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W&M professor, grad student appear on 'Jeopardy!'

  • Who is Kennedy?
    Who is Kennedy?  On May 26, Kennedy, an English professor at the College specializing in contemporary literature and film, will be one of three contestants on the game show "Jeopardy!" to be aired on local ABC channels.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Patrick Tucker
    Patrick Tucker  Graduate student Patrick Tucker MPP '11 appeared on "Jeopardy!" May 10.  
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Ever wondered what it would feel like to be under the spotlight, answering questions posed by Alex Trebek? William & Mary professor Colleen Kennedy and grad student Patrick Tucker MPP '11 might be able to give you a few tips for the road. After all, the two recently took the stage to compete in a round of "Jeopardy!" themselves.

Kennedy, an associate professor of English at the College, tried her hand on a round of Jeopardy! for the first time earlier this year. Kennedy's show, a regular round of the hit game show, aired May 26. She finished in second with an impressive final total of $15,800.

"I've always loved the show since I was a kid and Art Fleming was the host," Kennedy said. "When they started doing the online tests, I decided to try."

Kennedy isn't the only member of the William & Mary community to appear on the show this spring.

Tucker, a public policy graduate student, just finished competing in the popular gameshow's "Tournament of Champions," which aired May 10. He received a bid into the tournament after being crowned the Jeopardy! College Champion last year while attending the University of Notre Dame. While Tucker did not advance past the first round of the champions tournament, he said it has been a great experience to take part in Jeopardy! -- not to mention the more than $100,000 he won last year during his appearance on the gameshow as part of the College-level tournament.

"I've always cared deeply about trivial things," Tucker said. "I think not being very good at anything in particular leads one to a fascination of useless knowledge. As such, I've enjoyed the show and had tried out three or four times before. It wasn't until my last audition that I thought I might have a chance at being picked."

Contestants for the show are chosen through a double questionnaire process in which applicants are repeatedly tested on random material that may be asked during the show. Kennedy first took the test last winter.

"It's 50 questions, general knowledge, and timed," Kennedy said. "I thought it was fairly difficult, but I did well enough that they emailed me in March and asked me to attend their in-person interviews in D.C."

In May and the second round of interviews, Kennedy said that she was subjected yet again to various mock questions and game sessions. This January, she was informed that she would be participating in a taping of an actual round in Los Angeles to be aired on network television.

"It was long enough between May and January that I figured I didn't make it," Kennedy said. "So I was elated when they did call. But after I sat down and thought about it for a moment, I was terrified."

Kennedy said she was most terrified about not being able to answer questions about film or literature, questions she should be a specialist in. But the presence of family in the audience offering encouragement, she said, helped her to regain her footing.
"My mom, two of my sisters, and one of my brothers came to the taping with me," Kennedy said. "So it helped to have some loved ones with me for encouragement."

Meeting Alex Trebek, Kennedy said, was also an interesting experience.

"It was fun to meet him," Kennedy said. "He struck me in person as being very much like he is on the show, charming but cool."

In the end, she said that learning all the answers and gaining additional knowledge to questions she didn't know was one of the pros of competing in the competition.

This is not the first time students and faculty from the College of William and Mary appeared on the game show. In 2002, Erin McGrew Herndon '92 won $30,000 and in 2006, Jeff Spoeri '87 won over $100,000.

Jeopardy! is a game show in which contestants are shown five answers of varying difficulties and must come up with a question response. There are five different dollar amounts in six categories and contestants must earn the most money by the end of the show. At the end, the contestant that has the highest amount of money wins the round and continues to compete again the next day.

For more information, check out the Facebook event that Kennedy's fans have created.