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Former employee wins 'Jeopardy!' jackpot

By Anna Hoffman
On January 31, 2014

Sarah McNitt, former employee of Miami's Global Initiative office, recently won over $91,000 throughout her five-game winning streak on "Jeopardy!"

For McNitt, the road to her stint on the television trivia game show was long and winding.

"It's a show that I watched with my family growing up and it all seemed so distant," McNitt said. "I was in college in 1999 when the 'Jeopardy!' Brain Bus came to Ann Arbor looking for contestants for the College 'Jeopardy!' Tournament, and that was the first time that it seemed accessible."

According to McNitt, after the audition process turned digital and hopeful participants were allowed to take an online qualifying quiz, she has taken every opportunity to do so.

In 2009, 10 years after the Brain Bus stopped in Ann Arbor, McNitt learned she had passed the most recent online test and would advance to in-person auditions. From there, she advanced even further. She was invited into the 18-month contestant pool, from which contestants would be drawn to appear on the show. However, she was not chosen from the pool over those 18 months, and was forced to start over again with the next online test.

"Unfortunately, I didn't get picked, but I wasn't too disappointed, because every audition meant a little more practice with the signaling device and a little more time spent hanging out with my fellow 'Jeopardy!' nerds," McNitt said.

When she was again invited to an in-person interview, she was scheduled to appear on her wedding day. "Jeopardy!" was accommodating, and allowed her to audition the next day.

In preparation for the show, McNitt purchased and read Prisoner of Trebekistan by Jeopardy! champion Bob Harris, along with several other Jeopardy! guides.

"My husband would help me by asking questions out of the books," McNitt said. "That said, a lot comes down to buzzer timing and wagering strategy, so I wish I'd worked on those more. It's more effective to learn things over time as opposed to cramming for them at the last minute, so I'm not sure that my trivia cramming was that helpful."

According to McNitt, her time spent in Oxford having trivia nights with her co-workers was useful.

"I miss that now that I'm in Iowa!" McNitt said. "I used to also save up interesting trivia to share with my dentist, Dr. Deborah Schindler. I have not yet found a trivia-loving dentist here in Iowa, either."

Charles Moul, a Miami economics professor, also appeared on "Jeopardy!" in Oct., 1998. Moul founded the Quiz Bowl at Miami, as he was a part of a similar club in high school.

Moul said his grandmother saw the announcement on the show for auditions in Chicago and encouraged him to participate.

"My grandmother always said I could use a little more money," Moul said.

According to Moul, practicing was very difficult because there are no set topics given ahead of time, and so he entered the game with very little preparation.

"In retrospect, it was an overinflated sense of self-confidence," Moul said.

McNitt now has an opportunity to play in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, which usually includes players who have won five or more games.

"I will be very excited if they invite me back, because I really enjoyed my time on Jeopardy! and would like to have another opportunity to play," McNitt said.

After winning the prize money and finishing her five-time appearance on Jeopardy!, McNitt was not allowed to divulge specific information about the show until it had aired.

According to McNitt, the money aspect was not as important as her desire to share her experience on the show with friends and family.

"I had to return to California for a second week after I won the Tuesday through Friday games, so I had to tell my coworkers I was sick to keep the secret," McNitt said.

McNitt said she will use her winnings to go on a honeymoon to Ireland. Another portion of the money will be used to sponsor a blood drive and bone marrow registry drive in Iowa City in memory of her mother who died of Leukemia two weeks before the first taping day.

"I would like to encourage Miami students to consider joining the bone marrow registry," McNitt said. "The more people on the registry, the better the matches and the better the outlook for people battling blood cancer. My mother also received 113 transfusions of blood products during her treatment, and we would like to encourage people to consider donating blood or time to the American Red Cross."

The registry can be found at http://bethematch.org/.


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