Barry Saunders

Saunders: ‘Jeopardy’ winner has Triangle conundrum

Josh Hager of Raleigh knows about exclusive clubs – and not just of former “Jeopardy!” winners, the club he joined last week.

Hager, 27, is also a member of ComedyWorx, the improvisation comedy troupe that performs at the ComedyWorx club on Peace Street. “I took classes last year, but became a member in June,” Hager said of his comedy troupe.

Even more exclusive, I’m guessing, is his membership in the Blue Tar Pack.

Okay, that’s not the real name for the club, but if there are enough potential members, they can come up with something catchier.

Hager, an archivist for the state, is a graduate of Duke, N.C. State and UNC.

“Jeopardy!” held tryouts in Raleigh this past summer, but Hager said he took the online test in 2013.

“It was surreal being out there ... meeting Alex Trebek,” he said of his appearance on the show. “It’s been a lifelong dream to be on the show. ... I took the online test in January 2013, I went to Tampa in March 2013 for the regional tryout and I was put in the contestant pool for 18 months. Just as I thought my time was going to be up and I’d have to try out again, I was called in early June and they said I had to be out in Los Angeles in July.

“I went out there and, sure enough, I won a game,” he said. “I won $27,000, and over half of my student debt is now going to be gone because of ‘Jeopardy!’ ”

Here was the paradox of Josh’s ‘Jeopardy!’ performances: On the first episode, he started slowly and fell behind by thousands of dollars, yet won because of a late surge and a bet that nearly doubled his winnings.

The next night, he jumped out to a big lead – $3,000 before his competitors got on the board, I think – but faltered at the end.

The cheddar he won will be spread between the Triangle’s three largest schools. How’d that happen? I asked.

“I went to Duke first, for my undergrad degree, and I got a bachelors in history and French and a minor in political science,” he said. “I decided I wanted to be an archivist. ... It turns out to be an archivist you need a library science degree, and it turns out Carolina is one of the best in the country, and you also need a second masters degree. The suggested one is public history, and N.C. State happens to be one of the best public history schools in the Southeast.

“It wasn’t planned out; it just worked out that way, but it’s a nice little fact,” he said. “I call myself a ‘Triangle Triple.’ I’ve got all three covered.”

He was graduated from Duke in 2008, from N.C. State in 2011 and from UNC in 2013.

When this country was in danger of being rent apart prior to the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln quoted a biblical passage that said “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

But what about a fan divided – three ways – against himself? For which of his alma maters, I asked Hager, does he root during basketball season?

“The Hurricanes,” he said quickly, laughing and leading one to believe he’s heard that question a time or two. “I’m a huge hockey fan, so I follow the Hurricanes. ... I went to Duke and I’m not a big basketball fan. I don’t know what’s wrong with me... In basketball, I root for whichever team is doing well. I usually pull for Duke more, because they’re my first, but I like pulling for N.C. State more than the others this year because they haven’t won a title in a long time.

“Hockey is a great sport. I think I like it because I don’t have to have arguments with people all the time” over his allegiance, he said. “Football is a different story. I root for Duke because I like an underdog.”

As an archivist, Hager has won a national award for his research on how to use social media to get people better engaged with historical documents. He urges Tar Heel residents to visit the archives office downtown where he works to learn about the state’s or their families’ history.

He probably wouldn’t mind if you visited ComedyWorx, where he plays.