By HANNAH HOLLIDAY
Jennifer Quail’s life has changed since her nine appearances on the game show Jeopardy earlier this month.
Routine trips to the post office now involve community members greeting her with “congratulations!”
Her job as a wine consultant at Domaine Berrien Cellars in Berrien Springs sometimes includes talking about her Jeopardy experience as she pours wines in the tasting room.
Since her appearance on the show, she is most often asked about how longtime host Alex Trebek’s health is doing. In March 2019, he announced he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. As of October — when Quail was filming — she said he was doing fine.
“I’m glad everybody is so excited,” Jennifer says. “The last one I felt kind of like, ‘oh my god, I’m going to let everybody down,’ because I obviously knew when I lost and when that episode was coming up.”
Jennifer moved to Dowagiac in 2009 to work at the museum located at Southwestern Michigan College. During her time in grad school, Jennifer had interned at the college. She worked at the museum until it relocated to its current location on Division Street in 2013.
Jennifer’s journey on Jeopardy has spanned several auditions. The first time she tried out for the show was when she was working at SMC. She auditioned three more times until she was chosen to appear on the show in October. The audition process includes taking an online test at Jeopardy.com.
“You have no idea how well you did after,” she says. “If you score high enough and they want you to come in, they will ask you to pick an audition city and register for an audition.”
Jennifer auditioned in Boston once and Chicago three times. At the in-person audition, contestants take another written test, play a mock Jeopardy game and talk with production staff. The next 18 months are a waiting game to hear back from Jeopardy.
“This time I went so long between online and getting invited to audition I thought I hadn’t made it, but in July they emailed and said, ‘Please come audition at the end of August,’” Jennifer says.
A week and a half after her audition, Jennifer was in Newfoundland, Canada on vacation when she received the call from production staff that she was invited to be on the show.
“I was so excited,” she recalls. “I never call my parents when I am on vacation, especially when I am in a foreign country, because it’s 25 cents a minute. I told a lot of people on the cruise I was on and my pub trivia team got really excited.”
Going into the game show, Jennifer’s attitude was to go out to California and do her best.
During her first game, her goal was to not be in the negative after the Double Jeopardy and not to get eliminated from the final.
“If you can win, great. Try to be second if you can’t win,” Jennifer told herself before the game. “This first game in particular I wasn’t watching the scores that closely. I really didn’t realize until we got to Double Jeopardy how far ahead I was and thought, ‘Holy crap.’”
Jennifer attributes her Jeopardy skill to being good at trivia. She participated in quiz bowl in high school, reads a lot and happens to be good at remembering what she reads. Hitting the buzzer quickly is also something Jennifer says helped her performance. Leading up to her appearance she practiced with pens and the top of the toilet bowl plunger, both of which happen to mimic the size of the buzzers.
“I’m the person no one wanted to play Trivial Pursuit with,” Jennifer says. “I’ve lived in enough places and worked in enough places and done a random enough education that I have a pretty broad knowledge of things. It turns out I was pretty good at the buzzer most of the time, which was kind of critical.”
During a Winner’s Circle interview, Jennifer was regarded as a more traditional Jeopardy player by choosing to play top down. Quail said a strategy for some players is the Forest Bounce, nicknamed after Chuck Forest, who would go Double Daily hunting. And usually Daily Doubles were somewhere in the middle.
“For me, it was really go top down and try to be fast on the buzzer,” she says. “Until you are really doing it, you don’t know.”
Jennifer did not realize how impressive her eight-win streak on Jeopardy truly was until she returned home.
“I am not one of those people who memorized the best of all time lists and was checking the J! archives and keeping track of all the stats,” she says. “I truly had no idea how well I was doing relative to Jeopardy overall. When you have a Jason [Zuffranieri] with more than $500,000 or James [Holzhauer] with $2 million and all the top spots, I had no idea until I got home and my brother says, ‘You know you probably have to be top 20 now.’”
Jennifer ended her streak with $228,800 and is 12th in the category of highest winnings for regular-season play and tied at ninth for consecutive games won. She is also the second highest scoring in female play.
“It was definitely worth doing. Just to go out there and you get there up on stage and you finally are up at the podium and there’s Alex,” she says. “How do you not geek out at that point?”
Currently, Jennifer is working on her sports trivia in case she ever gets the opportunity to grace the stage again. The Tournament of Champions invites the top 15 performers from the past two seasons to compete.
If she makes an appearance again on the stage, she might be wearing her new “lucky charm,” a mid-century modern, sterling silver necklace from Denmark with Baltic amber inside.
“I didn’t intend to wear the same necklace every day,” Jennifer says. “I had this one from Quebec and it broke in the green room before the first show. People really picked up on it. I can’t not wear it now!”
Photography by Emily Sobecki