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The Indy interviews College Jeopardy! Contestant Julia Clark

Clark with Alex Trebek
Clark with Alex Trebek

Julia Clark ‘14 never thought of herself as an athlete. Caustic, quick, and short, her
competitions took place mainly off the court. As a debater, she’s studied political, economic, and
moral philosophy. As an aspiring scientist, she investigates the dynamics and history of
epidemics. As a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (the empty part of Canada), prairie
vegetation and hockey are ingrained in her mind. Some of this may seem inconsequential, but
only the trivial could have prepared her for the biggest competition of her life: College
Jeopardy!

Clark was one of 15 finalists for this year’s Jeopardy! College Tournament, all vying for
the grand prize of $100,000 and a guaranteed spot in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.
The Indy sat down with Clark to get an insider’s view on preparation, gameplay, and, naturally,
Trebek.

Indy: Let’s get the most important question out of the way: what’s he like?
Julia Clark: Beautiful man (laughter). No, he’s an interesting guy. During the commercial breaks
he takes questions from the audience, and I think the most memorable I heard someone ask was,
“Who would win in a fight between you, Bob Barker, and Pat Sajak?” He confirmed that he
thought he would win, and I believe him. So that’s all you really need to know.

Indy: How long have you wanted to be on Jeopardy!? Would you be willing to go so far as to say
this is a dream come true?
JC: I would indeed go so far as to say that. I think I wanted to sincerely be on Jeopardy! when I
was about ten. I remember one time I was watching the show with my grandmother. I told her I
wanted to be on the show, but I wasn’t sure if they let Canadians be on the show. So she
facilitated me writing an impassioned letter to the Jeopardy! staff imploring them to please allow
Canadians into the kids’ tournament. I don’t think the letter was ever sent. But I bided my time.

Indy: What’s the process for getting on the show?
JC: The first thing you have to do is take a 50 question online test. I took that test for the first
time my freshman year and didn’t hear back from them that time. I took the test again my
sophomore year, and I got an in person audition, which is another 50 question test and a mock
game. I didn’t hear anything after that. This time, I took the online test in March, had a callback
audition in April, and then got the call that they wanted me on the show in late November.
From what I’ve been told, about 12-15 thousand people take the online test, they invite
about 300 for auditions, and 15 people end up on the show.

Indy: Those are some impressive odds; congratulations.
JC: I feel really lucky to have been in the tournament at all. My family has been really
supportive, and my friends put up with all the nonstop trivia talk. I’ve had a lot of great mentors
over the years who have taught me and have been very helpful, so I’m very thankful for that.
Indy: How did you choose what to study? And when did you start?JC: There’s a real canon of Jeopardy! theory and literature online that’s supposed to try and tell you what things are staple questions. Things that come up a lot are state and world capitals, US
Presidents, Shakespeare, and the Bible. I put a lot of time into getting those basics down as much
as possible. After that, I spent time filling in what might be gaps for me personally, like
American history and literature. And in terms of studying strategy, I just made a lot of flashcards.
I also went online, where people with even less of a life than I have compiled Jeopardy!
archives.

Indy: Can you describe how the tournament is structured?
JC: There are 15 people in the tournament overall. Any two week tournament has the same basic
structure. The first week hosts the quarterfinals. The five winners of the quarterfinals
automatically advance to semifinals. Additionally, the four highest scoring non-winners also
advance to the semifinals as wild cards. In the semifinals, there are three games. The winners of
each of those shows advance to the two-day long final. The person with the highest cumulative
score over those two games gets the championship.

Indy: Which schools are competing?
JC: Temple, UDelaware, University of Oklahoma, UChicago, UCLA, Duke, Oakwood
University, Princeton, UC Berkeley, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Ohio State, Middlebury, and Ball
State. And, you know, Harvard.

Indy: Do you feel that being a Harvard student helped at all, either in your preparation and/or
gameplay?
JC: I don’t know. Not really; only in so far as that having a liberal arts education helps you to
know more things. I don’t think I had any other particular advantage or disadvantage.

Indy: With a lot of negative press coming out about Harvard in the last few years, on top of the
general awkwardness we’re all familiar with, did you feel that there was any additional pressure
for you to perform well as a representative of the College?
JC: There is some pressure coming from a larger brand name school, and there are also some
people who want to root against you to see a sort of “underdog” school win. At least, that’s what
I thought going in. I didn’t experience that at the tournament, where everyone was really nice to
each other. Harvard actually has a pretty terrible record in this tournament; we’ve never won.
We’ve come second a couple times, and as I understand, it’s been more than a decade since
someone advanced out of the quarterfinals. So that helped keep the pressure off a bit.

Indy: Which category were you most hoping to have in your game (witty title and all, please)?
JC: What I told the Jeopardy! people when they asked me was “Diseases of the World,” because
I love geography and am also very interested in medicine. Realistically, my favorite categories
are probably the wordplay ones like Rhyme Time and Before and After. So maybe something
like “Disease World Capitals Before and After,” in the unlikely case something that specific ever
came up.

Indy: What about Final Jeopardy?
JC: I was hoping for something about geography, because I think that’s one of my stronger areas,
especially compared to some other people who tend to see that as pure trivia, so they don’t end up studying it as much. I think it’s one of those things you actually have to put effort into
learning about rather than just picking it up.

Indy: You’ve been watching the tournament air the last few nights; what category have you seen
that you wish you’d had?
JC: There was a classical music category that I really would have wanted. And there was a
category about sports on Tuesday that I knew all the answers to, which was very surprising
(sports are not my strongest area).

Indy: There’s more to this than the glory of trivia, correct? What are you going to do with the
money you won?
JC: Every quarterfinalist wins at least $5,000. Semifinalists win at least $10,000. Third place is
$25,000, second place is $50,000, and the grand prize is $100,000. I’m not allowed to disclose
how I performed until my rounds air. But in any case, I will give a decent amount to charity,
probably something health related. I’m graduating and would like to do some traveling over the
summer, so some will go towards that. Anything left over will go into furnishing my apartment
next year; I’m going to buy the biggest TV I can find (so I can watch Alex Trebek in HD).

Indy: How do you come down from a high like that? Do you feel you’ve peaked, both as an
intellectual and a person?
JC: Yeah, I think it’s over.

You can watch Clark’s quarterfinal against A&M and Vanderbilt tonight at 7:30 on CBS.
The Indy wants to remind Yale that, no matter how Harvard performs, the Bulldogs weren’t even
in the running this year. #YuckFale