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In Character with Denis Theriault

A conversation with an interesting Portlander
by: jonathan house, Don't tell Denis Theriault it's too late to study, though the Northeast Portland resident has already had his chance to show off his smarts on the game show Jeopardy.

Northeast Portland resident (and Portland Mercury news editor) Denis Theriault is in Reader's Digest this month. He was written about in the New York Post and The New York Times a while back, all because of one national TV appearance on Jeopardy that aired almost precisely a year ago.

Portland Tribune: You're in Reader's Digest for a TV appearance that happened a year ago?

Denis Theriault: It's like the 15 minutes (of fame) that won't stop. I'm squeezing every last second of those 15 minutes.

Tribune: And enjoying it?

Theriault: And enjoying it. There's a certain swell of pride in at least having been a one-day Jeopardy champ.

Tribune: One-day champ. Ah, yes, there's a second half of the story, isn't there?

Theriault: I also lost on Jeopardy.

Tribune: It was the same day, wasn't it.

Theriault: An hour later. It aired a day later. I was a one-hour champ because there was a lunch in between the tapings that extended my glory window.

Tribune: Your favorite memory?

Theriault: Realizing that I had won before Final Jeopardy. I was losing going into the Double Jeopardy round, third place. I got really hot and by the time I was able to settle down they were going to commercial. I had just more than double the returning champ's sum heading into Final Jeopardy. As long as I didn't behave stupidly it was mine.

I remember feeling butterflies and a flush at that moment. There's a board above the clue board with dollar amounts and I looked at that and almost swooned.

Tribune: You're a pretty big guy. What do you weigh?

Theriault: About 230.

Tribune: Can a guy your size really swoon?

Theriault: I could drop.

Tribune: Back to Final Jeopardy. You weren't completely certain that you were not going to behave stupidly, right?

Theriault: I'm an avid collector of TV theme songs. The category for Final Jeopardy happened to be all about TV theme songs.

Tribune: So you hear the Final Jeopardy category is TV theme songs, it's like Kismet. Except you had two angels on your shoulders.

Theriault: Maybe two devils. My grandfather was on my left-hand side saying, "Gamble." He used to bellow at people who didn't take chances at shows like "Wheel of Fortune" during dinner.

Tribune: You watched TV game shows during family dinner?

Theriault: There was a Zenith above the kitchen table.

Tribune: But my mom insisted that would make us stupid, watching TV during dinner.

Theriault: Who knows what could have been.

Tribune: Back to your shoulders. Who was on your right?

Theriault: Cliff Clavin from Cheers. There's an episode in which Cliff makes it to Final Jeopardy and knows the category, bets it all and doesn't know the answer. He comes in last.

Tribune: So who did you listen to?

Theriault: For the first time ever for anyone, Cliff Clavin.

Tribune: And what was the Final Jeopardy answer you won with?

Theriault: Which show's theme song includes the words, "All my rowdy friends are coming over tonight?"

Tribune: Final answer?

Theriault: Monday Night Football.

Tribune: And what was the question that led to your loss an hour later?

Theriault: Who was the first U.S. president to put solar panels on the White House.

Tribune: And you answered?

Theriault: The counterintuitive choice, George W. Bush. I overthought it.

Tribune: The correct answer?

Theriault: Jimmy Carter.

Tribune: So how much did you win on your first show?

Theriault: $19,199.

Tribune: And how much did you lose on the next show?

Theriault: Thirteen thousand dollars. I was heading into Final Jeopardy with $14,000. And then I didn't know the answer. Third place finisher always gets $1,000.

Tribune: At home, do they remind you more often of the nineteen grand you won, or the thirteen grand you lost?

Theriault: The nineteen grand I won. Maybe once (the thirteen grand) came up when we were talking about a down payment.