Carnegie Mellon Professor Jumped at Chance for 'Jeopardy'-School of Architecture - Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, February 19, 2010

Carnegie Mellon Professor Jumped at Chance for 'Jeopardy'

Pablo Garcia's Jeopardy Journey Toldd in Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

"It's one thing to shout answers at your flat-screen television while watching "Jeopardy!" on NBC.

It's quite another when you're on the other side of the camera, hand on buzzer, with the television lights bearing down and host Alex Trebek telling you to pick a category.

Just ask Pablo Garcia. The Carnegie Mellon University professor recently competed on a round of "Jeopardy!" in Los Angeles. His episode, which was taped in December, airs at 7 p.m. Friday 19 February, on NBC.

"I've been watching 'Jeopardy' since I was a kid," says Garcia, the Lucian and Rita Caste Chair in Architecture and assistant professor at CMU's School of Architecture. "To me, it's still the premiere kind of quiz show out there."

He can't tell you if he won -- contestants are forbidden to do so before their show airs. He also can't quite remember exactly what some of the questions were.

"You're so focused and your heart's pounding," Garcia, who lives in Point Breeze, says. Even his wife and parents, who were in the audience, were rooting for him so intently that the details remain a blur.

"They were barely paying attention to the game," he says. "They were paying attention to how I was doing."

To prepare, Garcia read trivia books and watched Jeopardy episodes. He tried to replicate the conditions of the show, standing the whole time and using a click pen as a mock buzzer.

"You can't know what it's going to be like until you're there," he says. "All that stuff is something that you can't practice. I'm used to standing in front of an audience and lecturing, but this was a whole other kind of intensity."

One of the trickiest parts of the show is knowing the right time to hit the buzzer, Garcia says. The buzzers are designed to shut down briefly if the contestant pushes it too soon.

"If you do jump in ... you get locked out for like half a second," he says. "It's a huge window where anyone can jump in. A couple times I feel like I missed on a question because I jumped too early."

As part of the screening process, Garcia took an online test in January 2009. He eventually was invited to an audition in his native New York, where he took a 50-question test. In order to mimic the pacing of the show, the test gave him between 10 and 15 seconds to answer each question. He also participated in a mock round of "Jeopardy!" and was interviewed by the show's producers.

"A lot of people who show up and pass the test don't have a lot of personality or don't feel comfortable in front of people," he says.

He was entered into the contestant pool, which meant that he could be contacted at any time in the next 18 months. He got the call in November. He and his wife, Jennifer Wright, flew to Los Angeles. Contestants pay their own expenses, but they also receive $1,000 if they come in third and $2,000 if they come in second, Garcia says.

His episode was one of five taped that day, he says.

"Obviously, winning is the goal,"he says. "I knew that if I were to lose that I would lose well. You don't want to be that person who never gets going, who had wrong answers. I didn't want to bomb out. I jumped into the game right away."

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