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Campus & Community - Arts & Entertainment

Talking ‘Jeopardy!’ With a Dragon Who Won on the Show

June 12, 2019

Vice President and University Secretary Janice K. (Jake) Marini pictured with Alex Trebek while appearing on "Jeopardy!"

“Drexel University staff fun facts” for $2,000:

This Drexel Dragon won $19,300 on “Jeopardy!” when she appeared on the beloved classic American game show back in 2008.

Who is Vice President and University Secretary Janice K. (Jake) Marini?

Correct! With “Jeopardy!” in the news recently, thanks to contestant James Holzhauer’s historic 33 game, $2.46 million-run on the program, Marini talked to DrexelNow about Holzhauer’s streak, what it was like to play and what she did with her $19,300 in winnings.

Q: Did you watch James Holzhauer’s "Jeopardy!" run?

A: Yes, I saw nearly all of James’s episodes, except the most important one. On the night he lost, I was out to dinner with friends and had accidently left my phone in the car. The meal ended around 9:30 p.m., and when I finally got to my phone I had about 15 messages from friends and family spoiling the outcome! (I ended up watching the episode online.)

Q: What were your thoughts on him and his playing and betting style?

A: He was extremely impressive as a contestant. He was very smart, with deep knowledge in a broad range of categories. He was confident and daring enough to tackle the higher denomination clues first. Also, he was very fast on the signaling device, and had the courage to bet big on daily doubles. It was a great strategy and obviously it paid off handsomely. As a viewer, though, I thought his domination of the board took some of the fun out of watching the game. He was phenomenal, but frequently the game was over before the Double Jeopardy round even started.

Q: How did that compare to your playing/betting style? 

A: You’re assuming I had a playing style! I was just scrambling to ring in ahead of the other contestants! It’s tough to get the timing down, because on any given clue, all three people know the answer. If you ring in before Alex Trebek is done reading the clue, you’re locked out for one full second, which is an eternity in Jeopardy time. Mastering the timing was the hardest part. As for betting style, my husband and I discussed a strategy where I would bet big. It’s a game, after all. Go big or go home.

Vice President and University Secretary Janice K. (Jake) Marini while appearing on "Jeopardy!"
Vice President and University Secretary Janice K. (Jake) Marini while appearing on "Jeopardy!"

Q: Can you talk a little about your own experience on the show? 

A: I had a wonderful time on “Jeopardy!” Honestly, it didn’t matter to me if I won or lost — I was just happy to be there. 

What I remember the most is that it was just fun, and nerve wracking, and terrifying because you’re actually betting for real money, which is different from when you’re watching from the sofa.

In the Jeopardy round on the first show, we had the worst categories I’ve ever seen. They were just horrendous. There was “Innocent Popes” and “Animals Aloft,” which were not my strengths. By the second round, I rallied, and ended up winning on Final Jeopardy. 

On the first show I played, Alex used the contestant interview feature to ask me about my name. I’m called “Jake” because my initials are J.K. I’ve had the nickname since the day I was born, and it has stayed with me. Alex decided to let me know that his dog is named Jake.   

And for the second day, that’s funny. As a contenstant you have to complete a huge questionnaire about your life, and the show kind of mines it for the“chat” segment. There are questions like “Have you ever met a celebrity?” or “Have you been to another country?” But what did Alex ask me about on the second day? The fact that I lived in an apartment for three years and did not know where we kept the vacuum. It’s true. I don’t enjoy housecleaning. Then the category for Final Jeopardy ended up being “Household Products” and I lost because I didn’t guess “What is Ivory Soap?”

Q: How much did you win? What did you do with the winnings? 

A: I won $19,300 in total — $18,300 the first day and $1,000 for coming in third on the second day. I enjoy cycling, so I bought a nice road bike. The rest we put toward a home renovation. That room is forever known as “The Jeopardy Bathroom.”

Q: Did you have a little watch party when it aired?

A: I did! The show was taped in November and we were told it was going to air in March on the week of my birthday. Then I realized that my first show was going to air on my birthday. That was really cool. I felt like the stars aligned in some wacky way. We had rented out a tiny bar in our neighborhood and invited a bunch of friends to watch the show. I had a “Jeopardy!” party for my birthday, with a “Jeopardy!” cake, but nobody knew the outcome of the show except my husband and me.

Q:What advice do you have for people wanting to audition?   

A:My general advice to anyone is if you're interested in the show, try out! Take the online test because you never know what can happen. You can end up winning. You just don't know.

Q: How has your Jeopardy experience influenced what you do at Drexel?

A: That's a good question! There are a couple ways, I guess. My work here is incredibly varied and I get involved in a number of different projects on a range of topics. So to be able to be versed in a number of things works for “Jeopardy!” and it works in this job. The other thing I would say is I am not the most comfortable public speaker. It's not something I relish at all. But I was such a fan of the show — I’ve been watching since I was a little kid — that there was no way I was not going to do it when I got the opportunity, no matter how nervous I was. But it was a good thing to get through and to actually do well. That in itself is a confidence builder. So whenever I do have the rare occasion here when I have to do public speaking, I can call on that. 

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