Alan Dunn needed someone to cover for him on a day this past May.
It was Mother’s Day, but folks from the long-running hit NBC quiz show “Jeopardy!” were in Atlanta to talk to Dunn in person. The resident of Johns Creek has been a fan of the show since he was a kid. If he did well during an interview, written test and mock show, he’d get the chance to share a stage with Alex Trebek.
“Luckily, my son covered my Mother’s Day obligations for the afternoon that day while I was indulging myself,” Dunn said with a laugh.
Missing Mother’s Day wound up being worth it for the 59-year-old software development manager for AT&T. Last Friday, he realized a lifelong dream by competing on “Jeopardy!” but he also took home some cash.
Dunn unseated a four-time “Jeopardy!” winner by putting more dough on the line for a “Final Jeopardy” question about legendary English writer Charles Dickens.
For Dunn, it was the best of times. For Alex Schmidt, it was the worst of times. A tale of two contestants, one might say.
The Cornell University grad pumped his fist after host Alex Trebek revealed that he wagered enough money on the question to put him ahead of Schmidt.
But Dunn wasn’t one-and-done on “Jeopardy!” Since appearing on the show last week, he’s kept on winning. He won his fifth straight episode on Thursday after again correctly identifying the question — Who is Tinker Bell? — to the final clue: This winged character from an early 20th century work is so named “because she mends the pots and kettles”
According to the website TheJeopardyFan.com, Dunn has correctly responded 109 times while incorrectly responding just 14 times. He has a five-day winnings total of $120,802.
“It was very fast paced,” Dunn said. “It’s a lot of obscure general knowledge and not really about knowing the specific thing, but making the connection.”
Dunn is originally from New York and moved to north Fulton County in 1996, shortly after Atlanta hosted the Olympics. He said he’s been a fan of “Jeopardy!” since Art Fleming hosted the show from 1964 to 1975.
“I’ve wanted to be on the show ever since then,” Dunn said.
Trebek has hosted the show since 1984. The current version of the show is in its 35th season and has an average weekly audience of 23 million viewers, according to a release from the show. It has been awarded with 34 Emmys.
Dunn tried to get on the show in the early 90s when “Jeopardy!” was doing road shows. He applied and attended a tryout in New Jersey, but never heard back.
But Dunn remained a loyal, diehard fan of the show. Nowadays, hopeful contestants can apply to be on the show and take a test online. Dunn has been doing that for a few years and finally got a follow-up call this past March.
About 80,000 people take the online test each year, Dunn says, and about 10 percent get a passing grade. From there, producers of the show see about 2,500 people in-person. After that, contestants take another test and participate in a mock game. If contestants do well, then they’re on a list, and they could be called anytime within 18 months to be on the show.
Dunn got his call, the one he’s waited more than 50 years for, earlier this year. He said the experience was “exciting,” but added that the hardest part was getting the timing of the buzzer system right. Contestants have to be careful not to hit the buzzer too early.
“It was really a lot of fun,” Dunn said. “It’s sort of a tribe of nerds, us ‘Jeopardy!’ fans. Most of us have been watching for a long time.”
Dunn is the second person from metro Atlanta to compete on the show within the two weeks. An Atlanta lawyer recently had a short run on the show, winning an episode before losing last Monday to Schmidt.
On Friday, Dunn will go for his sixth straight win on the show. He’ll face off against Herschel Purvis of California and Erik Agard of Maryland.
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