I Asked the Most Recent Winner of the 'Jeopardy!' Tournament of Champions for Audition Advice

Alex Jacob is my all-time favorite contestant, and he was cool enough to answer my questions before I take the online test next week.
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Publish date:
January 22, 2016
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interviews, tv shows, trivia, gameshow, Jeopardy

If I'm home at 7 p.m., I'm watching Jeopardy!. I've previously lived in areas where Jeopardy! comes on at 7:30, after Wheel of Fortune instead of before like it does here in New York, which makes so much more sense to me because that programming order feels like an intellectual ascension as opposed to abruptly falling off a brain cliff.

Anyway, like most people who watch Jeopardy!, I play along. I do pretty well from the couch — enough so that I've impressed witnesses and inspired more than a few "You should try out" comments.

I'm no numbskull, but as sharp as my trivia skills are, I don't know if I'm contestant material. I've known four people who've been contestants — two comedic actors, a middle-school librarian, and my junior-year AP English teacher — all of whom I knew were super-smart just from personal interaction, but none of whom wore their brainiac-ness on their sleeves.

Maybe you don't have to walk down the street mumbling equations to yourself to be the type of person who can make it on Jeopardy!, I've started thinking.

So, I've registered to take the online audition test next week. Perhaps some of you have, too. And why not, right? The worst that could happen is that we've wasted a half-hour on a challenging online trivia quiz; but on the other hand, it could lead to finding ourselves behind podiums, clickers in hand, raking in thousands of dollars.

To feel as prepared as possible for the online test, I reached out to Alex Jacob, the most recent winner of the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, for advice and to fangirl out at him a little bit, because he's my favorite contestant ever. His deadpan demeanor! His quiet confidence! His hair!

Check out some of his great moments from the tournament. (I actually shouted in level-10-weirdo joy at several of these moments when the games originally aired.)

Here's what the the 31-year-old former pro poker player told me.

MARCI: Is it actually helpful to study for the test? There are so many possible topics. Where do you even begin?

ALEX: Sure, but in my experience, getting better is a gradual process. You're probably not going to dramatically increase your score by cramming the night before. If you're in it for the long haul, you could start with capitals and Presidents, but Shakespeare, opera, art, and history are all important, too, and I could go on and on. So yeah, it's a lot, but just keep learning. If you don't make it, there's always next year.

If you don’t know the answer to one of the online questions, should you still take a guess? If I answer “To get to the other side,” on all the ones I don’t know, will I get points for having an awesome sense of humor?

Yes, you should take a guess, because there's no penalty for guessing. I doubt that a human will be grading your test, so no, I wouldn't count on any humor points.

Do you think some people have figured out a way to cheat on the online test?

Yes, I'm sure there are people who Google answers or have someone else help them with answers. However, if you cheat, you're just setting yourself up to be embarrassed when you fail the similar test at the audition.

What other advice would you give to someone planning to take the online test?

After you type your answer, just let your time run out before going to the next question, rather than pressing enter. This is just a small thing, but I think your brain can use any extra time you have to relax, and it's also nice to get into a steady rhythm with a new question coming every 15 seconds.

After you found out your test had gotten you to the next level, what was the rest of the audition process like?

After the audition test I mentioned, they call everybody up in groups of three to play a partial mock game and interview. I don't think it matters how well you do in terms of questions and answers. They want people who can follow the rules of the game, speak loudly and clearly, have interesting stories, and don't look like they are going to completely freeze up on stage.

Is being on the show TERRIFYING?

I'd already had experience being under pressure on TV before, but even so, it was scary. I realized how quickly it could all be over, and I knew that if I lost, I'd never get another chance to play.

You are legitimately my favorite Jeopardy! contestant of all time, and I was even late for a date with my boyfriend just to see you kick that one guy Matt's ass in the tournament of champions. Have you found that you have “fans” now?

Yes! When I started my Twitter account @whoisalexjacob I never imagined that I'd receive so many nice messages. It's been really cool.

Other than buttloads of money, what’s been the best thing about your success on Jeopardy!?

Probably just the personal satisfaction of putting time and effort towards achieving a goal and getting it done.

What’s the worst? (A past contestant wrote an article for xoJane about how people on Twitter boob-shamed her. Rude, right?)

Well, I don't want to say "worst" because I don't really let any of it bother me, but I definitely saw some people online who didn't care for me much. But my philosophy was to have fun with it. I mean, when you break it down, it's pretty funny how passionate people can be about the contestants on the show. Here are some tweets:

https://twitter.com/winchesterpayne/status/587766608728174592

https://twitter.com/NastyKash/status/588532832537980928

Gosh, I can't imagine what it's like to have a few people on the internet talk about disliking me... *blink* *blink* ANYWAY, anything else you’d like to tell us about what a potential Jeopardy! contestant could expect?

On tape day, there is a break for lunch after the third game for those who are still playing or haven't played yet. There are a lot of tasty choices in the Sony commissary, but I recommend eating light; you don't want to be getting sluggish when you have to go out and play. This is something that I took from the dinner break at poker tournaments, but like most things, your mileage may vary.

OK, LET'S DO THIS! Are any of you taking the Jeopardy! online audition text next week?