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Somerville's Jeopardy Champ, Joon Pahk, Calls Experience 'Overwhelming'

Somerville resident Joon Pahk spent seven days as Jeopardy champion, and he won $201,000.

Somerville resident Joon Pahk's seven-day reign as a champion on Jeopardy, during which time he won $201,000, came to an end Wednesday night when he lost to Katie Proctor, a stay-at-home mom from Hendersonville, N.C.

Well, it came to an end for the viewing public in Somerville, which had been following Pahk's impressive run since he first appeared on the TV quiz show on Oct. 3. 

In reality, the episodes were filmed in August, and "I had to keep everything under my hat for about a month and a half," Pahk said.

Luck, and an "overwhelming" experience

Being on Jeopardy was an "overwhelming" experience, he said. "I didn't think I was going to win."

But he did. And then he did it again, seven times, before falling in his eighth episode.

"There's actually a lot of luck in the game," Pahk said of his winning streak.

Getting the right categories and questions count for a lot, he said, and so does finding a rhythm.

"All the contestants are really good," he said, and he chalked up his victories to the fact that "nothing went wrong for me for a long time."

When Proctor finally defeated him, "She was just really in the zone," he said.

A crosswording Somerville resident

Pahk, who teaches freshmen physics at Harvard University, has lived in the Teele Square area for about two and half years, he said. He grew up around Washington D.C., went to college at Harvard, moved to the West Coast for graduate school, and lived in Cambridge before coming to Somerville with his wife and children.

Pahk, in addition to being a physics instructor at Harvard and a seven-time Jeopardy champion, also enjoys creating crossword puzzles, and he's had some published in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and other places, he said, adding, "That's been fun."

He may call it luck, but winning seven games of Jeopardy is no mean feat. It's enough to make someone a bit of a celebrity, though Pahk said, "Nobody has recognized me on the street." Over the weekend, a woman at a wedding in Syracuse did recognize him, but he was wearing a name tag and a Jeopardy hat, so she had a hint, he said. Some of his students have been excited to follow his progress on the show.

All that prize money, much of it going to charity

So, what about his $201,000 in winnings? He won $199,000 as a champion and an extra $2,000 as a consolation prize for coming in second Wednesday night.

He hasn't received the money, yet, but Pahk and his family plan to give about half of it away to charity, especially to hunger relief and disaster relief organizations, he said. 

With the other half, "We'll stash some of it for a college fund" for the children, he said, and he and his wife may pay for some work to be done in the kitchen.

He's also planning to go to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Tournament of Champions

Pahk's appearances on Jeopardy aren't over yet. His success earned him a place in Jeopardy's Tournament of Champions, where the top players from the past year compete against each other. The tournament was filmed two weeks ago and will air during the first weeks of November, Pahk said. It seems he still has a few things to keep under his hat.

Inundated with well-wishes

Since appearing on the show, people have come out of the woodwork to congratulate him, Pahk said.

"That's the best thing about Jeopardy … [I've been] inundated with everyone I've ever known trying to get in touch with me and wish me well."

Amanda Kersey October 14, 2011 at 12:12 PM
Congratulations on the win! And perhaps Mr. Pahk placed well in the "Tournament of Champions" and will announce it to the community once he's allowed to.

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