Q & A: Jeopardy! College Championship Contestant Julia Marsan


Julia Marsan (C'17) will test her trivia knowledge for a shot at $100,000 on the Jeopardy! College Championship tournament. Her first appearance airs this Friday, Feb. 17. (photo courtesy Julia Marsan)

February 16, 2017 — Julia Marsan (C’17) is the latest member of the Georgetown community to appear on the popular quiz show Jeopardy!, as she competes for the College Championship in episodes airing this month. The $100,000 students-only tournament, which Jim Coury (F’15) won in 2013, began airing Feb. 13 and continues through Feb. 24. We sat down to get to know Marsan before her first appearance airs this Friday (7:30 p.m., WJLA-ABC).

Georgetown College: What do you study?

Julia Marsan: I’m a classics major and an art history minor.

GC: Hometown?

JM: My family’s in Brookfield, Wisconsin, right now — about half an hour outside of Milwaukee — but we’ve also spent time in Virginia and Indiana. They’re all really excited.

GC: Any postgraduate plans?

JM: I’d like to teach in the Milwaukee area and go to graduate school for education.

GC: Had you been a Jeopardy! fan for a long time?

JM: Not really! I had been a trivia fan for a long time — I like reading trivia books and stuff like that — but I didn’t really watch Jeopardy growing up at all. I didn’t know that much about the show until I auditioned, actually.

GC: How did you decide to audition, then?

JM: The Georgetown Program Board did a Disney trivia contest, which I won, and someone was like “You’re really good at this! You should be on Jeopardy!” So I Googled it, and they were having the College Championship test that October. I took it and didn’t really expect to hear anything — just kind of took it for fun. Then they called me and asked me to do a screen test and second round of testing in New York in November.

So I went, and I still didn’t really expect to hear anything back, because there were a lot of people there. But in the first week of December, they called me back and said “We want to offer you a spot on the show,” and I flew out the first week of January to do it. So that was very exciting.

GC: What areas of trivia do you specialize in? Are you a generalist, or do you have your favorite categories?

JM: Definitely literature, history, pop culture. I’m not as good at the math and science bits. Unless the science part is only about dinosaurs — then I’d be fine.

GC: Did you do anything special to prepare for the show?

JM: At the second round of testing, they gave us all little pens with clickers on the end to practice with. So I watched a lot of old episodes on YouTube and just clicked my pen every time [host Alex] Trebek finished his sentence. And yeah, it was a lot of old episodes. Pretty much every episode I could find.

GC: I know you can’t talk about what actually happens in the episode before it airs. But was there anything about being on the show that you found surprising or interesting?

JM: It was kind of overwhelming just to be on a real television set, you know? Everyone was incredible friendly and professional — they do this every week, obviously.

It was a little disappointing that I didn’t get to hang out with Alex Trebek. He knows all the answers to the questions, so he’s not allowed to spend any time with the contestants before the show.

GC: That makes sense!

JM: Yeah, he gets in at 7:30 in the morning and spends hours going over all the questions and answers to make sure he can pronounce everything correctly. So during that time, he’s not allowed to talk to us. During that time, we’re getting mic’d up and playing a few practice rounds and whatnot. So I would’ve liked to have spent more time getting to know the real Alex Trebek! But that was my only regret — the rest of the experience was awesome.

GC: Do you have any advice for people who think they want to be on Jeopardy! someday?

JM: Read as much as you can. Honestly, I get most of my information just by reading random things. Read Wikipedia pages. Read the back of a cereal box. Read everything around you — that’s the kind of person who’s going to succeed on Jeopardy!.

GC: Did you know anyone else who’s been on the show?

JM: No. Which is helpful, I think, because they do ask you if you know anyone who works at Jeopardy! or has been on the show. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know anyone, or they might’ve thought I had an in.

GC: Anything else we should know about you or your experience, without stepping on Alex’s fun-fact-finding toes too much?

JM: About that — you give Alex three little factoids about yourself, and he just picks one at random to ask you about. So you’re never quite sure which one he’s going to say. I think the important thing is just to be prepared for anything. He’s a man of whims.

Interview conducted by Patrick Curran and edited for length and clarity.