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Graduate student appears on ‘Jeopardy,’ places second

| Thursday, January 16, 2014

Marika Kuspa, a Notre Dame graduate student in biological sciences, competed in a Jan. 9 episode of the iconic game show “Jeopardy,” placing second and beating the previous day’s champion.

Marika_KuspaCourtesy of Marika Kuspa

Kuspa said she was neck and neck with her competitors during most of “Double Jeopardy,” but fell slightly behind going into the final question. Unfortunately, her answer was not correct.

“I was very excited to see the ‘Foreign Words and Phrases’ category in the ‘Jeopardy’ round and the ‘Two-Word Science Terms’ category in the ‘Double Jeopardy’ round,” she said. “I split that category with the other scientist.”

As the “fun fact” she used to introduce herself on the show, Kuspa said she referenced her prior scientific research.

“I said that I worked in a tuberculosis biosafety level three facility, which requires wearing a full suit, respirator and three pairs of gloves for protection,” she said. “I thought it would be interesting for people to get a glimpse of scientific research in real life.”

Kuspa said she began the audition process with an online assessment and was one of more than 100,000 people who took the test that year.

“About 2,500 people are called to in-person auditions in a major city,” Kuspa said. “I drove up to Detroit. During the in-person audition you take another written test and then play a mock game of ‘Jeopardy’ against your fellow opponents.

“At this point, the producers know that everyone is pretty smart, so they’re looking for people who are TV-friendly.”
The production crew tapes two weeks worth of shows in two days and requires contestants to bring several changes of clothing for filming, Kuspa said.

In addition to shopping for outfits, Kuspa said she prepared for the taping by watching episodes of “Jeopardy” and reading 74-game champion Ken Jennings’ book “Secrets of the Jeopardy Champions.” Jennings’ winning streak ran during the 2004 season, when he won over 3 million dollars.

“Basically I would peruse lists of facts and just see if any of it stuck in my head,” she said. “I also started doing crossword puzzles because those are a great way to learn random facts and they’re fun. Also, I try to stay up on more current events by listening to [National Public Radio] in my car.”

Before the taping, producers explained the rules about contestants’ buzzers, Kuspa said.

“You can’t buzz in on ‘Jeopardy’ before the question is over or the computer system will lock you out for a fraction of a second in which your opponent can ring in and score,” she said.

Although she did not win, Kuspa said she was pleased with her performance on the show and was especially prepared for certain categories.

“It was a really great game overall and it would have been even better to win, but I’m not disappointed by my performance.”

Contact Tori Roeck at vroeck@nd.edu


About Tori Roeck

Tori is the Associate News Editor at The Observer. She is a senior studying classics and philosophy, and she spent the spring semester of her junior year studying in Athens, Greece, where her heart currently resides.

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