Who is Dan Pawson?
Answer: a legislative aide to a Massachusetts state senator, husband, father, and University of Chicago Law School alum. In December 2007, Jeopardy! fans watched Dan Pawson, JD'06, begin a nine-game winning streak on the popular game show. He returned this past January to participate in the 2009 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, which aired last month. And although Pawson was happy to discuss his game-show fame with UChiBLOGo, we don't recommend mentioning the articles of the Constitution. Especially you, Professor Helmholz.
How did you get on the show?
I got on the show by taking the online test in January 2007. The threshold to get on used to be much higher: you had to either try out in L.A. or you had to be lucky enough to be in a city that the Brain Bus visited. Now you just sign up for the online test and spend 15 minutes answering rapid-fire questions, and if you pass and they pick you, you go to a regional in-person audition, which happened for me in May 2007. Then I got the call to come on in August.
What kind of mental/intellectual preparation did you do before a show?
I don't have any great mental-stimulation techniques right before a game, but I did a lot of studying before the Tournament of Champions—world capitals, Shakespeare, opera, and a bunch of other categories that come up time and time again. A lot of them paid off!
What are your strong areas in trivia? Were there any categories you were hoping for? Any you were dreading?
I'm very strong in politics and sports and was very fortunate to get a category about baseball in the Double Jeopardy! round of the last game. That category went very, very well.
What was your favorite "answer"?
Is it too trite to say "Who is George?" the answer I won on ["Born in 1683, the second British king of this name was the last one not born in the British Isles"]? I guess it might be a clue to which I answered, "What is Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" ["Alyson Hannigan was nerd-hot as a geek-turned-witch on this series"] because I know there was a Buffy writer in the audience [sitting next to my wife] who squirmed a little when I said it.
Any I'm-kicking-myself moments?
No question—the $2,000 question asking how many articles are in the Constitution. It is to my everlasting shame that I answered "six" instead of the correct answer (seven). I just started counting them in my head—Congress, executive, judiciary, full faith and credit, supremacy, amendments—but the ratification article slipped my mind. I am never going to forgive myself for that.
Do you have any behind-the-scenes secrets to share?
For the games we were allowed to watch from the audience (in the quarterfinals, contestants that haven't played yet are sequestered), we're all quietly playing along, and virtually every one of us is phantom-buzzing. It's a disturbing compulsion.
Do you have big plans for your earnings (more than $420,000 combined)?
The $170,000 I won in my first run is mostly accounted for now—a bunch to a house fund, a car, a trip to Vegas, some charitable contributions, and I paid off a bunch of my student loans. With the quarter million from the TOC, [my wife and I] are doubling the house fund, paying off almost all of the rest of my loans, charity again, and taking a trip to Europe. The difference is that this time, we have about $20,000 with which we have no idea what we're going to do. It's a good problem to have.
Which is more nerve-wracking: Final Jeopardy! or facing the Socratic Method at the U of C Law School?
The worst thing that could happen on TV is that I embarrass myself in front of 12 million people. In law school, I could get a withering comment and stare from Professor Helmholz. I'm not sure there's anything that compares to that.
- "On the Quads" (University of Chicago Magazine, Nov-Dec/06)
- "U of C Students Prove They Really Do Know It All" (University of Chicago Magazine, Apr/99)
- Video: Pre-Tournament of Champions Interview with Dan Pawson
- Video: Post-Tournament of Champions Interview with Dan Pawson
April 1, 2009