He’s that friend who always wins at Trivial Pursuit, and not long ago, South Pasadena’s Dr. Daniel Lee displayed his wide range of knowledge on a much larger stage.
Lee, an orthopedic surgeon, achieved one of the milestones that might show up on bucket lists when he competed on an episode of “Jeopardy!” that was filmed in August.
“I was a fan of the show, but it wasn’t something I watched religiously,” said Lee. “I wasn’t the kid who did quiz bowls in school or anything like that, but I did find myself knowing a little about a wide range of subjects. Then James went on his run, and I got interested.”
Lee was referring to James Holzhauer, who went on a memorable 32-game winning streak on “Jeopardy!” from April to June 2019 and walked away with more than $2.4 million, making him the third-highest-earning game show contestant of all time.
Lee took the online “Jeopardy!” test in January “with very little commitment.” That approach apparently worked just fine, as he was called back to take another test in person.
“I think they want to see that you didn’t cheat on the online test,” Lee said with a laugh. In May, Lee was invited to have an interview via Zoom and play a mock game.
“I had a surgery that ran late that day, so I had to set up my computer in a side room and was still wearing my scrubs,” Lee chuckled. “Maybe it helped me stand out a little bit. Everyone else was apparently at home.”
In July, Lee was asked if he could play for real, but the date producers had in mind conflicted with a family vacation, and he declined. Another option was later proposed and in August, Lee found himself on Sony Pictures Studios’ Stage 10.
“It was a complete shock,” said Lee. “I was stunned. I must say that it didn’t really kick in until I was taping the show.”
The familiar voice of announcer Johnny Gilbert introduced Lee as “an orthopedic surgeon from South Pasadena, California” as Lee appeared onscreen in the middle of the three podiums when the episode aired on Oct. 16. Contestants can choose which city is announced along with their name, and Lee’s selection was significant.
“I am from Philadelphia, but South Pasadena doesn’t get a lot of recognition,” he said.
It got a little more, thanks to Lee.
Showing deft control of the signaling device, Lee was ahead of his two foes heading into the all-important “Final Jeopardy!” segment of the show, which to Lee’s delight was in the category of psychological terms.
“Since I have a medical background, I thought I might have a good chance,” Lee said.
None of the three contestants, however, was able to produce the correct response, which involved the origin of the term “type A personality,” and Lee fell to third place.
“Because I was leading, I had to wager enough to cover the other contestants,” explained Lee. “That was eventually my undoing. I really wish I could have played again. I think I could have put together a little run.”
Kristin Hucek, an attorney from San Francisco, won the game with $2,400.
Lee picked up $1,000 for his efforts, not to mention a story that will last a lifetime.
In the process, Lee was also able to meet Alex Trebek, the show’s legendary host, who died on Nov. 8 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
“One of the main reasons I wanted to be on the show was to meet Alex,” Lee said. “It would have been a shame if I never would have tried out if there was even a chance I could get on and meet him. I feel very fortunate to have had that experience. He was an icon. A living legend.”
During the show’s “meet the contestants” segment, Trebek referred to Lee’s Philadelphia roots and asked him about how he passed up tickets to the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis, where the Eagles squared off against the New England Patriots.
“I thought they were too expensive,” Lee said.
“That’s why there’s television,” Trebek responded,” and I’m sure you watched them win.”
“Of course,” said Lee, with a broad smile.
Trebek also approached Lee as the show was ending and acknowledged the difficulty of the final question and mentioned that when Trebek saw its content he predicted it would not be answered correctly.
Lee and his wife, Liliana — who grew up in La Cañada Flintridge — have two sons attending South Pasadena schools.
A hand surgeon who has an office in Pomona, Lee graduated from the University of Pennsylvania before advancing to Drexel University College of Medicine.
Lee said he will fondly remember his “Jeopardy!” experience and Trebek.
“He was a complete pro,” Lee said. “I am sure he was undergoing some type of cancer treatment at the time, but you would never know it.
“It was a great experience.”