A Calaveras High School teacher and former Miss Calaveras had a lifelong dream materialize when she competed on a recent episode of “Jeopardy!”

Ann Mazzaferro, 34, who teaches English and Theater Arts, grew up watching the show and wondering if she had what it took to grace the big, blue stage. After years of encouragement from family members, Mazzaferro finally took the online test in January of 2020. Nearly one year and multiple remote Zoom auditions later, in mid-December, she was notified that she had made the cut.

With a background in English, marketing, theater arts, communications and other fields, Mazzaferro believes her diverse array of experiences, as well as her love of reading and trivia, made her a strong candidate to compete on the iconic game show. However, she never truly expected to be chosen out of a pool of thousands.

“They have about 150,000 people take (the test) every year. … It was overwhelming in the best way possible,” said Mazzaferro, who only told a few close relatives and her boss that she was making the trip to Los Angeles County to appear on national television. “I very much kept it under wraps that this was even happening. My students had no idea.”

On Jan. 12, Mazzaferro began a 12-hour day of watching, waiting and competing, along with a dozen other “Jeopardy!” contestants who were filming other episodes. Their experience was different than the norm due to COVID-19 protocols. Mazzaferro was impressed by the pre-show COVID-19 testing, diligent use of masks and social distancing practiced by the cast and crew.

“I feel like if every business, production company and facility followed the procedures they did, we would be a much safer and healthier society,” she said. Additionally, the contestants and crew were “the loveliest humans you could ask for.”

“There was no survivor-esque, cutthroat atmosphere behind the scenes,” Mazzaferro assured curious viewers. “You’re surrounded by people who are really smart and funny.”

Mazzaferro came in third place during her run on the show. In her eyes, winning the competition was a secondary goal from the beginning.

“It was kind of my philosophy going in that getting there was win enough,” she said. “I went home with $1,000 and the stories of a lifetime and knocking an item off my bucket list that I never thought I would be able to complete.”

Mazzaferro also saw her appearance on the show as an opportunity to represent her beloved Calaveras County in front of 10 million viewers. She wore locally crafted frog earrings and discussed her former Frog Queen status, a detail which crew members and host Mike Richards particularly enjoyed.

“I have never seen a group of crew members laugh harder. They kept referring to me as ‘Miss Frog Queen,’” said Mazzaferro, who was elated to bring her community some attention and optimism during the pandemic. “I very deeply wanted (Calaveras County) to be part of this journey as well.”

On March 5 the community tuned in to her surprise “Jeopardy!” appearance. As a result, Mazzaferro received an outpouring of excitement and support from her students, friends and family, some posting photos of themselves watching her compete on social media.

“They were just overwhelmed and overjoyed,” Mazzaferro said. “It was a wholly endearing experience watching people watch the show.”

The March 5, 2021 episode of “Jeopardy!” featuring Mazzaferro can be viewed currently on YouTube.

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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