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ASU student lands spot on collegiate 'Jeopardy!'

November 04, 2010

From the time he was 5 or 6 years old, Marshall Flores has been watching the game show "Jeopardy!" on TV, during summers spent with his grandparents in California. As the years went by, he began to have a desire to appear on the show himself as a contestant.

So, when the ASU senior and economics major from Avondale, Ariz., learned that the show had begun to offer online auditions for its annual College Championship, he decided to give it a shot.

And it was a long shot.

"More than 10,000 students took the timed 50-question test in February. Out of those who scored high enough, only around 250 were invited to in-person auditions" said Flores, who flew to Los Angeles in June for his audition. The in-person audition consisted of another 50-question test, interviews, and mock “Jeopardy!" games.

"All of us were nervous, but Maggie Speak (the main contestant coordinator for the show) did a great job in keeping our spirits high," Flores said. "In the end, I felt I did really well at my audition, but the odds of getting on the show were still daunting."

And then, the waiting began in earnest. Would he receive that magic phone call notifying him that he had been selected to appear on the show?

Flores went to summer school to keep his mind off "Jeopardy!" But he still kept his fingers crossed.

The long wait ended Sept. 18. "I got an e-mail from Maggie Speak. She said she had been trying to contact me on my home phone. But my mother had disconnected it to take a nap."

Marshall quickly managed to get a hold of Maggie. After verifying some personal information, she popped the question: "How would you like to be on Jeopardy?"

Of course, the answer was yes.

A month later, Flores returned to Los Angeles for the taping of the College Championship – 10 shows in two days. "There were 15 of us – 15 total strangers from across the country, getting the opportunity to compete for a lot of money and prestige on what we all considered to be the greatest game show ever. We were all living the dream," he said.

"Jeopardy!" recently began its 27th season with Alex Trebek as its host, and the show has featured the College Championship since 1992. Fifteen contestants are divided into groups of three and compete in five quarterfinal games. The five winners and the four highest-scoring non-winners then advance to three semifinal matches.

Ultimately, the three semifinal winners compete into a two-day final round. The grand prize: a trophy, a spot in the annual Tournament of Champions, and $100,000.

Flores, who is the first student from Arizona State University to ever appear on the show, competed with students from universities around the country, from Boston University and Yale to the University of North Dakota, Southern Adventist University and Florida State University.

Soon after the taping began, Flores discovered that "it's a very nerve-wracking and humbling experience to actually compete on the show," he said. "It's entirely different from watching and playing along in the comfort of your own home."

He added, "There are three must-haves for any aspiring 'Jeopardy!' champion: quick reading, excellent information recall, and timing with the buzzer. Buzzer timing is the most crucial element, as you need to get in ahead of your opponents while also waiting for Alex to finish reading the clue. The most successful Jeopardy contestants are those who develop and maintain buzzer 'zen' early on."

According to Flores, some of the obvious categories that a contestant should be familiar with include U.S. presidents, state capitals and Shakespeare, although he asserts that "anything can appear as a category."

Despite having "a natural affinity with trivia," he admitted that he had to do some cramming for the show. Flores primarily leaned on the J! Archive, a fan-created site that "houses almost every clue that has appeared on the show since 1984." He also spent a lot of time on Sporacle (an online quiz site) and Wikipedia.

So how did he do on “Jeopardy!”? Since the show was taped in October, and will be aired starting at 4:30 p.m. local time, Nov. 8, on Channel 15 (catch Marshall on Nov. 11), Flores knows, but for everyone else, you’ll just have to watch, through Nov. 11, and see.

Win or lose, Flores said the experience was one he will remember for all of his life.

"I met 14 amazing, smart individuals, and we developed an incredible bond with each other," he said of his fellow contestants. "Alex (Trebek, the "Jeopardy!" host) even took special notice of our 'esprit de corps'."