Let's play "Jeopardy!"
Answer: A fan of the popular quiz show, this Modesto native and Marshall Elementary School teacher is getting a chance to show off his knowledge in front of host Alex Trebek and 9.2 million viewers.
Question: Who is Baltazar "Rick" Pinedo?
After 25 years of watching "Jeopardy!" Pinedo will appear on the national TV show tonight. If he wins, he'll return for a chance to win more money.
"It's surreal to meet someone you've been seeing forever," Pinedo said about shaking hands with Trebek.
Pinedo, 34, can't talk about how he did on the show before it airs, but he talked about his experience.
He was 10 years old when the Trebek-hosted version of "Jeopardy!" debuted in syndication in 1984; he remembers watching the show while on the phone with friends.
Growing up, his home was filled with books, and his parents encouraged studying, but Pinedo said succeeding at "Jeopardy!" takes a different kind of skill.
Pinedo recalls being shy and bad at spelling, but "Jeopardy!" appealed to him because of his photographic memory.
At Mark Twain Junior High and Modesto High schools, Pinedo participated in the science olympiad, science bowl, academic decathlon and mock trial. After earning a degree in Spanish literature at the University of California at Davis, Pinedo returned to Modesto. He teaches English language development to fourth-, fifth- and sixth- graders at Marshall Elementary.
Sometimes, Pinedo uses the "Jeopardy!" format to quiz students about what they've learned. Although some educators don't like using games such as "Jeopardy!" that rely on rote memory, Pinedo said, others say it's fun for students and reinforces basic facts they've learned.
To wish him well on the show, Marshall students made posters for Pinedo when he left for his taping in early March. Some stopped by his classroom during lunch or after school to help him study, Pinedo said.
When it comes to "Jeopardy!" categories, Pinedo's strengths are geography and astronomy; his weaknesses are sports and pop culture.
Tryouts at casino
For fun, Pinedo auditioned at tryouts at the Jackson Rancheria casino. He passed a 10-question test, then was called back for a second exam. Pinedo's wife, Maria, urged him to go back.
Pinedo joined a banquet room full of hopefuls for a timed test of 100 or 150 questions. The top 16 were put on a finalist list for a possible appearance on TV.
Pinedo caravaned to the taping with his wife, mom, sister and her children, best friend Ruben Villalobos and Villalobos' niece. During the drive, Pinedo was quizzed by Villalobos, who also has tried out for "Jeopardy!"
"I read a lot of books and I even bought an almanac," Pinedo said. "Ruben was a big help. That man is like a walking encyclopedia."
Pinedo bought a blazer for the show. Though contestants get powdered with makeup, Pinedo said he didn't need much; he was worried about the makeup and sweating under the lights.
Before their round, contestants get to watch others. Once on set, Pinedo said, he wasn't nervous, until it was his turn. Pinedo's most jittery moment came during the segment when Trebek interviews contestants.
"The cameras were so close up and he's asking you about your anecdote. You don't want to mess up," Pinedo said. Later, he said, "When you're on TV, it's like you're playing a character. It was fun to explore another side. When am I ever going to do that (again)?"
Did Pinedo feel the need to represent Modesto favorably?
"There definitely was that pressure," he said, noting that auto thefts and Scott Peterson are what people at "Jeopardy!" associate with Modesto.
When he returned home, Pinedo said, the only thing his students wanted to know was how much money he won. First-place winners take home whatever they earned that episode, second place gets $2,000 and third place wins $1,000.
"I tell my students they'll just have to watch Monday," Pinedo said with a smile.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.