The legend of the Stay-at-Home Uncle
A mustached man from East Bend, North Carolina went on a winning streak on Jeopardy! But it's his chosen occupation that's making him a king among contestants.
There are a great many jobs. I was not aware that Stay at Home Uncle was one of them.
Yes. Yes he was. His name is Lawrence Long. He lives in East Bend, North Carolina, a small town of 612 people in Yadkin County, northwest of Winston-Salem. He goes by Skip.
We are off to a fantastically good start here.
On Monday night’s Jeopardy!, he introduced himself by telling a story about playing a conch shell at a wedding. “A true conch musician always brings their own shell,” he said. More insightful words have never been spoken.
Also, he keeps winning. He nailed Final Jeopardy! again on Wednesday night to give him a three-day total of $74,792. He’s also gone on to tell stories about his 11-year-old niece and retrieving a dinghy while sailing from the Bahamas to Florida. You know, uncle stuff.
For what it’s worth, he watched Monday’s episode (which was taped back in November) at Joymonger’s Barrel Hall in Winston-Salem.
He said he skipped watching Tuesday’s episode live because… he was busy taking an online test and schoolwork for a nutrition class.
That is some Big Uncle Energy.
First up: How exactly did Uncle Skip hack the Jeopardy! System?
Jeopardy! has been on television for decades. It’s beloved, in part, because of its rigid formula. More than other shows, it focuses its energy on the game itself—the actual answers in the form of questions—and any personality that comes through is revealed in brief flashes or asides. That’s what makes this clip from 2018 so unusual. In it, the late Alex Trebek rips on contestants for not knowing a damn thing about football. The humor came from the fact that Jeopardy! contestants generally know the answers to almost all of the questions. Yet here was Alex openly (but lovingly) mocking them for not even so much as buzzing in on any of the clues in that category:
On every episode, there’s a brief moment after the first commercial break when the contestants are introduced by the host, then get a few moments to talk about themselves. That’s where a lot of them reveal their strange but endearing habits and hobbies. But no. Not Uncle Skip. Skip planted his flag RIGHT THERE WITHIN :30 SECONDS OF THE SHOW’S OPENING AND HE USED JOHNNY GILBERT TO DO IT.
I got in touch with Claire McNear from The Ringer, who’s one hell of a Jeopardy! expert and literally wrote the definitive book about the show. In short, she says, Long is making the most of his time, and may have very well been picked because of his stated profession. “What's interesting about Jeopardy!, though, is that with so many people (with love: nerds) to choose from, the show doesn't just look for the smartest people it can find,” she says. “At its core, Jeopardy! is a TV show, and the folks upstairs want it to be entertaining. They know, too, that a lot of the fun of watching Jeopardy! is this idea that anyone might be able to hack it onstage, from your ex-disco queen on down.” That includes uncles.
And, in a show where you get less than a minute to tell America about yourself, every second counts. “Contestants are acutely aware of this being their one moment to show another side of themselves on national television, which can be nerve-wracking.” Then again, she says, “I've talked to more than a few who have dramatically embellished or outright made up their stories.”
Stories matter to Uncle Skip. He’s a big-time improv guy.
NOTE: Paid subscribers can read a full Q&A with Claire McNear with a ton of fascinating insight about Jeopardy! and how it works. If you’re already a paying supporter of the North Carolina Rabbit Hole, you can read it by tapping the button below:
The origin story of Uncle Skip as we know it
Ernest Hemingway once (apocryphally?) wrote a powerful, six-word story. But that was a long time ago. I’d now argue that “Stay-at-Home Uncle” is the greatest, briefest descriptor of our time. Those four words contain multitudes.
I tried, on very short notice, to get in touch with Uncle Skip to learn the whole story, and I’ll update you all if I hear back. However! Triad City Beat bar writer James Douglas, a fellow East Bender, already talked to him. Read his article. Do it. DO IT.
If you did not do it, here is a summary of what we now know about Uncle Skip:
He has a theater background, worked in the wine industry, and lived in Chicago and New Mexico before coming home to North Carolina, where he’s now a certified EMT.
He once worked at a now-defunct coffee shop in Pilot Mountain. In an article, the owner says three separate times that Skip is very smart. I believe it!
He’s been preparing to be on the show ever since he got a call back from producers in June.
He listens to the Shutdown Fullcast, a podcast that has now made him their patron saint.
In the Triad City Beat story, Skip explained how he came to be in his current job. “Stay-at-home uncle started as a sort of joke to support and undermine my sister’s authority as a parent,” he said. “I love her, but she used to pull my hair.” When the pandemic hit, Skip basically took care of his niece while his sister worked full-time. He’s promised to take said niece to Hawaii if she learned all 50 state and their capitals. She has. She now knows he’s got the money to cover the trip.
The Legend Grows
Stay-at-Home Uncle is now A Thing. Some folks on Twitter have now changed their display names to it. Other people are just really invested in this as a career:
Also, this is a good time to bring up the fact that such a position did exist in nature already, albeit in the Full House cinematic universe:
Uncle Skip has become more than a Jeopardy! contestant. He’s a whole damn mood. "[I’ve gotten] requests to do birthday texts and all sorts of stuff,” he told the Winston-Salem Journal. “I should probably make an NFT (non-fungible token) or something like that … which I will not do."
What he will do, it seems, is help some other people out. For one thing, he says he’s going to make a donation to Love Out Loud, the organization that’s helping people in Winston-Salem who were displaced when a fertilizer plant caught fire last week. He’s also making a donation to another organization: IfNotNow. It’s in support of the contestant he defeated on Monday’s show, Emma Saltzberg, who became the focus of some hate online after her appearance. “I would have had her back regardless of whether our personal beliefs aligned,” he said in an interview with JTA. “I wish her nothing but the best and I gotta figure out the cool multiple of $18 to donate.”
For now, though, who knows how long his run on Jeopardy! will last. If he wins tonight, he’s got a very good shot at making it to November’s Tournament of Champions. If he wins tonight and tomorrow, he’s definitely in. However, the longer his streak goes, the more interesting his fashion choices might get. “Jeopardy! films five games straight through on each tape day. Contestants generally bring three outfits with them just in case,” says McNear. If they win more than that, they have to scrounge around to find something new to wear. “So,” she says, “let's just say things might start getting weird with America's dapper uncle.”
UPDATE: Skip came in third on Thursday night, thus ending his run. We’re not sad it’s over, we’re happy that it happened.