Deborah Ellis of Rogue River appears tonight on “Jeopardy,” hosted by Alex Trebek. Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Rogue River woman lives 'Jeopardy' dream

A lifelong love of reading will be put to the test tonight for Deborah Ellis, a retired middle school teacher from Rogue River who appears on one of America's most beloved game shows: "Jeopardy."

Ellis taped the show in December and isn't allowed to say how well she did until after it airs at 7 p.m. on KDRV Channel 12. A whole houseful of 40 friends and neighbors are joining her for a "Jeopardy" party and will learn the outcome when the rest of the world does.

"It was the fastest 22 minutes of my life (minus commercial breaks)," says Ellis, 63. "I definitely missed some questions, but I did very, very well, and I'm very proud of it. I've done a lot of public speaking and I wasn't nervous. I've wanted to do this for a long time, and I was so happy to be there."

The long-running syndicated game show tests contestants on general knowledge from six categories that change daily. Contestants are given the answer and must pose the question. It celebrates 50 years on the air this week, has won 30 Emmys and is ranked toward the top in many polls of favorite game shows. Alex Trebek has hosted for 30 years.

Since 2007, Ellis has been invited to four auditions, where hopefuls are screened for knowledge and poise in a mock show. She didn't hear back, however, until after the last one. Her husband, Andrew, and son, Arthur, went to the taping with her and sat in the audience.

To help his wife of 37 years prepare, Andrew, a former CBS radio technician, rigged a mock set and drilled her with questions and procedures he recorded on his TiVo. He even included the buzzer and the hand-held button contestants have to use during taping.

"Doing it for real was so much fun, so exciting for me," Deborah Ellis says. "I had a great time and the practice Andy did with me really paid off. One of the things I recall was it seemed every other word out of Alex's mouth was 'Deborah!' when I hit the button first."

The experience was intense enough that Ellis can only recall one of the six categories she chose from — track and field world records.

"I knew a lot about opera and wanted that, but it wasn't up there," she says. "Most people dread opera, but not me. I dreaded sports, but I know a lot about track and field. My husband said he fell out of his chair when I chose that and said, 'How on earth does she know anything about that?'"

Ellis was educated at the University of California at Davis and graduated from UC San Francisco in philosophy. In her 40s, she did graduate work at St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. She taught at a private middle school in the East Bay before she and Andrew retired to Rogue River last year.

Her storehouse of knowledge comes chiefly from a love of reading literary novels going back to the likes of Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, she says, with lots of American historical fiction thrown in.

Ellis got in the "Jeopardy" auditions by qualifying via a test of knowledge on With her son, she was on "Wheel of Fortune" in 2005, she says.

"We all had a great time," says Andrew. "She's a great reader — tons of books, magazines, newspapers, and I mean real magazines, not the ones with lots of pictures. She goes for real journalism, too. She's a great teacher, and real teachers have a love of learning."

Being on "Jeopardy" was a big item on Deborah Ellis' bucket list. With that accomplished, she is now planning a voyage from a South American port to Antarctica, where she wants to hike, explore and see some penguins in their natural world.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

Share This Story