithmetic” to decide what to wager, he said.
Condon joked that the reason he bet a round number—$20,000—during the second show’s Final Jeopardy round was because he “couldn’t do the arithmetic” quick enough to figure out exactly how much he needed wager to ensure that he would win.
The category was “World Leaders,” and luckily for him, he had the correct response. Trebek read the clue: “This man who ruled from 1949 to 1976 was sometimes called ‘The Red Sun.’” Condon wrote, “Who is Mao Zedong?” Before revealing Condon’s bet, Trebek said, “Did he wager big? I’ll say he did!”
“Made my wife really happy,” Condon said with a laugh.
Condon said his Fordham education helped him in a few spots during his run on the show. He credited a class called The Coming of the Civil War with helping him respond correctly to a Daily Double clue about which U.S. president preceded Martin Van Buren. (It was Andrew Jackson.)
Despite winning two straight games and earning praise from Trebek, Condon said “the absolute best part” of the experience was hearing his wife’s advice before the first taping.
“‘I don’t care if you win or you lose,’” she told him, “‘just have fun.’ And that absolutely meant the most to me,” he said.