What do you do when you’re not learning trivia? 

In my day job, I’m a physician in psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. I did something called Academic Teams in school, so that’s kind of how I got into this. Some people call it Quiz Bowl. Essentially it’s just a trivia competition. 

What do you enjoy about trivia? 

You mean, besides just being a nerd? Honestly, as a kid, I just loved to read. I was reading fiction books, but I also loved reading history books. I love U.S. history. I guess I realized later that a lot of that reading just stuck in my brain. 

Doing Quiz Bowl, there’s a competitive part to it, and you play as a team. I can promise you I have no athletic ability, so I couldn’t play basketball for UNC or be a professional football player. But in my own nerdy way, [going on Jeopardy!] was like getting to play in the Super Bowl. It’s like, I’m never going to be good enough to play in the Dean dome or Madison Square Garden, but this is the nerd equivalent. 

Have you always wanted to be on Jeopardy!

It was always my nerdy childhood dream to be on the show…but honestly, it felt like one of those dreams that would never happen in real life. Like, that kind of thing doesn’t happen to me. Each stage of the auditioning, in my heart of hearts, I wanted desperately to be on the show. But I just thought, well, the odds are so low. 

[When I took the test], it was a little bit of a whim. I was just sitting at home one night and browsing online. I found the Jeopardy! test and said, ‘Hey, why not? I have nothing to do for the next couple of minutes.’

Were you a big fan of Jeopardy! before appearing on the show? 

I was a huge fan and that was one of the things that made it so special. Growing up, we didn’t have cable at home, we had like four or five channels you could get on an antenna. We had a routine, it was Wheel of Fortune at 7 [p.m.] and then Jeopardy! at 7:30. 

Of course, I remember watching Alex Trebek all those years. And I think I was in high school when I watched Ken Jennings go on a huge run as a player. He was the host when I got to play for real, so that was also really amazing. 

[As an adult] I was totally the guy who would sit on the couch and try to yell out answers. And occasionally you’ll know an answer that the people actually playing don’t know. So you just feel like, ‘Oh gosh, if I only I was there!’ 

How did you end up competing on Jeopardy!

There’s a three-step audition process. The first step is taking a test online. It’s literally called the “Anytime Test,” so anybody could go online right now, tomorrow, and take an online test with Jeopardy! questions. If you pass the test, you go to the second stage which is another online test. Then a certain number of people move on to the third stage, which is kind of a mock game of Jeopardy! with a personality interview.

When did you find out that you had been selected to be on the show?

I found out in early July. They don’t give you too much notice between inviting you to be on the show and your actual tape day, which was in early August for me. So by the time they tell you you’re going to be on the show, there’s not too much time to study. It’s more like some light cramming. 

It was incredible. My heart was pounding. It was also tough, because when they tell you’re going to be on the show, you can’t go out and tell anybody. I was sworn to secrecy, so it was hard to walk around and try to act normally. 

What was the filming experience like?

It was surreal. I live a regular life, going to work and just doing my thing. And for this, you fly to Los Angeles. They film in a movie studio, Sony Picture Studios. So it felt very glamorous. I wore makeup for the first time in my life. I don’t do this every day! 

They actually film five episodes in a single taping day. On TV, they always make it seem like, ‘It’s Monday, it’s Tuseday,’ but in reality, those five days are one single day. There’s a lot of waiting during the actual filming process while you wait for your game. When you’re sitting at home, you’re well rested, you’re well fed, you’re relaxed. In real life, you’re just sitting and really anxious and excited and nervous. 

There were about a dozen people there that day for the whole week’s worth of episodes. We got to watch in a green room. Everyone there just knows so much. It’s kind of like when you shout out the answers from your living room couch. Well, just imagine ten huge trivia buffs were in your living room.

What was your experience of the competition? 

[Jeopardy!] really rewards people who have breadth of knowledge, who know something about a lot of different topics. The categories and questions really run the gamut of history, literature, art, pop culture, wordplay, current events. So if you know a little bit about a lot of things that’s a lot more helpful than knowing a ton about just one thing.

They told us on the day of taping that over 100,000 people apply to be on the show each year, but only 400 people or so actually make it. So everyone who makes it on the show, no matter how well they do, knows a ton. 

What really distinguishes who wins and who does really well is the buzzer timing. Basically, you have to answer as soon as Ken Jennings is done reading the question, or else someone else will buzz in and get it. 

If you buzz in before Ken is done reading the question, you get locked out and you can’t ring in. If you ring in half a second too late, well, someone else has rung in already. So part of the show that a little harder to appreciate [from home] is just being really good at that timing.

The most frustrating part about playing is when you know the answer but you can’t ring in. I think sometimes when you’re watching, you may think that someone just doesn’t know the answer. But oftentimes, all three people on stage actually know the answer, but obviously only one person can ring in.

How do you feel about the show now? 

It was nice to learn how many people love Jeopardy!. So many people watch the show, feel connected to the show. It’s such a cultural institution in this country, a uniting force. There’s a lot of things that divide people in the country. [Jeopardy!] really cuts across political beliefs, race, gender. I feel like nobody talks about it, but some people texted me [afterward] that they watch the show or watch it regularly. I thought it was just me.

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