Julia Marsan (COL ’17), a classical languages major, will appear next week on “Jeopardy!” — alongside 14 other contestants from universities across the United States and host Alex Trebek.
Marsan traveled to Los Angeles, Calif. for two days of filming after an almost five-month-long process to appear on the game show. The process involved an online test, a screen test in New York City and an in-person trivia test.
In an interview with The Hoya, Marsan discussed preparing for a trivia show, the experience of meeting Alex Trebek and the role trivia can play in educating young people.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was it like being on a game show?
It was so cool to be on the Sony set. I did see Channing Tatum, that was my big star moment. It was like “Oh my god,” because he has an office on the Sony lot. And it was really cool, you don’t actually get to hang out a lot with Trebek because he knows all the answers to the questions, so he’s not allowed to interact with the contestants when he’s not actually filming. But we did get to see him pull up and he drives a pickup truck. And he dresses like an old grandpa. He wears high-waist denim jeans and T-shirts with various alcohol company logos on them. He’s super, like, a handy guy. Then he changes into the suit and he has this aura of being Alex Trebek, who knows all the answers, and he has this aura of intelligence that he just projects when he’s actually on camera. But off camera he’s very down to earth.
What about trivia is so appealing to you?
I love the validation of knowing when you get the question right. I love learning things, I always have, and getting the chance to kind of show off a little bit what you’ve learned is the major appeal of wanting to be on something like Jeopardy.
How do you prepare?
I just watched a whole lot of old Jeopardy episodes. There’s a light that comes on whenever Trebek finishes a sentence and that’s when you’re allowed to buzz in, so what I did was I just watched a whole lot of episodes and clicked a pen in my hand every time Trebek finished a sentence so I would be prepared. Because at that point, once you get up there it’s not about whether you know the answer to a question or not, because most of the time you do know the answer to the question, it’s more about who buzzes in first.
Can you think of how many episodes you watched?
I was watching like three or four episodes a day for several weeks, most of Christmas break I think I spent watching old Jeopardy episodes, which are mostly on YouTube.
What about the “Jeopardy!” format appeals to you?
I would say the categories are what appeal to me the most. Getting the categories at the beginning of the game and getting to kind of choose for yourself which questions you can and cannot answer. Because there will be categories that you know you’re really good at, like for me that was literature, or reality television, mythology, things that are my specialties, and getting the chance to say, “Okay if I can answer this question I’ll get to answer a question I know I’m going to get right,” and I think that’s what really appealed to me as opposed to just having to answer the questions in order, being able to choose from different categories is probably the big appeal I would say.
Did going to Georgetown prepare you at all for being on a game show?
Just going to class gets me prepared honestly. Because I do learn so much from my major, which helps a lot, I’m a classical languages major, and classics is so underrated, I would say, in terms of how much it helps you with trivia. Because in all my classes I learn things about history and literature and arts and culture, that generally just helps me in all different areas of study.
Do you see any day-to-day life applications for trivia besides “Jeopardy!”?
I’m teaching next year in the Milwaukee area. I’m going to be working as a teacher’s aide at a school in Milwaukee, which is where my family lives. But I would say for me it’s not so much about the act of playing the games of trivia, but more about learning fun facts, which is something I’ve always really loved. I’ve always been the kind of person who tells you what is on my Snapple cap. You know, “Hey, did you know that a gold wire can be stretched 50 feet wide from one ounce of gold?” Just little things like that, silly things. I love sharing that, and I honestly think that learning things in the format of trivia helps you remember them, especially when you answer a question correctly in trivia. Because it gives you a sense of pride in knowing the answer to that question, I think it helps it stick in your memory. I think that’s why trivia games are so much fun to play in classrooms with younger children, because they get such a kick out of not only the competitive nature of trivia games, but also the pride that they take in getting to learn things that are different besides than just through a written test.
Is “Jeopardy!” your favorite game show?
I mean, it is now! There were some people at the Jeopardy games who were like “Oh, I’ve been watching Jeopardy every day since I was in middle school,” and I was not one of those people. I didn’t know that much about how to bet or what the format of the game was, but it is definitely now my favorite game show because I’ve been on it and I won money.
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