Texas Tech University

Texas Tech Doctoral Student Appears on 'Jeopardy!'

Matthew Matherly

February 24, 2015

Jennifer Harris shows what it takes to be a 'Jeopardy!' contestant.

Jennifer Harris
Harris recorded her Jeopardy! appearance in November.

Jennifer Harris got the call from “Jeopardy!” headquarters in October. She was given a date, a hotel and told what to wear.

Harris, a human development and family studies doctoral student in the College of Human Sciences at Texas Tech University, appeared on an episode of the popular game show that aired in December. She finished second, losing to the four-time returning champ and winning $2,000, but Harris valued her time and  experience with the show.

“I didn't win, but it was still a lot of fun,” she said. “I got to be on TV, bring my family out to California and play on a show that I've watched since I was little. Being on that set, getting to know the other contestants and being able to watch the show and know I was there is the coolest part of everything.”

In January 2014 Harris took an online test to determine her eligibility to be on the show. She had 50 minutes to answer 60 questions, and her acceptance was based on the speed and accuracy of her answers. In March she got a call from the show's headquarters in Los Angeles asking if she would be interested in an in-person interview.

“The first interview was in Raleigh, North Carolina,” she said. “I have family there, so I said, 'yeah, that sounds good.'”

The in-person interview is a series of tests, including general knowledge, camera appeal and the contestant's ability to work under pressure such as using the buzzer or working in a time crunch. After the interview Harris was told she would hear from the show in 18 months and if after that time she hadn't received a call she could reapply. In October Harris got the call and was told her recording would be in November.

Preparing to compete on “Jeopardy!” wasn't easy. From the time she was told she would be on the show to the recording, Harris had only four weeks. With the myriad of topics and questions that can be asked, studying for the show was time-consuming.

“I didn't prepare all that much,” she said. “It's hard because you don't know what clues are going to come up. I just bought some books about things I knew came up often – presidents, Greek mythology and Shakespeare. Studying was difficult because I was taking some intense courses and last semester was my first semester teaching.”

Jennifer Harris
Harris is working on a study involving children's reactions to becoming siblings.

Harris' busy schedule prevented her from setting aside much time for preparation. As a doctoral candidate she has been working with her adviser on a study involving children's reactions to becoming siblings, she recently started teaching and she has heavy coursework, but having watched the show since she was a child meant she didn't have much studying to do. Harris was ready for a wide variety of questions with only a few outliers about which she wasn't quite sure.

“Getting the order of the U.S. presidents was hard, and I was never big on Shakespeare except in high school,” she said. “I knew those were common topics so I just made a couple flash cards, but that was it.”

Having prepared for questions, Harris readied herself to go to LA. She said her only real trouble came from deciding what to wear.

“They give very strict guidelines for what to wear,” she said. “No patterns, no light colors and no blue, or else you won't look good on TV. That was the only part of the process that was an inconvenience for me, everything else was just exciting. I booked a room in Los Angeles the night before the recording. The morning of, I met up with the other contestants; we got on a bus and headed to the studio.”

Once there, Harris was put into make-up, given a practice round and began the waiting game.

“They do a whole week of filming in a day, so five games in about as many hours. They put our names on a flash card and drew a couple out of the stack and that was who played in that game. They picked two for Monday, Tuesday and then Wednesday and that was my day.”

Harris played well, but lost to Vaughn Winchell who went on to become a five-day champion. While much of the knowledge she gained isn't transferable to her day-to-day life as a doctoral candidate, Harris is confident the effort and time she put into the show was worth it.

“For me it was all about the experience. I didn't win, but it was still incredible to be able to go to LA, be on TV and share the moment with my family.”

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