Quiz Whiz

John Krizel with Jeopardy host Alex Tribek
July 24, 2010

By Julia Parmley

Know lines from the 1960 film Spartacus? How about the first American to win four gold medals in the Olympics?

GW alumnus John Krizel knows the answer to those questions — and a host more — which came in handy during a four-day run on Jeopardy, aired in late July. His cash total? A little more than $107,000.

“I was nervous, but not overwhelmingly so,” says Mr. Krizel, B.A. ’07, M.P.P. ’09. “I just tried to block out the stuff that made it different from me just watching the show in my house, like the fact that there was an audience and that Alex Trebek was actually in the room.”

Facing categories such as “Top U.S. Franchises,” “Creatures of Nature,” “Geometry” and “Pro Nouns,” Mr. Krizel relied on his good memory for trivia and quick reflexes to buzz in answers. He says there were plenty of times when he knew the answer but was beaten to the punch by his competitors.

“You can buzz in when a light goes on at the side of game board, which is activated by someone behind the screen,” says Mr. Krizel. “A lot of time I knew the answer but couldn’t buzz in time. My friends said I looked angry. I had expected to beat people at buzzer every time but that’s unrealistic. The buzzer was a nightmare!”

Mr. Krizel also faced a few tough Final Jeopardy questions, including the name of a legendary public servant who was a special agent with the U.S. Treasury Department’s prohibition bureau, Chicago division, in 1929 (Eliot Ness) and name of the 1959 hit which, in its 1987 remake, was the first song with all Spanish lyrics to reach number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 Hits (“La Bamba”).

“For the four nights I won, I was in first place going into Final Jeopardy, so for each I wagered enough that if second place got it right and wagered all they had, I’d have a dollar more,” he says. “A lot of people talk about wagering strategically in case you get it wrong but doesn’t make sense to me — why would you go on show thinking you’d get it wrong? If I was going to lose, I didn’t want to go out not wagering enough.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Krizel, his run ended on a Final Jeopardy question about a black hole. But he says had the eventual winner lost the question, he would’ve wagered enough to win.

Mr. Krizel’s journey to “America’s Favorite Quiz Show” began in January 2008, when he passed an online test while a graduate student in GW’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. Six months later, he was at the St. Regis Hotel in Northwest for an in-person audition, where he took a 50-question written test, competed in a mock version of the show and participated in a “personality” interview. Mr. Krizel’s audition scores qualified him to enter into an active 18-month contestant pool, where he was selected to tape last March in Los Angeles.

“It was a great surprise to be selected,” he says. “My father and I used to watch the show all the time when I was a kid, and that’s where my devotion to the show began.”

Besides relying on his memory, Mr. Krizel went on the website “J! Archive” which contains approximately 200,000 past Jeopardy questions, to prepare. “The show doesn’t necessarily ask the same questions more than once but they cover the same topics,” he says. “From studying the site and watching the show, I was confident that I would do well if I got lucky, and I did.”

Mr. Krizel’s friends and family have tuned in to his run on the show, but ironically, Mr. Krizel says he was almost more nervous seeing himself on screen.

“Watching myself on television has been surreal,” he says. “All the games were pretty close and came down to the wire so it’s been nerve wracking to watch.”

An AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, Mr. Krizel currently lives in Beckley, W.Va, where he runs a green community program for the Piney Creek Watershed Association. “I try to get the community involved in environmental activities and try to educate them about issues affecting their daily lives and businesses,” he says. “My commitment ends next month, so I’ll be seeking work back in D.C. or Long Island, where my family is from.”

Mr. Krizel receives his winnings in November but says he has no plans for it yet and will probably “save it until I need something.” Meanwhile he’s fielding more than 160 Facebook friend requests from Jeopardy fans around the country and thinking about his next career steps. But Mr. Krizel says he hopes his Jeopardy presence helped him to “make his mark.”

“There are a lot of people in the GW community doing very impressive things and alumni who went on to do great stuff locally and around the world,” he says. “I want to add my name to the list of great GW alumni.”

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