UT Research Assistant Wins Big at Jeopardy

January 23, 2019

UT research assistant John Presloid earned a spot on the famous quiz show, "Jeopardy!" At the time of publication, he won four nights in a row, earning combined winnings of $92,200. He spoke to the Independent Collegian about how he got there, what is was like playing and what he plans on doing with all that money.


Why did you start applying for a spot on Jeopardy?


“I’ve been watching it ever since I was little, since I was five or six years old, and I watched it every single day. It was always my favorite show. I’ve always been good at trivia and remembering things, so I thought I could get on the show. The week after my 18th birthday I got called for an audition, so I did that one and I didn’t make it obviously, but I kept going. I just had this drive, I knew I could do it and do well.”


What made you keep going? Why didn’t you give up?


“I knew I would be good at it and a lot of it is actually luck. The way it works, you take the online test and they said last year about 100,000 people took it. Then if you pass that, they take a portion of those people to do in-person auditions, about 2,000. They do the in-person audition, have you take another test and do a fake game with the whole TV set up. This was the fourth time I’ve done an in-person interview, and I think doing it so many times helped, because I kind of pick up on a lot of things.”


So, the audition is about a lot more than trivia knowledge?


“Right, there’s the kind of extended portion in the middle when Alex asks you things like, “Oh tell me about Golden Girls or tell me about your soccer team.” It’s like that, but they’ll ask a few questions, so they’ll have you talking for four or five minutes because they want to get a feel that you’re not going to melt on camera. It’s still a TV show so they want to make sure you look good on TV.”


What do you think was so different about your application this time around that helped you to get on the show?


“The hardest part is the stories. You have to tell about five stories about yourself that are interesting, which is actually pretty hard. So, I think this time I worried a lot less about trying to make things seem really interesting. I spent more time on trying to present myself in the best way. I noticed in my audition and the fake game, I was the only person who they didn’t ask, “Tell me, are you having a good time?” and that’s code for “You look like you’re really not having a good time.” Even if you’re not smiling and laughing, they still want you to look like you’re enjoying yourself. A lot of people get so nervous that the nervousness and anxiety really comes across on camera.”


What was your reaction to finding out you’d been selected to be on the show?


“My hands were shaking so bad, I actually found out at work! I was in the middle of something, and my lab mate came knocking on the door and said there was a phone call for me, I told him to just take a name, but then he told me it was Jeopardy. I went straight to the phone, and they said I probably knew why they were calling and asked if I was available for taping the week of November 27. I didn’t look at the calendar or anything, I just said I would be there. As I was trying to write down all the information over the next few minutes in the back of my head, I was just in shock.”


What did you do to prepare for the show?


“I didn’t go as hardcore studying as a lot of people do. They called me at the end of October, about a month ahead of time, and Thanksgiving break was during that time, so I obviously didn’t want to do too much studying over the holiday. I didn’t want to make myself super nervous trying to study every last minute, so I made a list of the common categories I wanted to brush up on. I concentrated on Shakespeare, art, literature, all the things I didn’t feel the best at.”


What is your favorite and least favorite types of questions?


“I love geography. I love science too and I’m also pretty good with history, so if I see those kinds of categories I’m happy, and can probably do pretty well.”


What was your reaction to your first win?


“I couldn’t believe it! I was in last place and it was a really frustrating game, especially with the buzzers. That was the whole game, I knew a lot of the answers, but the two women I was playing with were just so fast, I couldn’t buzz in. We got to Final Jeopardy and I actually just kind of guessed, I didn’t know for sure that I got it, but it ended up being right! I was expecting to lose, but I had a good score, got a lot of answers right and the Final Jeopardy right, so I was still happy. The other two got it wrong, and my jaw was just on the ground. I couldn’t believe that it happened. You almost never see someone win from third place. It’s everyone who’s on Jeopardy’s dream to win. So to be able to actually win was amazing.”


Did your initial win give you more confidence for your second game?


“I think I was more confident, because no matter what happened, I had won. Even if I lost that game, I was still a champ. Not many people can say that.”


Were you even more surprised to win a second time?


“I felt good pretty early on, especially since I got the first Daily Double. I had a big lead and most of the categories I really liked. As soon as the second set of categories came up, I knew I could get enough of them and I should still have the lead going into the Final Jeopardy. It’s obviously a 50/50 shot with the Final Jeopardy, depending on how hard it is, but I felt confident”


Was it hard to keep the game results a secret until now?


“Yes, especially knowing the outcome of all the games and knowing how exciting it’d be to actually watch it. Everyone was so excited and wanted to know so much, but I couldn’t say anything. I would just respond that I had fun. It was so hard to keep quiet about it, but I also knew that it would be so much more fun to watch it when you didn’t know the outcomes. It was so much fun for me to watch people’s true reactions while watching it.”


Do you have any specific plans for the money that you’ve won?


“It’s hard to say still, because we don’t even get it until 120 days until after your show. I’ve never been a big toy person, like I don’t need a fancy car or boat, anything like that. I’ll probably travel, I went to Europe a few years ago and it was such a blast, so it would be cool to do something like that again. Going to Italy or Australia, something like that would be cool.”


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