CU historian all but eliminated in Jeopardy “Professors Tournament”

A University of Colorado historian competed but was all but eliminated in the first television quiz show “Jeopardy!” Professors Tournament.

CU-Boulder professor of African American history Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders made a last-ditch wager on the question: “General McArthur said this man’s death by violence is one of those bitter anachronisms that seems to refute all logic.” She said John F. Kennedy. None of the contestants answered correctly. McArthur was referring to India’s Mahatma Ghandi.

But being on Jeopardy delighted Lawrence-Sanders, 38, a self-described “nerd” and trivia connoisseur, who had applied at least five times to be a contestant. Tens of thousands of Americans apply each year to compete on this nightly quiz show, which with 9 million viewers ranks among the most-watched non-sports programs in the nation.

She grew up in South Carolina watching Jeopardy with her parents in the 1990s. She and her sister participated in a high school trivia bowl. “I was the kind of kid who reads encyclopedias.”

She joined the CU faculty this fall and teaches on struggles to define the meaning of the Civil War. She’s working on a book, and she recently exposed historical omissions in luxury real estate marketing of southern former plantation estates.

In July, she filled out an online Jeopardy application and took a test seeking a spot on “the regular show” that pits people from multiple professions. It was “daunting,” she said, when a producer who texted her in September to say she’d been selected also informed her she’d be competing against 15 fellow professors in a new kind of Jeopardy competition.

“You realize you’re going to be with super intelligent people. There’s extra pressure in that sense. Being on Jeopardy is pressure,” she said, contemplating fans who sit on their couches yelling answers and can be “super judgmental about how contestants play the game.”

Her selection launched her into a six-week period before filming of watching older episodes and scrambling to hone her abilities in trivia. “I was, like, ‘Wow. I know nothing about opera.’ ”

Three days of preparations in Los Angeles at the Culver Hotel eased her anxieties as she got to know the other 14 contestants. The professors competing for a $100,000 grand prize include:

  • Business and innovation professor J.P. Allen from the University of San Francisco
  • English professor Hester Blum from Penn State University
  • Operations research professor Sam Buttrey from the Naval Postgraduate School
  • Education professor Marti Canipe from Northern Arizona University
  • Writing studies professor Lisa Dresner from Hofstra University
  • Literature and Latino Studies professor Ramón Guerra from the University of Nebraska in Omaha
  • Law professor Gautam Hans from Vanderbilt
  • Chemistry professor John Harkless from Howard University
  • History professor Ed Hashima from American River College
  • Chemistry professor Gary Hollis from Roanoke College
  • Botany professor Alisa Hove from Warren Wilson College
  • Musicology professor Katie Reed from California State University in Fullerton
  • French literature professor Deborah Steinberger from the University of Delaware
  • English professor Julia Williams from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Lawrence-Sanders was one of the younger contestants. They talked amongst themselves about the future of academia, and she concluded “these are some pretty cool people.”

But “everyone was competitive,” she said. “You are on the stage. And it is exhilarating.”

The tournament began Monday, Dec. 6, and will run through Friday, Dec. 17. Lawrence-Sanders’  episode aired locally on Colorado’s KDVR at 6 p.m. Wednesday. She has a slim chance of advancing as a wildcard.

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