Who is ... Kyle Brittain?
Local genius debuts on ‘America’s Favorite Quiz Show’

Recent Jeopardy contestant, Kyle Brittain and Game show guru Alex Tribek./Courtesy photo

by Katie Clancy

Who says Durango kids are all stoners and ski bums? This Friday, “America’s Favorite Quiz Show,” Jeopardy!, will star Durango’s own Kyle Brittain.

A longtime fan of Alex Trebek’s mustache and the game that pits contestants in a battle of knowledge, Brittian, 23, applied last winter on a whim.

“I thought, ‘I’ll give this a shot, for fun,’” he said. “I never seriously considered that I’d make it because there are so many people who are hard-core and serious.”

Jeopardy offers prospective contestants a chance to compete through auditions twice a year. The process is merit-based, with 50-question tests administered at various audition sites and, as of 2006, over the Internet, the mode Brittain opted for.

Of the 100,000 fans who went online that night, approximately 2,000 got calls back – one of which was Brittain, who was invited to the regional tryouts in Denver.

“I just kept getting lucky,” he said.

In June, after passing another written test and competing in a mock-version of the show held in a stark conference room in Denver, Brittain got another call. Once again luck had veered in his favor, although the timing was a bit off.

“I had gotten my wisdom teeth pulled the day before the producers called,” he recalled. “I had a belly full of Percocets and a mouth full of cotton balls. I couldn’t talk but managed to mumble an approval to appear on the show.”

A senior at Fort Lewis College majoring in humanities, Brittain admitted that, although he’s an avid reader who’s been known to quote Kafka and Neruda in the same sentence, he doesn’t like to study. He’d much prefer drawing cartoons or making tacos and burritos. In fact, when he’s not memorizing Spanish verbs or stressing about his “walking for fitness” course, Brittain devotes his time to music. He plays the bass, guitar, mandolin, banjo and ukulele. He’s also the lead bassist for a punk band, The Antibodies, which plays regularly with local mainstay the Freeman Social. Aside from this, he also has a fondness for rap, with NAS and Notorious BIG constantly looping on his I-pod. When not immersed in music, Brittain slings booze at Wagon Wheel Liquors, where he’s been working for the last year and a half to support his music habit and for the great employee discount. Brittian says when he tires of his home town, he plans to move to St Petersburg, Russia, to pursue a writing career.

Knowing that he would soon be “buzzing in” on national television, Brittain said he tried not to get too worked up. Pre-game rituals included rubbing a “Cobran” charm for good luck and reading over a little Shakespeare and several opera sonatas. “I didn’t want to stress myself out, so I really didn’t prepare,” he says.

However humble Brittain may seem, friends and colleagues say they are not surprised by his accomplishment.

“Kyle was the best person to sit next to in Honors History during high school,” longtime friend Katie Holgate said. “And, he played a mean mandolin during water breaks.”

On a hot day in August, Brittain and his girlfriend, Emma Cole, arrived in Culver City, a seedy suburb in Los Angeles. Since even the losers go home $1,000 richer, he figured at least the trip would be all-expenses paid. The couple awoke early the day of the show and ate complimentary danishes at the hotel where most of the contestants shack up. Brittain and Cole then piled into the Jeopardy! bus with 12 other middle-aged contestants. Besides a young man from the Navy, Brittain said he was the youngest one on the bus.

In order to maximize efficiency and accommodate travel plans, five episodes are taped in one day, with Brittian’s being the last. Uncomfortably full from a greasy Philly cheese steak lunch, jitters began to set in as Brittain sat in the audience watching one contestant demolish the competition. By the end of the show, the champion’s net winnings were more than $100,000.

“It was nerve-racking,” Cole said.

Nerves were soothed, however, by Trebek, the show’s host since 1984. According to Cole, he ran the quiz show “like clockwork.” Skin slightly tinged a waxy orange under the studio lights, Trebek candidly answered questions from the audience in funny voices. Did he like the Saturday Night Live skit? He did. Does he plan to grow his mustache out again? He doesn’t. What was his college major? Philosophy. He told stories during commercial breaks about wanting to look up weapons online.

Before returning to La Plata County, Brittain decompressed on the Santa Monica Pier, ate seafood and watched the latest Harry Potter in 3D at an Imax Theatre. When he got home, his friends threw him a Jeopardy!-themed party where guests competed in their own version of the show, complete with poster board props and alcohol-related categories. Brittain was allowed the seat of honor, moderating from behind a cardboard throne, giving beer-bong penalties for wrong answers and awarding champions a “Monty Python Holy Grail Ale” bomber. Friends serenaded him with a large vanilla cake decorated with a picture of Brittain holding a hammer alongside Trebek.

Brittain signed a contract promising he will not disclose the competition’s results before the show airs. Fortunately, local viewers anxious to learn the conclusion need only to tune into CBS (local channel 13) on Fri., Nov. 2, at 6 p.m. to see how he fares against the mad-chemist champion and the middle-aged publicist. •

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