Joshua Hager 2015-01-26 13:54:26
During the commercial break, the familiar voice asked me: “Are you an archeye- vist or an arch-uh-vist?” I’m not sure what I expected the first question to be from Jeopardy! Host Alex Trebek, but asking how to pronounce my profession was certainly not my first guess. I politely replied that I preferred the latter pronunciation, then the cameras started to roll, and Trebek announced, “Josh Hager is an archivist from Raleigh, North Carolina....” A Lifelong Dream On October 1, 2014, I fulfilled a lifelong dream to appear as a contestant on Jeopardy!. Now in its thirty-first season in the Trebek era, I always wondered how I would fare as one of the three brave souls behind the lecterns. But my connection to the show went deeper than that. For years, I made mock Jeopardy!-style boards for trivia parties with friends; I even incorporated them into classroom review activities when I was a teaching assistant at North Carolina State University while working on my master’s degree in public history. While I always take the Trebek role in my version of Jeopardy!, taking on the contestant role on the show was my “never-going-to-happen-but-might-as-well-try” goal. Just for fun, I took the online test for potential contestants in January 2013 and passed it. I then went to the in-person auditions in Tampa that March and found out that I could receive a call any time in the subsequent eighteen months to appear on the show. Sixteen long months rolled by before I finally got the call that I was wanted in Culver City, California, in one month to appear on the show. The dream would come true at a taping in late July 2014. The First Taping When the familiar theme song began, I was too much in awe of the surrealness of being on the famous set to actually feel nerves. In fact, as the game began, what I felt more than anything was growing frustration as I failed time and again to successfully ring in to answer before my opponents. Still, several questions were perfectly suited for an archivist with history training. A category called “Title Characters” referred to historical titles given to rulers. There, I picked up $1,400 with my knowledge of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and of the Archduke “who did not duck well enough.” Based on my score at the time of the contestant interviews, I was convinced Trebek would only have to introduce me once. I was in third place. At one point in the Double Jeopardy! Round, I was behind the defending champion by more than seventeen thousand dollars. However, the questions soon came in my favor. There was a category called “Literary Quotes” in which I excelled. In fact, I nearly doubled my score with the Daily Double question, “In this 1956 novel, Old Major says that ‘Man is the only creature that consumes without producing.’” Although I didn’t remember the exact quote from the novel in question, I recognized both the tone and the philosophy of George Orwell in the quote. Having recently read 1984 and knowing that Old Major does not appear in its pages, I went with Orwell’s other most famous work, Animal Farm. With my correct response, I became a real factor in the game. I seized on my momentum and correctly answered questions at the end of Double Jeopardy!. Going into Final Jeopardy!, I had $13,100, second to the defending champion’s score of $16,800 and ahead of the other opponent’s $8,200. The category for Final Jeopardy! Was a fortunate break, at least for an archivist with a history background. “U.S. City Firsts” fell right into my trivia wheelhouse. I had spent a full month in preparation for Jeopardy! Reviewing, among other subjects, both US history and geography. With my confidence in the category and knowing that the first place defending champion had wagered aggressively previously, I bet $13,000 out of my $13,100 on the following clue: “Among its firsts are an underwater auto tunnel to a foreign country and [a] corporation to net more than $1 billion in a single year.” My first instinct was to focus on the tunnel portion of the clue and think of big cities near the Canada and Mexico borders, but that left too many options. I then turned quickly to the corporation part of the clue. The first thought that popped into my head was the oil industry, but I was reading a history of the oil industry titled The Prize at the time and knew that Standard Oil, the only real candidate, had headquarters in New York City. Then, I remembered that in my studies of twentieth-century economics, the undisputed American winner was General Motors, leading the Motor City to the height of prosperity. A quick check of my mental map of the United States confirmed that Detroit made sense for an underground tunnel to Canada. I wrote “Detroit” and hoped for the best. Fortunately, I was correct; I became the new Jeopardy! Champion with a total of $26,100. I won enough money in thirty minutes of work to pay off a large chunk of my student loans from the Master’s in Information Science program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (I earned my degree in a dual program with NC State University). At the time, however, I had two other thoughts on my mind: I was the reigning Jeopardy! Champion—and Trebek would introduce me at least one more time. An Opportunity for Outreach Although my Jeopardy! Run ended on the second night, I pulled off two more personal goals. I swept a category about the National Football League, even though I’m more of a hockey fan (go, Carolina Hurricanes!). More importantly, I was able to discuss my archival research on social media outreach during the contestant interview. I even mentioned the Society of American Archivists by name when I discussed receiving the 2014 Theodore Calvin Pease Award for my research. It was a privilege to act as an ambassador for my profession on such a revered national stage. Discussing my archival research also fits well into one of my personal mottos for acting as a reference and outreach archivist: You can turn even the unlikeliest of occasions into opportunities for archival outreach. In real time, I was Jeopardy! Champion for two hours. I may not come close to the likes of Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, Julia Collins, and the other Jeopardy! Greats, but I will always have the title of Jeopardy! Champion. When being interviewed by the local media in Raleigh, I made sure to mention that I work at the State Archives of North Carolina—and, by the way—we’re open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays and you’re welcome to drop by to conduct research. At the end of the day, being a Jeopardy! Champion is great, but being an archivist— well, that has enduring value.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.