Lt. Cmdr. Paige Ormiston, right, and TV legend Alex Trebek pose on the set of 'Jeopardy!' (Navy via Facebook)
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From high school trivia contests to College Bowl tournaments to being a regular ringer for quiz night at the bar, Lt. Cmdr. Paige Ormiston amassed the perfect resume entering her chance at game-show immortality: An appearance on “Jeopardy!”
The deputy force judge advocate for Naval Air Force Atlantic didn’t disappoint. Ormiston cleared $32,200 on her first show, which aired June 17, and took second place the next night, adding $2,000 to her winnings.
“My husband and I, we’re going to take the $2,000 and spend it. We’re not sure on what yet,” Ormiston said in a June 19 interview. “The rest of it is going into the college funds for the kids.”
Both of Ormiston’s children played a part in her journey: She was pregnant with her now-1-year-old son when she tried out for the show in a Niagara Falls, New York, regional event in April 2013. She asked producers to delay her appearance until she’d be able to travel.
That left time for a boot camp of sorts — Ormiston in front of her television, clicking a ball-point pen along with on-screen “Jeopardy!” contestants, trying to hone her skills alongside her husband, a fellow trivia nut.
“We watched so much of it when we were getting ready,” she said. “My 3-year-old was really getting sick of it. We always saved up ‘Curious George’ for afterward.”
Part of it sunk in, at least: Ormiston’s husband took video of the kids watching their mother on TV, and when host Alex Trebek made his way onto the stage, her oldest son can be heard saying, “That’s Jeopardy!”
The 37-year-old naval officer’s reaction when taping the show earlier this year wasn’t all that different.
“You get to play before the episodes start taping,” she said. “You walk out onto the set, you get to the buzzer, you’re like, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ And then, ‘Oh, my God, it’s Alex Trebek!’ We were total dorks.”
Ormiston wore her uniform for the shows and said she received plenty of support from her unit and Navy public affairs personnel — though everyone concerned was prepared to downplay the entire experience if she hadn’t cashed in.
“You can’t say how you did or how much you won” before the show airs, she said. “They said, ‘Hey, if you don’t do well, we’ll keep it quiet.’ But I did well enough.”
Contestants pay their own travel costs, Ormiston said; she figured she needed at least a second-place finish in her first show to break even from the qualifying trip to Niagara Falls and the airfare to California.
She more than covered that in the first show. But in the second night’s program, taped the same day as the first, Ormiston ran into trouble.
“It was the buzzer,” she said. “I tried to use my index finger, I switched hands, I was just so frustrated. ... The guy that beat me was just faster.”
The Norfolk, Virginia-based officer has been in uniform for nearly a dozen years and doesn’t plan to leave service any time soon.
A second career as a game-show contestant probably isn’t in the cards.
“I stink at ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ ” she said.