T.J. Tallie, a longtime on-again, off-again San Diego resident, knew Jeopardy! was going to be hard, but he had no idea just how difficult it would be until the show he was on started taping back in September.
"The first 14 questions, it's a fun moment of me standing like this," Tallie said, gesturing as if he were holding a buzzer in his hand. "Now, I'm buzzing in, but [the other contestants] are both faster than me and I finally hit my groove and confidence and I was like, 'OK, we got this.'… Suddenly I'm twice ahead of the competitors and there was this sense of, 'This historian might win at Jeopardy!, Alex' "
Tallie, who did his undergrad and master's work at UCSD, is an assistant professor at the University of San Diego who put his schooling to work for him on the hit game show on Monday night, walking out with a cool $18,200 after he bested four-time winner Ryan Hemmel.
Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek had no trouble finding Tallie and his bright-blue mohawk at the top of the show, telling the San Diegan, "We'll talk," right after the contestants were introduced and even before reading the first-round categories. Later in the show, during the interview segment, Trebek quizzed Tallie about his hairstyle.
"I have to ask, of course: Is the hair tied in with [your job as an assistant professor of African history] or are you just having fun?" Trebek asked.
"I'm definitely having fun, especially with what's going on in the world, and I need some joy, but … like Mr. T, though, it's Mandinkan-inspired, so …," came Tallie's reply.
Remarkably, Tallie's appearance on the show was not the first for his family.
"Thirty years ago, Alex was hosting two TV shows," Tallie said. "Alex was hosting Jeopardy! as well as the TV show Classic Concentration, and my grandmother was on Classic Concentration. And so it's a very fun moment that 35 years later, I'm like, 'Oh, I guess I'm on the TV now."
Sadly, both Trebek, who died in November after a fight with pancreatic cancer, and Tallie's grandmother have now passed.
The professor said he might just spend his winnings upgrading his vehicle, which he says is 15 years old, and maybe filling out his already impressive caftan collection.
"I'm going to be a boring adult for the most part, and I'm going to put most of it away," Tallie said.