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Former ‘Jeopardy!’ winner now finds success on ‘Wheel of Fortune’

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published November 20, 2019

 Ferndale resident Jason Idalski appeared on the Nov. 19 episode of “Wheel of Fortune,” where he won a total of $68,416 in cash and prizes.

Ferndale resident Jason Idalski appeared on the Nov. 19 episode of “Wheel of Fortune,” where he won a total of $68,416 in cash and prizes.

Photo by Carol Kaelson

FERNDALE — Six years ago, Jason Idalski appeared on the television game show “Jeopardy!” and took home tens of thousands of dollars in winnings.

In his first two episodes, Idalski won $35,998 before finishing as the runner-up on his third. With the additional $2,000 for coming in second place, the Ferndale resident walked away with $37,998.

Almost six years to the day after his three-episode arc aired in 2013, Idalski, 36, made his way back to California Oct. 11 to compete on another game show, “Wheel of Fortune,” where he found success yet again.

In an appearance that aired on Tuesday, Nov. 19, Idalski made his way through several puzzles, winning $23,750 and a trip to Hawaii worth $7,666. After a triumphant bonus round, Idalski added $37,000 to his winnings for a total of $68,416 in cash and prizes.

“I still really can’t believe that it happened,” he said. “In some ways, I kind of feel the same about ‘Jeopardy!’ six years ago, so I just kind of made peace with the fact that I don’t know if I’ll ever fully process it, but it was great that it happened.”

Idalski had wanted to be on “Wheel of Fortune” since he was 6 years old, and earlier this year, an opportunity arose when he saw on social media that the Wheelmobile was coming to Detroit in search of contestants.

“I didn’t have a great sense of how the whole audition process went, but I knew that was a first step for a lot of people in becoming contestants,” he said.

From his tryout at the Wheelmobile, the search engine optimization analyst was able to get invited to an in-person audition in June. A couple of weeks later, Idalski was notified that he had been selected to be a contestant.

Getting on “Jeopardy!” is one thing, but Idalski recognizes that being able to compete on both shows is something that he can chalk up to a “ton of luck.”

“When people ask me what they should do to get on ‘Jeopardy!’ or — I’m sure I’ll get asked what they should do to be on ‘Wheel of Fortune’ — my answer is always the same: Watch the show,” he said. “You’ll figure out what kind of people they want by watching the show, and you’ll get really good at solving puzzles or solving on ‘Jeopardy!’ just by watching the show.”

Idalski said that being an avid watcher of both “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” since he was a kid was a big help, too, but he knows it’s hard to stand out to become a contestant on any of these shows.

“A lot of people want to be on these shows, and they only select three per day,” he said. “So I just got lucky with my ‘Jeopardy!’ audition, and I had a really good rapport with the head contestant coordinator, and then being able to put ‘Jeopardy!’ on my ‘Wheel’ audition, I think, was a positive.”

Idalski continued, “The goal was to win just because it would be really cool to say that I won on both. I knew, though, there’s a lot of luck involved in this game and that I could play well and still not win.”

Much like when he traversed to California for his “Jeopardy!” appearances, Idalski brought along his family to see him compete.

Watching alongside her daughter and husband, Barbara Idalski cheered on her son from the packed audience.

“It was exciting. It was nerve-wracking, of course. I wanted him to do well. We all did. When we all saw him come out for the … taping, we were very excited,” she said.

When they saw Idalski beat out the other two contestants to make it to the bonus round, his family was brought down to the show floor to watch him solve his final puzzle.

After he correctly guessed the answer, the whole family made their way to Idalski and celebrated.

“The next thing I knew, Pat Sajak was shaking my hand and telling me, ‘Wow, he was a good puzzle-solver. You raised him right,’” she said. “We were so proud of him.”

Idalski said he doesn’t remember much of that final moment in the bonus round, other than the euphoria of winning and celebrating with his family. But knowing how hard those clues can be, he wouldn’t have been too broken up if he didn’t get the answer right.

“If I hadn’t won the bonus round, it still would’ve been an awesome day,” he said. “To get $37,000 in the bonus round was a very big cherry on top.”