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5 questions for Jeff Machusko

'Jeopardy!' contestant on Jan. 25 and data analyst from Pennsylvania


What is "lifelong dream"?

Jeff Machusko is a Centennial resident who competed on "Jeopardy!" — fulfilling a longtime dream — on the episode that aired Jan. 25. After an audition in Denver, Machusko, a data analyst, went on as a contestant and earned $1,000 on his first episode. He won't continue on in the show, but he walked away with "lifelong memories," he said.

Here's his story and how he became a contestant on the popular game show.

How did you end up in Centennial?

I'm 32 and have been living in Centennial for four years. I grew up in western Pennsylvania and bounced around a bit after college. I finally settled in the Denver area in 2012 and couldn't be happier. My wife and I love it here and are closing on our first house next week!

When did you know you wanted to become a data analyst? How did you achieve that?

I've always enjoyed math and science — so much that I double-majored in physics and mathematics at Pennsylvania State University. I started out as a mathematician calculating the returns on slot machines and other casino games. From there, I moved into software development for a couple years, and those skills are a good fit in big data. None of this was ever part of a plan. I just try to work on things I find interesting.

I work at Charter Communications, where my official title is senior product intelligence developer, which doesn't really mean anything to anyone. Data analyst is easier to say.  Our products and internal services generate petabytes of data that I and others help process, aggregate and report on. The work I put together goes to product owners and executives to help guide their decisions and in one case went to the (Federal Communications Commission).

When did you become interested in "Jeopardy!"?

Watching “Jeopardy!” was a nightly family activity growing up. I used to count how many I could get right in an episode, and it was a good evening when I needed to use my toes to keep track. Years later, it was an early spark between my now wife and me. One of our friends somehow got us an autographed photo from Alex Trebek as a wedding gift.

Was being a contestant always a dream for you?

Yes! There's an online pre-test once a year that can qualify you for an in-person audition.  Luckily, the auditions were in Denver this past year. At the audition, there's a written test of 50 “Jeopardy!” clues followed by a short live game against other potential contestants, including interviews, like on the show. Last year was the third one I had been to.

What were you expecting as a contestant? How'd you do?

This was my first time being on television. I suppose I expected the tapings to be impersonal and "another day at the office" for the production crew. I'm glad I was wrong.

I had a blast. That set, the board, the buzzers, Alex: I had been watching all these for 30 years. To be there, to meet Trebek — I'll never forget it. I was surprised by how friendly everyone working there was. All the contestents show up with nerves, but by the end of the day, you feel like you're at home.

I was very impressed by Trebek. All of a week's episodes are taped in one day, which takes hours. During every break, he'd field questions from the audience and answer with sincerity. When you get to see behind the TV magic, and you to talk to him face to face, he's a genuinely nice guy.

I lost the game but got to walk away with $1,000 and lifelong memories ... I did get a Daily Double where I won the maximum $2,000. It put me back in the game, but a very tough Final Jeopardy that none of us answered correctly was enough to seal defeat.

Last night was a lot of fun. Seeing myself on TV was a new experience. My friends back in Pennsylvania held a viewing party. I even made some fans from around the country — people I've never met were sending me encouraging messages on Facebook, and old friends I haven't spoken to in years let me know they were watching. It was a very positive evening.


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