Staff member checks off bucket list item with appearance on “Jeopardy!”

Mrs. Free has been patiently trying to be a contestant on “Jeopardy!” for over a decade. This summer, she finally got her chance.


Photo courtesy of Mrs. Free

Mrs. Marsha Free stands on the “Jeopardy!” set with host Ken Jennings. She taped her show in August, and it will air Tuesday, October 11 at 7:30 pm.

This longtime St. Pius X staff member will make her national television debut as a “Jeopardy!” contestant on Tuesday, October 11 at 7:30 pm.

If your answer is “Who is Marsha Free,” you are correct!

Executive Assistant to the Principal Mrs. Marsha Free has worked at St. Pius X for 17 years, and for about half that time she’s been trying to reach her dream of being a contestant on “Jeopardy!” 

The process is somewhat complex and shrouded in a bit of mystery. Online tests open to anyone are offered at various times throughout the year, and she took her first one around 2011.

The tests are 50 questions, and you have 60 seconds to answer each question. If you pass the test, you might receive an invitation for another test and then an interview,” Mrs. Free explained.  “The folks at ‘Jeopardy!’ have never revealed the actual number of questions you have to get right to pass the test.  It is rumored to be 35, but it’s never been verified.”

She was invited for an interview and a second test a total of four times, the most recent over Zoom in March 2022.

“Again even with the second test, you don’t know what the passing score is,” she said. “Once you’ve gone through this process, you are officially in the contestant pool for 18 months. This means you could receive a phone call at any time from a producer to be invited on the show.”

Mrs. Free didn’t have to wait that long, though, as she received The Big Phone Call on July 7. Her phone blocks unknown numbers, so she didn’t check the voicemail until the next day.

“I said to my husband, ‘Holy cow, I got the call!’ And he’s like ‘What do you mean you got the call?’ I said, ‘I got the Jeopardy call,’” she recalls. He asked her again, “You got the Jeopardy call?” to which she replied, “I did.”

From that moment on, Mrs. Free’s life was consumed with studying, studying, and more studying. Mrs. Free is an Academic Quiz Bowl coach and said that was a huge help for her.

Having access to all of the study materials for the quiz bowl team was beneficial,” she said. “I used all of the resources and guides we have for the quiz bowl team. Also, I studied almanacs, watched old ‘Jeopardy!’ shows on YouTube, studied their website, and [found] archives where all of the previous shows have been transcribed with both questions and answers.”

She and her husband flew to Los Angeles to film the show on August 10, and it was a dream experience that lived up to the hype.

The actual experience was so much more than what I expected. All the producers and staff were extremely helpful, supportive, and patient.

“The actual experience was so much more than what I expected. All the producers and staff were extremely helpful, supportive, and patient,” she said.

“All of the contestants for this day had to bring five different outfits, which had to be approved for television,” she continued.

Additionally, “We all had our hair and makeup touched up! This may sound silly, but I had the honor of having the same makeup artist that did Alex Trebek’s makeup and does Ken Jennings’ makeup now.”  

A full week of episodes are taped in one day, so there were 11 other contestants with Mrs. Free. 

“We created a text group, and we all keep in touch right now. It’s interesting the bonds you form with folks who are experiencing the same feelings you are,” she said.

There were two practice sessions before the cameras started rolling for the real thing.

“At the beginning of those,” Mrs. Free said, “that’s when I thought ‘Holy cow, am I really here!? Is this really happening? Please don’t let me embarrass myself! Please let me make it to the final ‘Jeopardy!’ round!’”

She managed to keep a lot of her nerves at bay once the official taping began because “I had to be in the moment and play the game. There was not a lot of time to think about anything else.”  

She said one thing that surprised her was “How quickly one has to react to buzz in. If you are a quarter of a second too fast, you’re locked out for a couple of seconds and if you’re too slow, you’ve missed your chance unless whoever beat you to the buzzer gets it wrong. If your timing is off, you’re going to miss your chance to answer.”

“Jeopardy!” now features two permanent guests hosts, Mayim Bialik and Ken Jennings. The host of Mrs. Free’s episode was Jennings, who has the longest winning streak on “Jeopardy!” with 74 consecutive wins as well as the record for most money earned on the show with $4,522,700.

Soak in every second. Enjoy the ride, the whole ride, the whole experience. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and every second should be appreciated and absorbed!

“Ken Jennings is amazing,” she said. “He took time to talk to all of us and offer some words of encouragement and advice. He was so professional,  making sure that he pronounced everything correctly and got our stories right. He spent time talking to the audience. He’s a genuine person and wants everyone to be successful!”

Mrs. Free has two pieces of advice for any future contestants on the show. The first is “study, study, study. The broader your knowledge base, the better. Don’t eschew anything or any topic as unworthy of studying – everything is worthy! Work on reaction skills – being fast on the buzzer is key!”

She also added, “And, have fun! Soak in every second. Enjoy the ride, the whole ride, the whole experience. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and every second should be appreciated and absorbed! You’re now a member of a select group of people, an alumnus of the school of ‘Jeopardy!’ And, that is something of which you should be proud!”

“I am so grateful I had this opportunity!” she exclaimed. “It’s been a bucket list item for quite a while and I can actually check it off the list!” 

You can watch Mrs. Free make her television game show debut on Tuesday, October 11 at 7:30 pm. The show airs on the NBC local affiliate WXIA, channel 11.