Q&A: ‘A famous Jeopardy loser’

Media Credit: Photo Courtesy of Randi Kristensen

Randi Kristensen, an assistant writing professor and the director of Writing in the Disciplines, poses with Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek after she appeared on the show.

“A 1957 event led to the creation of a national historic site in this city, signed into law by a president whose library is now there too.”

This was the question that resulted in Randi Kristensen, an assistant professor of writing and director of Writing in the Disciplines, and two returning champions to make Jeopardy history on the Jan. 18 installment of the popular game show. It was only the sixth time in Jeopardy history that all three contestants ended in a tie – for last.

Here’s what Kristensen had to say about her experiences as a “famous Jeopardy loser.” Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Hatchet: Were you excited when you got the call?

Kristensen: I was terribly excited. I saw my phone was ringing from Culver City, Calif. and I knew the only thing it could be was Jeopardy. I was so excited that my phone wouldn’t work and I couldn’t answer it. So the producer left me a voicemail and I called her back before she signed up anybody else.

Hatchet: What have you learned and taken away from Jeopardy?

Kristensen: There were a number of really good parts to it. The folks who work on the show who’ve been there 20, 30 years – they’re really like a family to each other and they’re very personable and warm to a bunch of strangers that show up not a little nervous about what they’re about to do. They really make a very comforting and friendly environment there.

I loved meeting the other contestants. We were all trivia nerds so we got to let our nerd flag fly. It’s been really great rooting for them as I watched them play their games. The thing that was special about our show was that it was only the sixth time in Jeopardy history that it happened and I guess it was a slow news day, so it went a little bit viral. I guess what I learned is that you could be a world-famous Jeopardy loser and it’s just fine!

One of the sweetest things that happened was I heard from a student that I taught 14 years ago. He sent me an email saying he’d seen me on the show and the GW memories had been brought back to him, so that was really nice.

Hatchet: Were you a little shocked when you heard that final Jeopardy question? What was your state of mind when you heard it?

Kristensen: It was a really long question. That’s one of the things – the only thing – that you can really practice. I mean, other people memorize vice presidents and things like that, but for me what I really practiced was how the game was played. How did they word clues so that you can figure out what it is exactly that they’re asking for?

But honestly, I got stuck on “1957” early on. So I was thinking about who was president at that time rather than events that had happened at that time that would be commemorated by a later president. So “Little Rock” never even crossed my radar. “Civil rights” didn’t cross my radar.

Hatchet: Why did you make that decision to go all in in the last round?

Kristensen: That was a brain freeze, pure and simple. I was thinking of what I would need to win, I wasn’t thinking about what strategy the other two contestants would be employing because they would have gone all in as well.

Hatchet: I, personally, was lost when I heard the question because it was so confusingly worded.

Kristensen: I have to say that as the game went viral on the Internet a lot of people had that response as well, which was really kind. Your real fear when you’re going on Jeopardy is “please don’t let me be an embarrassing YouTube clip.”

And yet, here I am.

I had a great time, definitely. If anybody thinks that they enjoy trivia games and they have a pretty good bank of stuff in their minds, they should absolutely try out!

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