Words by Daniel Vaillancourt
Among the seven mix-and-match outfits Palm Springs-based biotech project manager Dennis Chase packed in his suitcase for his trip to Los Angeles last fall — to tape what might potentially be four episodes of the Champions Wildcard Tournament on “Jeopardy!” — was a designer shirt he picked up at his local DAP Health Revivals thrift store for $15.
“I knew I had this television appearance coming up,” says the gregarious 63-year-old native of Hyannis, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. “I was walking by the specials rack — where the more upscale clothing is displayed — and the shirt just called out to me. It’s black, with little silver dots all over it. I call them bubbles. The brand is Maceoo, and it says it was meticulously engineered in Italian fabrics. It just said to me, ‘I need to be on TV.’”
The top, however, was not the one Chase chose to wear on the first episode he shot. That ensemble was an azure blue Alex Vando shirt paired with a standard navy blazer with gold buttons and a navy patterned tie. “On day one, just for luck, I wanted to wear the same outfit I’d worn on the first day of my original run, and I had to lose 30 pounds to do it,” admits Chase, referring to his April 2021 appearance on the game show, where he competed on three episodes, winning a total of $50,400, which classified him as a champion eligible to return.
For his second episode of 2023, Chase opted for a sweater he bought in Dublin when he was there in 2019 to pay homage to his ancestors. For his Revivals find, the third time was the charm, but he had to fight for the opportunity to parade it on national TV. “I had sent them a picture of the shirt and the silver bow tie I was going to wear with it,” he recalls. “And they said, ‘Well, it might be too dark. We’ll have to wait and see how it looks on camera.’”
When it came time to tape that third episode, Chase was asked to model the shirt on set, under the lights. “It took four tries for me to convince them I should wear it on camera, but I finally did convince them,” he notes, adding that he can be seen sporting it on the November 27 installment. “I think it looks terrific on camera. Every time I turned, it lit up a little bit.”
The persistence Chase exhibited is nothing new. “I’ve been trying out for ‘Jeopardy!’ since 1990,” he reveals. “I’ve probably passed the test more than 20 times. Either my name didn’t get picked out of the hat, or they didn’t think I had the right personality for the show.”
Chase believes that when he finally made it on the air back in 2021, it was his backstory that cinched it. “One of my older brothers is a disabled veteran from both Gulf Wars,” he says. “He had reached a point where, due to his injuries, it made sense that he move in with my two
sisters. So, I pledged that some of my winnings would go toward that relocation effort.” And they did.
This most recent outing, in which he came in third of his group, netted him $25,000. “Which was a gift,” he maintains, “because I never expected to be asked back in the first place.”
But back to Revivals. “I have gone to thrift shops all over the world, and I’m proud that my wardrobe represents that because these stores usually benefit a local charity,” says Chase, who also sings with the Coachella Valley gay male choral group ModernMen in his spare time. “When I was in Edinburgh, Scotland, I went into a UK Cancer Society thrift shop. I felt bad because they didn’t have anything I liked. So, I ended up buying a tie just so I could give them something.”
Of course, Chase takes pride in supporting Revivals because it supports DAP Health, where he has been a client ever since he moved to the desert in December 2020 after 30 years in the San Francisco Bay Area.
But Chase is perhaps most proud to be — to his knowledge — the first openly HIV-positive champion on “Jeopardy!” ever. “That’s important,” he says, “because there were a number of years in the nineties when I was really, really ill — when I didn’t try out for ‘Jeopardy!’ because I didn’t have the energy. I came very close to dying in 1995, and then protease inhibitors came, which literally saved my life.”
Chase lets out a little laugh, then continues. “You have to have some kind of resilience to try out 25 times for a game show and keep coming back. I think every ‘Jeopardy!’ champion has a few things in common. We’re all avid readers from an early age. We all have an intellectual curiosity. And it’s really, really hard to get us to give up.”