Kristin Donegan, 'Jeopardy' major

Kristin Donegan is a senior biology major at Carnegie Mellon and perhaps a future Jeopardy hall-of-famer. She has been scouted onto College Jeopardy and will be facing five other talented college students on Tuesday, Feb. 15. You can join other Carnegie Mellon students at the watch party in McConomy Auditorium starting at 8 p.m. and have a chance to ask her some questions afterward. I decided to get a head start on those questions, which you can read here.

The Tartan: Why did you want to go on college Jeopardy?
Kristin: Being on "Jeopardy" has been a dream for pretty much all of my life. Back in high school, I'd watch "Jeopardy" every single day with my parents and my sister. In college, I stopped watching as much, but I was still just as interested in the show. I was just busy with classes. But I got back into it when there were a lot of recent big champions on "Jeopardy." I've also been trying out for the show since high school pretty consistently. And then this year, I finally got in.
TT: Who's your favorite "Jeopardy" player?
K: I have to say Amy, especially given that she just had her amazing run. It was really great to just watch her. She actually started her run the week before we filmed so me and my fellow contestants were all kind of crowded around my laptop. All with our pens to practice buzzing watching Amy go.
TT: Do you have to practice a lot to prepare?
K: Yeah, I have been doing trivia casually, like when I'm home in Maryland, I go to bar trivia with my parents. But once I got the call to appear on the show, I started studying a lot more, pretty much from early October to filming, which was halfway through November. Every single moment of free time I had, I was spending reading old "Jeopardy" questions and making flashcards quizzing myself.
TT: So I know there's a lot of things that you're not allowed to say due to the episode not being out yet, but how was it actually being on "Jeopardy?" Was it how you expected ?
K: It was really amazing to be on set. One of the things that was particularly nice about being in the college tournament was that it was a big group of all fellow students, so I got to make a lot of friends, all of which I'm still keeping in touch with. Just walking onto the set for the first time took my breath away, especially because they had re-done a lot of the set dressing for a tournament. It was the "Jeopardy" set, but it also had a ton of extra special stuff on it. That was really cool to see.

TT: There's been a lot of controversy about the new "Jeopardy" hosts and who they might be. You had Mayim Bialik, do you think she was a good host?

K: Yeah, I think she did a good job. I went into the tournament, definitely being a fan of Ken and being a little disappointed that it wasn't going to be Ken hosting. But then after getting to meet Mayim and filming with her, I warmed up to her a lot.

TT: So when you were playing "Jeopardy" did you have any specific strategy?

K: I think I can say what my plan was. Yeah, a lot of daily double hunting. If you're not strong enough to take control of the board and know almost every question, that can really bite you in the butt. So I went in planning ongoing top to bottom. And then if that worked out for me, I'd be a little more aggressive later.
TT: What would your dream "Jeopardy" category be?
K: My dream category would probably be something biology or medicine related or maybe history of medicine too.

TT: What was the process like in applying and then becoming a contestant on college "Jeopardy?"
K: It used to be an online test that you could take once per year, they'd be like, We're doing the test, there's these three times and dates. You have to take it then. Then they started doing the anytime test where you can take it any time you want. So I took it in the fall of junior year, and then got an email in December saying I’d been selected for the next round. So then the next round is a similar style of tests, they just have you do it on Zoom to make sure that you aren't cheating. And then if you pass that well enough, then you get to go to a Zoom gameplay test where it's you and eight contestants and you go through a mock game where you get the call categories and play against other people. And then they also ask you questions about yourself to gauge if you can be interesting to put on TV. And then if they like you, they'll be like, You're in the pool. Stay tuned. And then there's 12 or 18 months in which you can expect to get the call. But I was very lucky to get it the first time I made it that far. I remember hearing on set twenty-six thousand people tried out.
TT: Do you watch any of the other trivia shows?
K: One of my friends was talking about "The Chase" last night and how there's some contestant on it who was actually a former college contestant who was really doing well in "The Chase." Now that I can't go on "Jeopardy" anymore and I have to start trying out for other trivia shows, I should definitely start watching other things.

TT: If you were to do another game show, where would you go?
K: For any other game show, we were told when we finished that we couldn't be on another game show for a year. If I had to, I definitely do "The Amazing Race." Me and some of my fellow contestants are also fans. So we joke, what if we make a team and go on together?
TT: What are the stuff that you're allowed to or not allowed to say?
K: I cannot reveal anything about game outcomes or gameplay. Like, I can't reveal categories or questions or how things ended, but I can reveal who I'm going up against, some behind the scenes stuff about filming, as long as it does not spoil. I basically cannot spoil how the episodes go.
TT: When you were on set. How much was just you versus the other contestants and how much was waiting for clues?

K: It moves really fast. A lot of my fellow contestants describe it like we blacked out. If you asked me what the questions were, I can't remember most of them. It really goes by fast and it's over before you know it. There are some pauses every now and then, like if Mayim announces a clue, but the person controlling the board accidentally makes a different clue pop up. So then they have to pause it and fix things. If there are moments with a technical error, we pause and there are the commercial breaks and we get to drink water. But during the actual gameplay, it goes by so fast.
TT: Do they ever make you redo a certain thing?
K: We don't have to redo a lot. One interesting thing is that on the Reddit AMA for the professors tournament, they were all saying how they constantly had to redo their anecdotes because they were too long or too short. But I don't think I ever saw anyone in our tournament having to redo theirs. I guess we just have a good sense for what was like the appropriate length. We had to redo the intro a lot, but I think they just wanted good takes of us smiling. Us actually answering the questions that didn't have to get redone ever.
TT: And are you going to be at the watch party at CMU?
K: Oh yeah. I'll be answering questions and also saying some opening remarks.

TT: Is there anything else that you think you want to say?
K: I'd like to emphasize, if you can please tune in for the whole tournament because it's just a great group of students. I have a lot of friends who are competing, and it's just going to be really fun to watch the whole tournament, not just me.