'Jeopardy!': Ryan Long Had Financial Struggles Before His Winning Streak

Reigning Jeopardy! champion Ryan Long passed the $200,000 mark this week, and his winnings are guaranteed to change his life. Before he competed on the show, the 39-year-old Long lived paycheck-to-paycheck in Philadelphia to support himself and his son. He worked as an Uber and Lyft driver and needed help to afford the plane tickets to Burbank, California. 

Long was born in Philadelphia and moved to Bensalem, Pennsylvania when he was 9. His parents separated and his father died before his senior year of high school. He moved back to Philadelphia with his mother and "barely" graduated from George Washington High School, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer on May 19. "I was probably not the most conscientious student," Long said. "I was distracted by other things. ... I didn't go to college right away, I went to work."

After high school, Long completed one year of community college, but he told WHYY he has never stopped studying. "I don't actually know what I know," he joked. "I read a lot of things, and stuff gets stuck. When I was a kid, I read the dictionary for fun."

Long was hospitalized with COVID-19 for several weeks in January 2021. He tried to resume his job as a paratransit driver for SEPTA's Customized Community Transportation, but he soon realized he no longer could. Long turned to rideshare driving to support himself and his 8-year-old son Nathan.

In February, Long got the call that would change his life. Sixteen months after passing the first Jeopardy! test, the show's producers called him to appear on the show. "If this opportunity hadn't come up, I don't know what I was going to do long-term," he told the Inquirer.

Long lived paycheck-to-paycheck for over a year, so he needed help to afford the flight across the country. He could only afford to buy two dress shirts and the Jeopardy! wardrobe department has helped him as he continues his success. He also forgot his glasses back in Philadelphia, which is why he squints to read the clues.

"There was a video clue category on Swedish history, and there was a photo of a king with his sword. ... I could not see what that clue was. I just took my best guess, and of course, it was wildly wrong," Long explained. "When you watch it on TV, the clue is blown up big and everything, but when you get there the video clue screen is way across the stage, and it's not that big. So if you don't have good vision, then good luck to you, pal. You're going to be struggling."

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Long was also concerned that he might be at a disadvantage since he didn't prepare for Jeopardy! like other contestants. Some had elaborate strategies, but Long didn't study anything before going on the show. "I just kind of went in and did my thing," he said.

Whatever that "thing" is, it has worked. He's guaranteed to win over six figures. Towards the end of the season, he will likely face Amy Schneider, Matt Amodio, and other winners during the Tournament of Champions. After his time on Jeopardy! is done, he hopes to take Nathan fishing. "That's really where my head is at," he told the Inquirer.