Brownstein: Montreal trivia wizards come up short in Jeopardy! tourney semifinals

“But look at the bright side, it’s in U.S. dollars,” Vince Bacani and Diandra D’Alessio say of the $10,000 they each received for their last contests.

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It’s the end of the line for Montreal trivia wizards Vince Bacani and Diandra D’Alessio in the ongoing Jeopardy! Champions Wildcard Tournament, but they certainly showed their smarts in making it through to the tourney’s semifinals.

Had either taken the championship, they would have pocketed US$100,000 and then had an opportunity to go on to the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions and the possibility to snag $250,000, and then go on to other tournaments, as did Toronto tutor Mattea Roach, the most successful Canadian ever to play Jeopardy!

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Instead, Bacani and D’Alessio had to walk away with relatively paltry winnings of $10,000 each for their semifinals bouts.

“But look at the bright side, it’s in U.S. dollars,” Bacani and D’Alessio say almost in unison in a conference call following their semifinals rounds.

Glass always half full for them.

Both Bacani and D’Alessio coasted through their quarterfinal matches last week for their wins, allowing them to move on to the semifinals. Bacani lost his semifinals match last Friday, while D’Alessio showed much moxie in her bout on Monday and came very close to winning it.

The two not only took their defeats in stride but were particularly gracious to the other contestants. Unlike most other competitions, they each initiated group hugs with their fellow winners and runners-up. Can’t see that happening on a hoops court or football field.

“I guess we’re just so Canadian at the core,” Bacani and D’Alessio again say almost in unison.

“It’s all in the spirit of the game, says D’Alessio, a technical writer. “We’re really all friends who have gone through such a special experience.”

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“The tournament format allows more for that kind of closeness,” says Bacani, a risk manager. “When you play a regular game, it’s often only one game that most will be playing and you really only know fellow contestants for about an hour, so you don’t have a chance to bond at all. In the tournament, though, we’re all together for at least two days.

“And, to be honest, let’s say we’re probably all a little more humble because we had only won a few games to get there — unlike some of the show’s super champs who’ve won dozens. We don’t have big chips on our shoulders.”

Both appeared on Jeopardy! shows last year, when Bacani won one game and D’Alessio took two. As a result, they qualified for the Jeopardy! Champions Wildcard Tournament.

Bacani appears to have made Jeopardy! history in his final outing, according to host Ken Jennings. On Bacani’s last response card, he scribbled a trilingual thank you on the bottom in English, French and Mohawk (Nia:wen).

Though not Indigenous himself, Bacani plays the pipe organ for the Mohawk choir at the St-Francis Xavier Mission Catholic Church in Kahnawake.

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Bacani and D’Alessio have both come to terms with the fact there are no more Jeopardy! contests in their futures.

“At this point, it’s the end of the road,” D’Alessio says,

“I think our contract says that we can’t do any kind of game show for the next six months,” Bacani says. “Maybe after that period, some producer could come up with a Canadian spinoff. They do, after all, have a U.K. Jeopardy! spinoff. So why not do a Canadian one?”

But be careful what you wish for here.

In a mock Jeopardy! contest we arranged for the duo at the Rockaberry pie palace on Monkland Ave. two weeks ago — after both had actually played their quarterfinals and semifinals matches — we put together a Montreal-centric game for them.

Let’s just say that both got the easy answers to questions relating to bagels and Leonard Cohen, but they didn’t exactly distinguish themselves on other fronts. For example: while Bacani knows more than most mortals about Sparta the city-state in ancient Greece on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia and D’Alessio can tell you that the capital of Burundi is Gitega, not to be confused with the East African country’s economic capital of Bujumbura, neither knew the name of the famed landscape architect who designed Mount Royal. Not even after they were told that the same dude also did Central Park.

They even missed out on some simple Montreal and Canadian questions in their tournament games.

To the surprise of Jennings, Bacani was somehow unable to get to the buzzer fast enough to answer that French military officer Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve was the founder of Ville-Marie, now known as Montreal. 

And D’Alessio shockingly missed out on Ontario as the answer to this question: To the north, ‘Minnesota is bordered by Manitoba and this other province.’

“No excuses, really, but when you’re up there on stage, sometimes you just get a brain fart,” D’Alessio matter-of-factly responds. “It happens to the best of us.”

“We’re only human, after all,” Bacani concedes.

Can’t argue with that kind of logic. But waiting for the day when that aforementioned cerebral emission is the answer to a Jeopardy! question.

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