Jeopardy! At UVA

Taylor Elicegui ‘20
Features Editor

Are you tired of always pulling the team on your back during bar trivia? Do you feel like you are destined for greater things than simply using your knowledge of random facts to win gift cards at local breweries? Although I am useless at bar trivia and highly doubt I am destined for trivia glory, I recently sat down with Ruth Payne, Director of Clerkships, Matt Hoffer-Hawlik ’21, and Alex Caton ’21 to discuss their Jeopardy! experiences and gather some tips from the pros. 

Caton tried out for Jeopardy! in September and is waiting for the official invitation to be on the show. Caton decided to try out because, although he doesn’t watch Jeopardy! that often, he gets sucked in and ends up yelling at the TV whenever he stumbles upon the show. After passing the online quiz (to audition, first you have to pass on online quiz given once a year,1 compete in an in-person audition, and then get lucky and be selected from the potential contestant pool), Caton drove up to Philadelphia for the in-person audition. Caton accidentally went to the wrong hotel and ended up having to sprint to the correct hotel a half-mile away. Luckily, Caton made it and completed a written quiz, interview, and played a mock game. He played with some characters, including a “jaded” professor who makes crossword puzzles, a PhD student in a cover band called The Footnotes, and a software programmer who designs software for Amish farmers. Caton hasn’t done much preparation yet but will start if he gets the official call. Fingers crossed he hears good news soon! 

Payne appeared on Jeopardy! in an episode that aired this summer and got third place. This was Payne’s second time reaching the in-person tryout phase. After completing the in-person audition in March, which she thought went well, Payne forgot about the audition and never expected to hear from Jeopardy! again. To her surprise and excitement, Payne received a call from Jeopardy! the following January, asking her to fly out to Los Angeles in February to tape an episode. Taping occurred during Payne’s busiest time of year, which limited her prep time, but Payne drew on her high school and college Quiz Bowl experience. Payne tried to study for an hour per night and focused on her weaker categories like pop culture and sports. Her daughter made a pop culture Quizlet to help. 

Payne had a great game. The show starts with the contestants’ stories, and show host Alex Trebek, a sucker for romance, was a big fan of Payne’s story—she and her husband are high school sweethearts who went to college on opposite sides of the country, so her husband wrote her a letter every single day. During the game, Payne only got two questions wrong. She told me her strategy was to buzz in only when she knew the answer. Payne also told me she was surprised at the random things she knew, including the original inventor of the infomercial (the category was called “Birth of a Salesman”). It paid off, and Payne went into Final Jeopardy with $14,000. The Final Jeopardy question was: “Researchers in London & Vienna now speculate that his 1791 death was due to a strep infection, not poisoning.” Payne knew she could only win if she got the question right, and the contestant in first place missed it. Unfortunately, Payne wrote down the right answer (Mozart) but crossed it out and replaced it with the wrong answer. She told me Trebek made fun of her after the show, telling her she should always trust her gut with trivia questions. 

Hoffer-Hawlik won Jeopardy! in July 2016. Hoffer-Hawlik always loved Jeopardy! and has watched for as long as he can remember. After taking the online quiz three times, he made it to the in-person audition and got into the contestant pool. After getting the call and being asked to come on the show, Hoffer-Hawlik also began preparing and focusing on his weakest categories—for example, 70s/80s pop culture. He also made a spreadsheet of questions from the Jeopardy! archive and tried to look for trends in the questions to have a better idea of what to expect. Like Payne, Hoffer-Hawlik also benefitted from his high school and college Quiz Bowl background. 

Hoffer-Hawlik won the first day of Jeopardy! and then lost the second. Hoffer-Hawlik’s categories included Good & Bad Investments and My Name is Symbolic (singers with $#!@ symbols in their names—P!nk, Ke$ha, A$ap Rocky). Hoffer-Hawlik enjoyed meeting Trebek, a fellow music lover, and was impressed by how many answers Trebek knew. Hoffer-Hawlik also enjoyed the access to the network of Jeopardy! Alumni that helped him get ready for the show. He hopes to do the same for contestants in the future.  

So, if you’re a trivia buff hoping to get on the show, sign up for the online quiz! It only happens once a year, so until then, watch the show and enjoy some bar trivia around Charlottesville (if you Google “bar trivia in Charlottesville,” you can find a different place to play every night of the week). Until then, test your Jeopardy! knowledge with the five questions below answered correctly by our local Jeopardy! experts while on the show.2 


  1.  Burning Love Songs: Robby Krieger wrote most of this 1967 classic, but that “mire”/“pyre” rhyme is pure Morrison.3 

  2. Clothing in the Middle Ages: A baldric was a wide, decorative belt worn diagonally across the chest to carry one of these at the hip.4 

  3. 3-Letter Words With Only 2 Vowels: It’s a synonym for color, or a shade of color.5 

  4. Canadian Prime Ministers: During Joe Clark’s tenure (1979-80), 6 Americans trapped in this country were able to escape using fake Canadian papers.6 

  5. Final Jeopardy: Brought to our attention by a 1984 film, this Italian had success with the 1780s operas “Tarare” & “Les danaides.”7 

1 No one knows how many correct answers you need to move on to the next round. All three Jeopardy! pros gave me different guesses. 
2 All questions and answers come from J! Archive. 
3 What is “Light My Fire,” answered correctly by Payne. 
4 What is “a sword,” answered correctly by Payne. 
5 What is “hue,” answered correctly by Hoffer-Hawlik. 
6 What is “Iran,” answered correctly by Hoffer-Hawlik. 
7 Who is “Antoni Salieri,” answered correctly by Hoffer-Hawlik.