March 24, 2020
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“What is the Sydney Opera House?” That’s the question that won former Kenyon quiz bowl member Gabe Brison-Trezise ’16 $22,400 on “Jeopardy!” last week, when he beat 19-time champion Jason Zuffranieri, one of the most-winning contestants in the history of the long-running game show.
A political science major at Kenyon, Brison-Trezise now lives in Washington, D.C., where he works as an educational researcher for a nonprofit organization. We spoke to him about his experience on the show.
How did you become a contestant on “Jeopardy!”?
I’d auditioned for “Jeopardy!” a couple times before. Occasionally the show administers an online test, which serves as the main entry point for the general public. I apparently did well enough on the test to earn a spot at an in-person audition in New York City. They told us we’d remain in their applicant pool for 18 months, after which we could take the next online test. After a year elapsed, I figured I hadn’t made the cut, but then I got the call earlier this summer.
I had a few weeks to arrange my travel to Los Angeles. A Kenyon friend [Andrew Stewart ’15] put me up in LA, as another [John Nahra ’16] had in New York when I auditioned. I met Andrew through the quiz bowl team and John through the Chasers. Both were gracious hosts and made the whole “Jeopardy!” experience possible. As far as I’m concerned, Kenyon’s greatest asset is its people.
How did it feel to defeat one of the top “Jeopardy!” champions of all time, especially in such a dramatic, last-minute upset?
It was gratifying to bet it all in Final Jeopardy [in the category “World Landmarks”] and reason my way to the right answer. Fortunately for me neither of my opponents figured it out, but with more time perhaps they would have. I could easily have taken a different mental turn, put down the wrong answer, and been left with $0.
I didn’t get much of an opportunity to process my win. I changed shirts, then returned to the stage to compete in the fifth and final game to be taped that day. Kudos to Laurel Lathrop for her sharp play and ultimate victory.
Is there a trick to doing well on “Jeopardy!”?
There’s no single trick to succeeding on the show, and multi-game winners may have better advice to give. The contestant coordinators encourage you to study subjects with which you’re less familiar, because the show’s diverse categories reward those with diverse knowledge. I read up on mythology, the Bible and TV shows especially. I reviewed lots of past games and noted how I fared at different clue tiers and on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy. I tended to do well on Daily Doubles and consequently felt more comfortable betting big when I hit one on the show.
The buzzer, or “signaling device,” was hard to master. I buzzed early a number of times and locked myself out, and buzzed late even more often.
Did your experience at Kenyon help prepare you for the show?
Working on the Collegian and competing with the quiz bowl team certainly helped prepare me for the show, however indirectly. Both pursuits nurtured my curiosity. Quiz bowl broadened my knowledge of core academic subjects. I did it — and do it — mainly for the fun and camaraderie, but it had the ancillary benefit of teaching me things I never learned in class.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.