Nick Palazzi is a writer for the Mountain Lakes Alumni Association. He is a current senior at Fairfield University and is expected to graduate with a degree in accounting in 2021. By 2022, he hopes to have his master's in accounting and CPA. Nick grew up in Mountain Lakes where he attended school from kindergarten through high school. At MLHS, he served as class president his senior year and was co-captain of the football team. Nick’s interests include movies, television, music, athletics, history, and spending time with friends and family. He currently resides in Mountain Lakes along with his parents Chris (MLHS ’78) and Nancy (MLHS ’82), and his siblings Jack (MLHS ’15), Matt (MLHS ’19), and Kendall (MLHS ’22).

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Mountain Lakes Alumnus Phil Hoffman (2010), who will be a contestant on Jeopardy airing on Monday, February 15th. Phil spent his time after Mountain Lakes studying at Tufts University, earning a degree in Middle Eastern studies. In his post-college years, Phil traveled the world to many amazing places including Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. Currently Phil is in Los Angeles earning his PhD.

Growing up, Phil and his family watched a lot of Jeopardy, which helped him prepare for his big moment on the venerable TV game show. His father, Mark Hoffman, is a history teacher at Mountain Lakes High School, which may or may not have influenced Phil’s Jeopardy performance — he wasn’t allowed to disclose this information to us. The Mountain Lakes community is very excited to see one of our fellow Lakers on the podium. Best of luck Phil! Mountain Lakes is in your corner!

MLAA: When did you come to Mountain Lakes?

PH: My family moved to Mountain Lakes right after I turned four and I lived there until I graduated high school.

MLAA: How was your experience growing up in town?

PH: I had some excellent teachers at MLHS who went out of their way to give me individual attention.

MLAA: What sports, clubs, or activities did you participate in during high school?

PH: I acted in the Fall Drama and Spring Musicals, did Speech & Debate, was a member of the Mock Trial team, and sang in choir.

MLAA: After high school can you tell us about your education on where you went, what you studied, and anything interesting you’d like to add about your college experience?

PH: I majored in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic at Tufts University.

MLAA: You have recently been a member on Jeopardy that will be airing on February 15, 2021. Can you tell us what your experience on the show was like?

PH: I felt so lucky to stand on that stage — all of the other contestants were very nice and the producers were helpful and extremely professional. The game itself goes by very quickly, though. You’re so focused on ringing in with the right response that you barely pay attention to the time.

MLAA: How did you get a spot on the show? What was that process like?

PH: Because of COVID, the audition process has been moved online. So I took several written tests and did a mock game-play audition over Zoom over the course of a few months.

MLAA: Your dad Mark Hoffman is a history teacher at our very own Mountain Lakes High School. Has his history background helped you with your Jeopardy skills?

PH: History-related clues often come up on the show, so it was nice to have that background. We also watched the show a lot as a family growing up — you could say I had a few years of training at home!

MLAA: How did you prepare for Jeopardy? Were you given a study guide of sorts or did you go in with not knowing what any of the topics would be?

PH: The show doesn’t provide any kind of review materials, but there’s an amazing online archive of questions from old episodes that a group of fans has built. I knew that I could be asked about pretty much anything, though, so I didn’t try to specifically study for the show.

MLAA: If you have any advice on strategy while playing Jeopardy what would it be?

PH: Watch old episodes while holding a pen and click it like a buzzer when the host finishes reading the question so that you can practice ringing in.

MLAA: What has your work career been like? Has that helped with your Jeopardy skills?

PH: After college, I spent five years in Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq evaluating humanitarian aid projects. Then, in 2019, I went back to school and started a PhD in History at UCLA, focusing on the modern Middle East. My work and grad school experience have definitely helped me become comfortable with public speaking and thinking quickly in front of an audience (which came in handy on the show).

MLAA: Is there any career advice, general or specific, that you can provide for the readers on how to be successful?

PH: Be nice to people when you don’t have to and recognize that success depends so heavily on luck.

MLAA: What are some of your other hobbies?

PH: I love hiking, cycling, running, basically anything that gets me outside.

MLAA: Going forward what is next for Phil Hoffman?

PH: I’ve got a PhD to finish! After that, I have a few paths in mind — they all involve teaching, writing, or research.

MLAA: If you could invite three people to dinner, alive or dead, fictional or real, who would they be, and why?

PH: George Orwell, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Graham Greene. They’re a few of my favorite authors and each critique the world around them in a unique way.

Watch Phil Hoffman compete on Jeopardy! on Monday, February 15th at 7:00 PM (EST). Check your local television listings for more info.

Mountain Lakes Alumnus Phil Hoffman on the set of Jeopardy! with host Ken Jennings.