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'Jeopardy' contestant has the answers

Friday, November 16, 2007 | 1:42 p.m. CST; updated 1:07 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Chris Mazurek, a psychology professor at Columbia College, poses in front of the bookcase in his office on Friday. Mazurek was a contestant on Jeopardy last fall and recieved an invitation to compete in the Tournament of Champions. Mazurek advanced to the semi-finals of the tournament and won $10,000.

COLUMBIA — A resident of Columbia who championed “Jeopardy.” If you answered “Who is Chris Mazurek?” you’d be correct. Mazurek, a psychology professor at Columbia College, sounds off on his “Jeopardy” victories in 2006, and his return to the show for the Tournament of Champions this past month.

Are you an avid fan of the show?

I watched on and off in high school, steadily in college, and then sort of fell out of the habit as I was doing my doctoral work. Then Ken Jennings had his big run and it popped back to my attention again and I thought I ought to start watching.

Did you typically yell out the answer at the television as you watched?

I had been like that. When I knew I was going to be on the show in 2006, I took to practicing and waiting until the question had been completely read. Now that I’m done being on the show, I’m back to shouting out answers again because I know it doesn’t matter. It’s a hard habit to break.

What did the process of getting onto “Jeopardy” consist of?

The year I got on was the first year they were doing the Internet test. After registering on the Web site, you’re assigned a test time, and answer a short series of questions. A lot of people met the cutoff score that they had set, and I was randomly selected from that group. Then I went to St. Louis, where I completed a paper and pencil test, actually played the game for a couple minutes with some other possible contestants, and had an in-person interview. I think they also tried to figure out how telegenic you’d be. After that, they said they would call you if you had made it onto the show.

And how was getting the actual call?

I was at home with my son at the time. I had just turned on the show and I was frustrated because I had been watching to practice and the Teen Tournament was on so the questions weren’t really challenging. Then the phone rang and the caller ID read “Sony Pictures.” I just thought “Oh my god ... it can’t be.”

The initial episodes Mazurek was on were filmed in mid-September of 2006 and aired in October. After four victories, Mazurek lost on his fifth day, but still came away with total winnings of about $78,000.

What did you use your prize money for?

My wife and I were able to use it as down payment on a new house. It’s more than double the size of our old house. “Jeopardy” made it so that we could actually afford a house that was realistically out of our regular salary ranges. And of course, a lot of money went to taxes, as well.

Did you have any favorite categories?

Of course, psychology was one that I was both hoping for and dreading. I knew that if I didn’t know one of the answers, my students wouldn’t let me live it down. But I liked science categories, and I’m also a big Sherlock Holmes fan so that literary area was nice. It’s interesting because a lot of times you know more about a certain category than you think you will.

How did you end up returning to the show for the Tournament of Champions?

Two factors play a part in that: how many days you win, and how much money. They’re not obligated to run a Tournament every year, so I just waited. Then I got the call in September and I was back on.

Mazurek made it to the semi-finals of the Tournament and won $10,000.

How did you prepare for your stints on “Jeopardy”?

I practiced with a clicker pen that simulated the buzzer on the show. It’s amazing how much timing (with the buzzer) affects success on that show. I suppose playing Lego Star Wars with my game pad also got my thumb going. “Jeopardy” is a mental game but the signaling device also lends it a physical aspect as well.

Would you say that your victories had an impact on your life?

Oh, tremendous. The money has been transformative. Aside from that, I’ve heard from some old friends from college, and complete strangers have sent me e-mails saying that it’s nice to see someone from Columbia doing so well. There were also some students here that were really enthusiastic about it. It felt really nice to know that they were out there cheering for me and hoping I do well. That was the really fun part.

Mazurek performed beyond his expectations considering his initial goal was simply to avoid embarrassment.


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