From acting in projects like Titanic to working his way to being a physician assistant to appearing on — and winning — multiple games of Jeopardy!, Nick Cascone has experienced plenty of unique things in his life. And with a trip to his favorite game show’s most elite event looming, he’ll need all the life knowledge and experience he can get.
Yahoo Entertainment chatted with Cascone, a one-time Jeopardy! champ who was invited back for this season’s wildcard tournament, in which he came out on top of a field of 27 and earned a coveted spot in the game show’s Tournament of Champions.
But there’s much more to Cascone’s journey than a couple of game show wins, and he was happy to talk all about it.
A different kind of spotlight
Cascone described his acting career, which essentially lasted 20 years, from 1986 to 2006, like this: “I had big roles in small projects and small roles in big projects. That’s the level that I got to.”
But that’s not to say he didn’t do some cool stuff. After growing up a Star Trek fan, or “Trekkie” as he said, Cascone looks back on his time working on Star Trek: The Next Generation as a definite highlight.
“Just to get called for an audition for that thing was amazing,” he said. “And then to get booked and to be on the set of the Enterprise and meet Jonathan Frakes and Wil Wheaton and Patrick Stewart and wear the uniform. And just to become part of that lore, holy mackerel, that was a dream come true.”
Of course there was the film Titanic as well, which won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and became the first film to reach the billion-dollar mark as the highest-grossing film of all time, a record it held for 12 years.
Cascone played Bobby Buell, one of the members of the search crew led by Bill Paxton’s Brock Lovett.
“I auditioned personally for Jim Cameron, and I think they booked me because I had a little bit of a different idea on that character than Jim himself had,” said Cascone, who called the whole experience “super-exciting,” even though nobody quite knew what it was going to become.
He also appeared in such films as Nightwatch, Mr. Baseball, The Cell and Dragonfly, along with shows like Moonlighting, L.A. Law, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, ER, The West Wing, Judging Amy, Charmed and Without a Trace.
Cascone said that his career had reached a nice point by 2006 where he was getting called to do parts without having to audition, and he had projects lined up. But when the 9/11 attacks happened, the entire business went dark “for about two years.”
And when he emerged on the other side, his agent had retired and his new agency folded, leaving him without representation and heading back toward square one. But that wasn’t something he was prepared to do with a young family, so he decided to go back to school to get a job in the medical field.
He did say that he misses and thinks about acting “about every five minutes” and plans to go back in one capacity or another, with retirement looming in his current career.
But Cascone hasn’t talked much about his acting career on Jeopardy!, something that would clearly make for some interesting banter with host Ken Jennings. And it was actually an experience he had with guest host Dr. Mehmet Oz back in 2021 that has given him pause when it comes to broaching the subject again.
“They knew about it and so he asked about my experiences on Titanic, and then I immediately lost,” Cascone said. “So then I said, ‘Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned a disaster.’”
He also said there are other things that he wants to talk about. While being an actor was a fun thing to do, he said, “it’s not something I wear on my sleeve and talk a lot about.”
A Jeopardy! journey
Cascone said that he used to watch Jeopardy! back when Art Fleming was the host and manned the podium from 1964 to 1979. Then when the show was revamped and returned in the mid-1980s with Alex Trebek as host, he tried out around 1987. Eventually, his audition process stopped because he was in the middle of his acting career.
He finally got back around to applying years later and got the call in 2019. His debut was delayed, however, first due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then because of Trebek’s passing.
So Cascone’s first day of shooting — with Katie Couric as guest host — was on Jan. 6, 2021. And while the nation’s capital was being attacked, Cascone and the rest of Jeopardy! were sequestered and without their phones, all while filming ran nearly five hours longer than expected.
He would win that game, which aired in March 2021, and took home $26,801. He would lose his next game, which was filmed a week or so later and hosted by Oz. He said that loss came down to a perfect storm of not-very-good categories, strong opponents and being out of practice with the buzzer.
Cascone returned this season as part of a wild card tournament. He won a quarterfinal game on Nov. 14, a semifinal game on Nov. 22 and back-to-back final games on Nov. 27 and 28 to take home $100,000 in prize money and reserve a spot in the Tournament of Champions later this season.
A Jeopardy! future
Given his love of and history with Jeopardy!, earning his way into the Tournament of Champions was a pretty big deal for Cascone, who said he was still “kind of stunned,” especially because of how equal the competition is.
“Honestly, everyone in that greenroom could easily have made it to the place that I got to,” he said. “I mean, you gotta be lucky, you gotta have categories that you know. And then, everybody there has basically the same knowledge. You know, 80% of the questions everybody in that room knows. And there are just very few questions where your knowledge does not overlap with literally everyone else’s. So in terms of knowing more than the other people, that’s a crapshoot.”
Cascone went on to say that the biggest key to success is the timing of the buzzer. There are lights that come on after the clue is read to indicate that buzzers are live, but if you buzz in too early you get locked out. So, he said, it’s a delicate science, one that involves different approaches.
“This is a big controversy among contestants. Some people are listening to the question and there’s a beat, and the buzzer is active, and they don’t use the lights. I don’t think I could time it that way. I just focus on the lights. It’s almost like a drag race: As soon as those lights come on, you hit the gas.”
As of last week, Cascone didn’t have any idea when they would be filming the tournament, other than it will be sometime in 2024. But until then, he’s got a plan:
“Study my ass off and wait for a text,” he said. “Shore up the stuff I don’t know, just keep my brain in it and come back with more knowledge than I left with.”
Jeopardy! airs weekdays. Check your local listings.