Alumna continues family tradition as ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant

Host Alex Trebek (at left) and UMSL alumna Mary Grace Buckley will appear on the Oct. 25 episode of “Jeopardy!” (Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc)

As a 5-year-old, Mary Grace Buckley could recognize the tune from another room.

The melodious “Jeopardy!” theme song would begin, prompting the adolescent to run into her living room with eyes locked on the TV screen. A couple decades later, the long-running game show still provokes a similar level of excitement for the University of Missouri–St. Louis alumna.

“Jeopardy!” has become somewhat of a family affair over the years as the bloodline has produced three contestants including Buckley, whose episode will air on Oct. 25.

Fueled by years of encouragement from her mother, Buckley began the application process in January 2016 by taking the preliminary online quiz. Uncertain of her score, she could only sit and wait to hear about the next steps, but the opportunity was always on her mind.

Seven months passed before the aspiring fiction writer finally received the much-anticipated email asking her to appear in Oklahoma City for an in-person audition. Then, after the seven-hour roadtrip, she waited another year in the contestant pool. But when the selection call finally arrived, the timing couldn’t have been better as the news coincided with her admission into a writing residency program in Vermont.

“I had these two things, and I was like, ‘I’m never coming down from this high,’” Buckley recalls.

The impending experience was a constant topic of conversation for Buckley, so her family and friends were eager to help her prepare. Some quizzed her on states and capitals, but her younger sister, a nutrition and dietetics major at Saint Louis University, provided the most profitable support. Per her sister’s suggestion, Buckley brushed up on anatomy and the periodic table – one of which proved to be beneficial.

“It’s interesting because the categories do vary from show to show,” said Buckley who received a BA, MFA and honors college certificate from UMSL. “It’s definitely an adventure. The thing is, you don’t necessarily know what to study.”

Reviewing a variety of subjects did pay off, but Buckley’s biggest obstacle was something she couldn’t prepare for.

“I was disappointed that I wasn’t better at the buzzer,” she said. “That was something I personally struggled with because I read so quickly. If you buzz in too early, it locks you out for a quarter of a second, so other people were buzzing in while I was locked out. I was like, ‘Wait, I know the answer.’”

While on set, Buckley relished the atmosphere and interacting with the show’s crew, but she most enjoyed meeting the other contestants who were also fulfilling a lifelong dream.

“You only get to interact with these people for so long, but there actually is quite a bit of camaraderie,” Buckley said. “Everybody wants to win, but we also want everyone else to do well.”

Buckley predicts she won’t be the last “Jeopardy!” contestant in her family, but it may be a while before a fourth member joins the group.

“My youngest cousin is five, and this little girl is brilliant,” Buckley said. “In 20 years, she could be on there. Alex Trebek might not be there, but he might be because I just think he will be around forever.”

Buckley’s episode will air locally at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 25 on KSDK (Channel 5).

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