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UC Alum Wins Big on Jeopardy!

Jay Peterson, UC alumnus (MA in English, ’98), recently appeared on the world-famous television show Jeopardy!

Date: 11/23/2011 11:00:00 AM
By: Ryan Varney
Phone: (513) 556-4190
Photos By: Jay Peterson
UC alum Jay Peterson meets Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.
UC alum Jay Peterson meets Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.

Jay Peterson, McMicken College of Arts and Sciences alumnus, asked all the right questions when he appeared on Jeopardy! this past October. The shows, which aired Oct. 20 and 21, saw Peterson win a game, lose a game and ultimately take home over $26,000. Both episodes can still be seen at the Jeopardy! Archive website.

The experience was one that Peterson will never forget. “I remember being on the studio set, standing at the podium, playing with the buzzer, getting Daily Doubles, looking across the game board, using the light pen for Final Jeopardy and thinking, ‘Man, this doesn’t seem at all like when I’m eating dinner and watching Jeopardy! on TV,’” he says.

Though Jeopardy! is highly competitive, Peterson found the contestants to be quite friendly, on the whole. “Most of us, as a contestant group, spent time together in the Green Room, watching each other’s games from the studio audience and even eating lunch together at the Sony Studios. Also, the contestant producers, who shepherd contestants through the entire experience, were fantastic as well, acting as if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them, too.”

Peterson readied himself for his games by watching old episodes and by having his fiancée, Alexandra, quiz him regularly. “When the call came [to be on the show], and we were out in California for the taping, she quizzed me on world capitals, presidents and mythology over our lunches. I did get a question about John Quincy Adams being the sixth president.”

Besides solid preparation, Peterson had some luck, too. “I had a question referring to my favorite baseball team (Cubs), my home state’s governor (Chris Christie) and, amazingly enough, arguably the most famous Bearcat alum—“The Big O” (Oscar Robertson).”

When asked if the pressure of the spotlight was a factor, Peterson admitted that there were times he briefly experienced mental blocks, something he says is a common Jeopardy! phenomenon. “There were a handful of questions that I blanked on and unfortunately, I had an epic mental block on my second game’s Final Jeopardy! question. I couldn’t think of Pinocchio when a talking cricket was part of the clue.” Fortunately this happened during his second game, after he’d already won his first game.
Peterson answers the Final Jeopardy! question during one of his two games.
Peterson answers the Final Jeopardy! question during one of his two games.

For Peterson, the interview segment—where host Alex Trebek converses with contestants, giving home viewers a chance to get to know them— proved tougher than the actual game. “It was difficult to remember the punchlines of my jokes for the interview portion of the game. While telling about my upcoming wedding in Italy, I forgot my joke but somehow wound up inviting Trebek and Johnny Gilbert to my wedding.”

Mental blocks weren’t the only hazard Peterson faced. Stopping at a food mart after arriving in Los Angeles County, Peterson was dismayed when “two guys came running into the mart telling us that our parked rental car had just been hit. We spent a while at the Sheriff’s filling out paperwork for the hit and run. I thought it was a bad omen—but in the end it turned out okay. After all, what’s the LA experience without Grauman’s Chinese Theater and an accident report?”

Trivial setbacks aside, Peterson ultimately had a very successful showing and all his preparation paid off—to the tune of $26,201.

As for others aspiring to be on the show, Peterson has this to say, “Take the online test and see what happens for the purest kind of experience. You don’t need to study—rely on your UC education and your general knowledge as a consumer of all kinds of culture and have fun. However, to be safe, be able to name a Norwegian composer, playwright and expressionist.”

One final answer: University of Cincinnati master’s degree. Peterson’s response, “To what do I attribute all my correct answers?”

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