Dennis Coffey, 54, behind the bar at Duffy’s Tavern and Grill in Old Orchard Beach, where he works as a bartender. Coffey will be a contestant on the game show “Jeopardy!” on Friday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Dennis Coffey picked a good time to be on “Jeopardy!”

The Old Orchard Beach bartender will compete in the beloved quiz program Friday, his appearance coming during a time of intense interest in the show. On Tuesday, Ken Jennings won the title of greatest “Jeopardy!” champ of all-time after defeating “Jeopardy James” Holzhauer and Brad Rutter during a four-night tournament shown during prime time on ABC. In early January, ABC did a prime-time news special focusing on Alex Trebek, who has hosted the syndicated show since 1984, and his very public battle with pancreatic cancer. The show currently has about 23 million viewers a week.

Into the spotlight walks Coffey, 54, who applied to be a contestant three times before getting his big shot. Friday’s episode can be seen locally on Portland TV station WMTW at 7:30 p.m.

“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, left, with Dennis Coffey of Old Orchard Beach, who will compete on the show Friday. Photo courtesy of “Jeopardy!”

Coffey can’t say how he fared on the show, only that he competed against two librarians. Librarians, of course, deal with odd facts and hard-to-answer questions all day long. But then, so do bartenders, Coffey contends.

“I think bartenders are naturally good at trivia. People always want their facts checked or are asking for the latest sports news,” said Coffey, who tends bar at Duffy’s Tavern & Grill in Old Orchard Beach.

“Jeopardy!” fans know there’s some truth to what Coffey says. New York City bartender Austin Rogers won more than $400,000 in 13 shows in 2017 and went on to play in the show’s Tournament of Champions and All-Star Games. But librarians are no slouches either, as Jessica Garsed of Augusta proved. Garsed, a medical librarian, won more than $53,000 during four shows in October.

Coffey has a broader base of knowledge than what he’s overheard at the bar. He has a degree in Asian studies from the University of Pennsylvania and pursued (but did not finish) his doctorate. He says his best “Jeopardy!” categories are ones pertaining to geography, history, literature and the classics. He’s not as strong on pop culture, so before filming his appearance on “Jeopardy!” in November, he tried to study music, TV and movie-related questions.

He qualified by taking an online test and then auditioning in person. Once he was notified he would be on the show, he had about a month to prepare.

He found the buzzer to be a little tricky, in terms of beating out the other contestants. He had read that Holzhauer successfully buzzed in more than 50 percent of the time, solely by watching a light on set that turns on when it’s time to buzz in. Jennings has said he tries to guess when he can buzz in based on the cadence of Trebek’s voice as he reads clues. Not wanting to tip his hand too much, Coffey declined to say what strategy he employed.

Coffey said he was impressed with Trebek on set and found him to be “very patient,” especially in light of his health problems. Trebek has said his cancer treatments have slowed him down and make him tire easily. But Coffey said none of that was noticeable. He said Trebek took questions from the audience and joked with people during commercial breaks.

Coffey said he was impressed that Jennings won the GOAT tournament, since Holzhauer was a tough and dominating champion and was considered the favorite. He also said he was glad Jennings won, because it gives Coffey bragging rights. Jennings, a writer, came to the University of Southern Maine in 2012 to promote his book “Maphead.” During the event, Coffey said he asked Jennings a question that stumped him.

It was a big moment for Coffey, stumping a legendary “Jeopardy!” champion. So big that it is slated to be the subject of the in-game interview between Coffey and Trebek. Each show has a brief interlude when Trebek asks contestants to talk about themselves.

What was the question Coffey used to stump Jennings? Coffey says people will have to tune in Friday to find out. Fans and friends of Coffey can all tune in together at Duffy’s, which is hosting a viewing party beginning at 6 p.m.


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