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Who is: alumna on television trivia show?

January 10, 2011

jeopardyJust another way a well-rounded liberal-arts education comes in handy? Television trivia shows. An episode of ever-popular quiz show Jeopardy! last week featured Melissa Smith Nilles’05, pictured here. Though she came in second, Nilles loved the experience, describing it as “kinda surreal” to her local newspaper. (Nilles lives and works in Kapolei, Hawaii, in the office of state Rep. Sharon Har.)

“Alex is just as Alex-y as he is on TV, if that makes sense,” Nilles said. Below, she talks to the Terrarium about her experience.


Terrarium: What made you decide to try out to be contestant?
Melissa Smith Nilles’05: Going back to my days on my junior high scholastic bowl team, I have always loved watching Jeopardy! and all trivia games. (At Beloit, I continued to hone my skills with the trivia games at the Pitcher’s Mound on Friday nights during senior year!) After having to sit through many episodes of me screaming out answers at the TV, my then-boyfriend, now-husband, encouraged me to take the online test that all prospective contestants take in early 2009.

T: What sort of process did you have to go through to get on the show?
MSN: The online test, which is given at a certain time, I think once or twice a year, is 50 questions and timed. Jeopardy! doesn’t say what you have to get to ‘pass,’ but it's apparently at least 35 right.

After that, they contacted me a few months later to see if I could attend an in-person audition in Washington, DC, where I was living at the time. There were probably about 30 people at this audition, which consisted of another 50-question timed test and a mock game, including the interview section, where you have to come up with something interesting to talk to Alex about. After that, it was just waiting for a phone call, which was not guaranteed. I was lucky enough to be invited this September to fly out from Hawaii to do the show.

T: What was the actual taping like?
MSN: I went to L.A. in late September to do the taping. It was definitely surreal to be on the actual Jeopardy set and to meet Alex Trebek. You go in with about 11 or 12 other people and get briefed by the producers and do a few practice rounds to get comfortable (as is possible) on the buzzers. Then you just wait through the other shows that tape until you're called to get up there and actually play. It goes by so quickly, not much longer than an actual show on TV, and you can definitely tell the importance of being fast on the buzzer and not getting too nervous under the studio lights and in front of the audience (and Alex). It was over before I knew it. I definitely was beat on a lot of questions, and blanked on many others, but overall I was pretty pleased with my performance, finishing in the black and not missing anything really embarrassing (like losing on a Final Jeopardy on small Midwestern liberal arts colleges or something else I should know plenty about)!