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ALTA Champion Takes His Winning Ways To National TV

Alan Dunn, 5-time Jeopardy champion, with Alex Trebek.
Alan Dunn, wearing the purple ribbon, shown here with Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Dunn and the other contestants wore the ribbons as part of the effort to fund research to end pancreatic cancer.

By Emmy Powell

Some say tennis begins with love. Well, it was the love of a popular game show when he was 9 years old that led to a dream fulfilled for Alan Dunn.

Dunn, 59, an ALTA member who recently competed on “Jeopardy,” fulfilling a lifelong dream. Millions of viewers watched Dunn when the shows aired in mid-October of last year. He just kept winning and managed to rack up more than $122,000 in prize money, earning him the title of 5-time “Jeopardy” champion. Speaking about himself and his fellow contestants, Dunn said, “This is everyone’s dream. We are all just thrilled to be there. My initial goals were just not to embarrass myself on national TV and make sure I had enough money for ‘Final Jeopardy.’”

Dunn has been a “Jeopardy” fan since the 1960’s and 70’s when Art Fleming was the host. But by the time he was old enough to be a contestant, the show had moved from Dunn’s hometown of New York to Los Angeles. In the early 90’s, Dunn was able to attend a tryout in Atlantic City, but he never received a call back. Still hoping to get his shot at “Jeopardy” fame, Dunn took the show’s online test this past March. Much to his surprise, he received an email inviting him to an in-person tryout in Atlanta on Mother’s Day. Obviously, that tryout had a much better outcome, because in July, Dunn finally got the call. “I was out walking my dog. I couldn’t decide if I should answer my cell, since I didn’t recognize the number, but then I realized the area code was Los Angeles,” Dunn recalled.

Each year, there are roughly 400 contestants who appear on the show out of the nearly 80,000 who apply. So in one respect, all of the contestants already are winners. During each season of “Jeopardy,” five episodes are taped each day. Dunn competed in game five at the end of the first day of his appearance. He says it was a close race to the finish. He was facing a four-time champion, but Dunn pulled off the win by making smart bets during the “Final Jeopardy” round. In fact, he went six for six in his “Final Jeopardy” rounds. The next day, he returned to win four more games, but then came in second on what would be his final show. He described that day as a bit of a blur, as he answered close to 350 clues in one day. “I can’t even describe the experience. Everyone is having a good time. People who love ‘Jeopardy’ are of a similar nature. We know a lot of obscure facts and have fun with it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be there.”

One of the more interesting game show moments was during one of the “Double Jeopardy” rounds. The category was Nuclear Physics. Host Alex Trebek sarcastically said, “That should be easy.” Dunn thought this really would be easy. He was right. He went four for five and added $3,000 to his total on a Daily Double when he answered correctly to this: The sun is a fusion reactor; creating one on Earth would require this very hot, ionized state of matter. “What is plasma?” Dunn answered. The Cornell University graduate and electrical engineer likes to say every “Jeopardy” contestant’s favorite category is “the stuff I know that no one else does.”

Just as he has done numerous times on the tennis court, Dunn did a big fist pump at the end of his fifth win. It’s no surprise that not only is he a game-show champion, he is an ALTA City Finals Champion and has numerous other city titles. He competes in the Men’s, Seniors and Mixed Doubles Leagues, and captained his team to a Senior Mixed title last year, even helping to clinch the championship. “I was on the court, playing the men’s doubles line, while the women’s doubles line was also serving for the match and clinching point,” Dunn said. “I leaned over and joked with the ladies that we would race them to the finish line.” Well, he won – again.

He says the support from his tennis teammates and all of his friends and family has been tremendous. “It’s just astounding how the news of the ‘Jeopardy’ win has spread,” Dunn said. One of his tennis teammates also was in his high school graduating class and posted the information on the class of 1976 Facebook page, leading to emails from friends he hadn’t seen in more than 40 years. For example, one former classmate, who lives in Germany, was watching on YouTube. His tennis team, friends, friends of friends, relatives, and even total strangers have been very supportive. Even at his wife’s last regular-season match, he was watching and, of course, checking out the tennis spread. A woman from the opposing team said, “Oh my gosh, I saw you on TV.”

It’s just like what they say. Tennis is a mental game. Dunn is proving that to be true in more ways than one, and if he makes the cut, he might get another chance to wow his fans in the “Jeopardy Tournament of Champions” sometime later this year. In the words of Billie Jean King, “champions keep playing until they get it right.” Dunn is getting it right.

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