On Thursday night, three former Jeopardy! contestants spoke about their time on the show and competed in two games of Princeton-themed Jeopardy! against several graduating seniors. Five-time winner Gil Collins *99, who serves as Director of Global Health Programs and Associate Director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing, won the first game, but all three former contestants fell short in the second, defeated by Emma Corless ’19.
The Last Lectures 2019 Committee hosted Jeopardy All-Star Tournament winner David Madden ’03, Collins, and former University employee Tova Meyer. The event, held in the Friend Center, began with a Q&A with the former contestants, hosted by Committee member Abhiram Karuppur ’19, and was followed by two live Jeopardy! games, with prizes for student participants.
Karuppur originally had the idea for the event after watching Collins on the show, as he thought it would be feasible to arrange for Collins to participate in an event because of his position at the University. Additionally, he said, he knew Madden lived in the area, and his advisor in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students knew that Meyer was a former contestant on the show.
Karuppur is a former Associate News Editor for the Daily Princetonian.
Originally, a fourth contestant, Princeton Public School teacher Kian Barry, was scheduled to compete, but he was ultimately unable to attend.
Meyer, a former Assistant Director of Admission at the University, said that the event was a nice reminder of the outcome of the work she did in the admissions office.
“Usually, when I’m supporting students, it is to help send them overseas in an internship, or to help fund their research, or to lead them to some great events on campus about Global Health,” she said after the event. “And so it’s a lot of fun for me to talk about a fun thing like Jeopardy!, which has been a great adventure for me over the last couple of years.”
The former contestants gave students an idea of what Jeopardy! is like behind-the-scenes. Meyer said she was surprised about how seriously the show took security. The show is very strict about discussing episodes between filming and airing, and Meyer had to attend an hour-long compliance information session on the matter.
On this same line of strictness, Meyer noted that host Alex Trebek hardly interacts with contestants outside of the show itself due to his prior knowledge of the questions.
“Basically what you see on TV, in terms of his interactions with contestants, is what happens,” Meyer said. “It’s really basically, ‘Hi, nice to meet you,’ take a picture, move down the line.”
Collins explained how contestants would arrive in cohorts of 11 people — the returning champion and 10 others — to compete in five games.
“I found people to be extremely friendly,” he said. “You’re all in this strange, surreal experience together.”
They also spoke about current Jeopardy! champion and University of Illinois alumnus James Holzhauser, who recently noted, “Most people think I went to Princeton or something. But I was never a diligent student.”
Collins said that his colleagues on campus bring up Jeopardy! quite a bit, and that he is currently experiencing a “non-stop barrage of questions” about Holzhauser. Yoni Schoenberg ’19 asked the contestants whether or not they believe Holzhauser is “breaking the game” because of how well he is currently performing, and whether or not they foresee changes being made in response.
Madden said he thinks the show may look into implementing a rule that prevents contestants from actively hunting for the Daily Double clues. Theoretically, he said, the show could prevent contestants from jumping around from category to category, something Madden himself intentionally did during his time on the show.
“The show actively told me, including Trebek and the contestant coordinators, ‘Start at the top of the category and work you way down. Ease into the categories. It’s much better,’” he said. “It might be better for the show’s largely geriatric viewing audience to follow along, but obviously not for me.”
Following the Q&A, Karuppur hosted two live Jeopardy! games. He wrote the University-themed questions for both games himself. The week of the event, Princeton Jeopardy Circuit President Nelson Dimpter ’22 offered to help with logistics, providing seven functional buzzers and an early-2000s classroom Jeopardy! Set.
In both games, Madden, Collins, and Meyer played alongside four graduating seniors.
Jim Palmer ’19, who played in the first game, said the moment he was called down to participate, he suddenly became really focused on the competition. He said, however, that when someone missed a question and a slight pause followed, he would look around and realize who he was competing against.
“It was just kind of a unique thing you wouldn’t get somewhere other than college,” he said.
The first game included clues about University history and alumni, as well as a category about past Lawnparties acts. There was also a “department building” category, which required participants to know where specific academic departments were housed. Rounding out the list was a “course by number” category, in which participants were given course titles and required to respond with course codes, and a miscellaneous category.
In the first game, Madden and Meyer were both eliminated before Final Jeopardy! Both of them hit negative point totals before the final question and were therefore unable to participate. Madden’s confidence deflated early after he missed a question about University grade deflation, guessing that it began in 2005. In reality, the practice began a year earlier.
Collins was the only participant to answer the “Musical Landmarks” Final Jeopardy! correctly, knowing that the instrument housed in Cleveland Tower is a 67-bell carillon. Though he wagered zero points on the answer, he still came out victorious. Matt Ramirez ’19 scored the most points out of the seniors, ending with 400.
The second game included categories about town history, “all things orange,” “Princeton in pop culture,” University sports team coaches, an “Identify the Residential College” category, and a miscellaneous category. All three former contestants made it to the “Princeton Crimes” Final Jeopardy! clue about “The Great Dinky Robbery” of 1963, a prank in which four University students ‘abducted’ four women from the train station.
Of the former contestants, Meyer was the only one to come up with the correct answer and ended with 3,300 points. However, she still could not defeat Corless, who scored 4,600 points, “beat the champions,” and chose first out of a bundle of prizes, eventually opting to take an orange and black suitcase.
Corless said that the game was “not as intimidating as you’d think,” given that all of the categories were University-specific and, unlike Madden, Collins, and Meyer, she currently attends the University.
“I think it was a fun thing for the Class of 2019 to organize, and I enjoyed participating,” she added. “And now I don’t have to buy a suitcase for my future life.”