Emory Report
June 8, 2009
Volume 61, Number 32


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June 8, 2009
Jeopardy! spot pays off for graduate

By tania dowdy

When recent Emory College graduate Eric Betts placed second in the Jeopardy! College Championship, his initial reaction was, “I lost.”

But soon, Betts’ excitement overshadowed his competitive spirit. Once it sunk in that he had won $50,000, he realized that it was the most money he would ever make in an hour of work.

“I’m grateful for having the opportunity,” Betts says. “This is the single biggest thing that’s happened to me. I feel lucky.”

Betts catapulted to the final round of the competition after he answered the Jeopardy! question on the origin of the word “deadline” in the semifinals round correctly. Despite being a journalism graduate, it was recalling a scene from the 1963 movie, “The Great Escape” that brought the winning word to mind.

Having watched Jeopardy! with his family as a kid, Betts’ journey to TV began after he took the online test to qualify for an audition. Having taken the test once before, he did not think he had done well the second time around. After auditioning in November, Betts put the thought of being featured on Jeopardy! to the back of his mind until late March, when he received the call that he would be one of the 15 contestants to compete. “I probably called six or seven people before I called my parents,” Betts says.

Betts had the support of family and local friends he played trivia with. To prepare for the competition, he studied content from state capitals to vice presidents.

Betts did not want anyone to accompany him on his trip, in case he lost the first round. Despite his apprehension, his mother and girlfriend were in the audience to support him.

“I was nervous about being on camera during rehearsal games and promos,” Betts says. “But during the competition, you’re concentrating so hard that you don’t think about the cameras and lights.”

From his research, Betts learned that an integral part of winning was to get the buzzer right. He learned that players who were able to get into the rhythm of the buzzer were successful. He discovered that using his index finger instead of his thumb was much faster.

“I had trouble in the first round so I thought I may as well give it a try,” he says.

Now, the Alabama native has “trivia in my brain with nowhere to use it.”

While Betts walked away thousands of dollars richer, he plans to remain in the Atlanta-area to look for full-time employment. His plans for the $50,000 winnings include buying a new laptop and repairing his car.

“I have a few birthdays coming up,” Betts says. “But I am saving most of it. Maybe I will buy myself a Wii.”