In early 2023, Melissa Klapper had a successful run as a “Jeopardy!” contestant, becoming a three-day champion.

That distinction qualified Klapper, a member of AFT Local 2373 and a Rowan University professor, for a return to the game show as part of its latest Tournament of Champions.

Klapper says it all started to come together when she was asked to do a “Jeopardy!” interview via Zoom in early December with ABC’s Philadelphia affiliate.

“They played a recording of [host] Ken Jennings saying that he was sorry I wouldn’t be invited to a Champions Wildcard tournament — because I was going straight to the Tournament of Champions,” she recalls.

To prepare, Klapper says she devoted time to “brushing up on my weaker subjects of science and geography” and also “tried to improve my buzzer skills by doing reaction-time games on my phone.”

Klapper’s TOC episode was recorded Feb. 7, and it aired March 4. At the end of the Double Jeopardy! round, she was in the lead. The category for Final Jeopardy! was “Poets of Ancient Rome.”

“I was actually OK with the category because history and literature are in my wheelhouse,” Klapper says. “I immediately thought of five or six Roman poets off the top of my head. But when the question came up, I got sort of stuck in a loop of those poets. I knew Ovid and Juvenal had both been exiled, but in the moment I couldn’t connect the quote to the poet. I thought maybe the more obscure answer would be right for the harder TOC questions, so I wrote down Juvenal, unfortunately. I was not hugely confident about it.”

Although Klapper was defeated in the Final Jeopardy! round, she still walked away with a $5,000 prize.

Asked if she’s been treated differently by her Rowan students in the wake of her “Jeopardy!” appearances, Klapper says, “This year I am on sabbatical, so I didn’t go right back to the classroom. But last year, I do think that perhaps, for one brief moment, my students thought I was cool.”

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