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Who is Matt Downing?: Notre Dame senior competes on ‘Jeopardy!’

| Monday, February 7, 2022

Matt Downing never considered himself a “Jeopardy!” superfan.

“I think it’s a great show, but it’s not like I need to watch every episode and I’ve been dying to be on the show since I was a kid,” Downing said.

But one day, he sat down to watch “Jeopardy!” and practiced clicking a pen to buzz in to answer a question. Why? Because people who had been on the daily game show told him it resembled the real clicker on the show — and he had to be ready to compete.

Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

On Thursday, Downing will represent Notre Dame on the national stage in the 2022 Jeopardy! National College Championship — a contest where 36 college students from across the country participate in 12 individual games. The 12 winners then go into bracket-style play, with the ultimate champion winning $250,000.

Downing is a senior, double majoring in marketing and applied computational and statistical mathematics and hails from Long Island, New York. He said he decided to fill out a “Jeopardy!” test one day in November of 2020. He was then contacted to take a couple more tests and participate in a mock game over Zoom.

“They told me I’d be in the player pool for like a year, but I didn’t hear from them,” Downing said. “I kind of like totally forgot about it because like it had been like forever.”

After almost two years, his phone rang.

“I got a call from the producer and they’re like, ‘Hey, are you still interested in being on the show?’” Downing said.

Due to COVID restrictions, Downing flew to California solo and stayed in a hotel with the other competitors. He said he was able to take a trip to the Santa Monica Pier, but after long days on the set, he had little time or energy to do much else.

Downing said the production set was just as it looks on television, but there is one thing the at-home audience cannot tell — the temperature is kept very low in the studio.

“It’s really cold in there, and they keep it like that because they don’t want you to sweat while you’re on T.V.,” Downing said. “And because everyone has to go through hair and makeup, they didn’t want anything running.”

Another hidden secret of the show, Downing said, is that the platform behind each podium is adjusted so each contestant looks roughly the same height on T.V.

Going into the competition, Downing said he was nervous as every competitor seemed so knowledgeable.

“I was definitely nervous when I got there but at the same time, even if I lost, it was still an awesome experience,” Downing said.

With limitless possibilities for categories, Downing said preparing for the show was difficult. He did some light practice with the “Jeopardy!” archives, but ultimately said he trusted what he knew. Going into the game show, there were two categories he was hoping for: sports and science.

“I was like give me anything STEM related or anything science related,” he said.

As the airing date of his game approaches, Downing expressed more nervousness than when he competed, saying he hopes he didn’t do “anything dumb.” Despite the nerves, he said it was a memorable and special experience.

“I can’t lie. I would do it again,” Downing said.

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About Alysa Guffey

Alysa is a junior and currently serves as Editor-in-Chief. She is pursuing a major in history with minors in digital marketing and journalism, ethics and democracy. While she calls Breen-Phillips her home on campus, she is originally from Indianapolis.

Contact Alysa