When you find yourself in ‘Jeopardy!’

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March 19, 2010

2:28 AM

College of William and Mary English professor Colleen Kennedy recently appeared on “Jeopardy!” — but she can’t tell you anything about it. Kennedy is under a strict policy of secrecy concerning the results of her recent appearance until the episode airs in late May.

“I can say very little about what actually happens during the game,” Kennedy said. “We’re sworn to secrecy.”

The secrecy of the show does not detract from the appeal of ‘Jeopardy’ for Kennedy or the other alumni and faculty who have appeared on the show in the past. Erin McGrew Herndon ’92 won $30,000 in 2002, Jeff Spoeri ’87 won over $100,000 in 2006, and Patrick Tucker ’87 won over $100,000 in 2009 along with the title of “College Champion.” But Kennedy can’t release news of her success or other outcomes for a few more weeks.

“No,” Kennedy said, resisting prodding with a big gulp of coffee. She has no problem, however, discussing what attracted her to audition for ‘Jeopardy.’

“I’ve always loved the show since I was a kid and I always wanted to be on it,” Kennedy said. “I never thought about doing it until the online tests came out. Since I didn’t have to go to a major city, I finally tried out.”

The online test was the first round of the application process and was, followed by another monitored handwritten test.

“You play a part of a game and there’s an interview,” Kennedy said. After an interview in Washington, D.C. she was invited onto the show.

Kennedy wasn’t reimbursed for travel costs to the Los Angeles studios.

“Third place pays $1,000, second $2,000 and the winner gets what they earn each game, so in that sense they reimburse,” she said. “And they get you a great rate at a very nice hotel.”

The contestants weren’t in constant competition. “We hung out at night,” Kennedy said. She even exchanged pictures from the filming days with the others by e-mail.

Taped Feb. 9 and 10, her students might have expected a break from classes, but Kennedy arranged things differently.

“Well, [classes] weren’t exactly cancelled,” she said. “I team teach one class, so the other professor took over for that day, and the other I had them watch a film.”

Kennedy’s teaching and research interests include the intersection of film and literature, but she said this did not directly help her in answering ‘Jeopardy’ questions — not that she is allowed to give away any information about the questions.

“As a professor, I like to play Trivial Pursuit with my friends, which helped, but not my research,” Kennedy said.

To prepare for her appearance, Kennedy didn’t study or read anything in particular other than the New York Times and the “New York Almanac.”

“You have to be as aware as you can about a broad array of categories, about who’s married to whom — just as much as politics,” Kennedy said. “But you can’t say one thing was a huge help. It wasn’t like ‘Oh, thank God I read it.’”

Despite her preparation, Kennedy said she became increasingly nervous as the day of filming approached.
“When I got the call [to come film the shows] I was very excited,” she said. “When I got on the plane, I became scared. Then when I was in the studio, I was terrified. It hits home that you might make a complete idiot of yourself on national television.”

Kennedy will appear on ABC when the episode or episodes in which she participated air between May 24 and June 4. Kennedy said these dates shouldn’t provide any hints.

As for the overall experience of being a contestant on the show, Kennedy had only the best to say about the ‘Jeopardy’ experience.

“Of course I recommend [‘Jeopardy’] to anyone who wants to try,” she said.

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