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 Stories for April 1, 1998:

Fast Facts Are Foremost as “Jeopardy!” Comes to Campus

by Tamara Keith, Student Contributor
posted Apr. 1, 1998

The popular TV game show “Jeopardy!” took to the road and landed in Berkeley. The College Championship episodes, which are set to run during the first two weeks of May, were taped in front of a live audience in Zellerbach Auditorium March 21 and 22.

Although Berkeley was not the producer’s first choice, Alex Trebec, the show’s host, said he was pleased when he found out about the shooting location.

“I was very excited,” said Trebec. “Berkeley is one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. There is a love of learning here. It makes us feel comfortable.”

Orchestrating this battle of the brains began well over a month ago with a nationwide contestant search. When staffers from San Francisco’s KGO-TV, the North Bay ABC affiliate, brought their search for contestants to the Berkeley campus, more than 800 students applied to be on the show. From that group 30 students were randomly selected to join 120 others from the University of San Francisco, Santa Clara University, San Jose State and Stanford to take the Jeopardy contestant test.

Peter Fiske, a Berkeley student, was pleasantly surprised by the invitation to take the test.

“I figured it was a long shot,” said Fiske. “I feel like I’ve been riding on a wave of luck. I just hope it will continue to the next level.”

Fiske’s luck didn’t last, but 13 other students who scored 75 percent or higher on the test went on to have auditions. At this level, students played an abbreviated mock game, which was followed by a brief interview. The final TV contestants were chosen from this group.

Contestant Search Coordinator Susanne Thurber said that at this level it is difficult to choose between such comparably talented students.

“Deciding is especially difficult on the (college) tournament because we have so many wonderful people to choose from,” said Thurber. “We had probably four times as many people who didn’t get in but who would have been good. The contestants (we chose) were bright, they passed the test, they played well and they just had that spark.”

Berkeley senior Catherine Landers was one of the students selected to participate in the TV tournament.

“I’m not what you’d call a ‘super-student,’” said Landers before the competition. “I have a B average, but I think my studies abroad and in Washington, D.C., will prove valuable in the Jeopardy competition.”

When Landers took the stage, a large cheering section of her friends yelled out “Go Catherine!” from the top tier of the Zellerbach balcony. She clearly had the hometown advantage when dealing with categories such as relatively simple physics, Guiness records, it followed me home, what’s for breakfast, the dreaded opera category and MTV.

According to the show’s head writer, Gary Johnson, although the questions may be more hip than those on “adult” Jeopardy, the level of difficulty remains the same.

“In terms of the difficulty, there is no difference whatsoever,” said Johnson. “In terms of the subject matter, there might be some difference. It’s in the material, the types of categories that we’ll ask kids that we are not as likely to ask the grown-ups.”

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