Medill alumna wins $27,801 on ‘Jeopardy!’

Chelsea Peng

Medill alumna Cathy Guiles can cross winning “Jeopardy!” off her bucket list.

Guiles (MSJ ’08), a copy editor at SmartBrief in Washington, D.C., won $27,801 as a two-day champion on the television quiz show March 21-22, realizing one of her dreams.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Guiles in her Winner’s Circle interview, now posted on the “Jeopardy!” website. “I succeeded at it, so it’s a great feeling.”

After taking an online test, Guiles qualified for an audition in April, during which she “took a written test and played a mock game against other would-be contestants,” according to a March 19 Medill news release. Last fall, Guiles received an invitation to appear on the show and then traveled to Los Angeles for the taping in December.

To prepare for the show, Guiles, who has been a “Jeopardy!” viewer since childhood, said she played online trivia games and modified the way she watches “Jeopardy!”

“Normally when I watch ‘Jeopardy!,’ I sit on the couch,” Guiles said. “But when I was practicing for the show, I’d stand up and have my pen and keep score. I tried not to ring in when I didn’t know the answer. That was the hard part.”

Guiles said her journalism background also helped ready her for the show.

“I know ‘Jeopardy!’ likes to say their best contestants are lawyers, students and teachers,” Guiles said. “But I think a lot of journalists do really, really well on the show because we have to know so much about so many different things.”

Although Guiles said she was nervous, the questions, which covered topics such as currents events and history, were as she expected.

“In the third game, the literature category was about authors from Massachusetts,” Guiles said. “I got most of those clues right, and it felt really good. That’s the only game I had a ‘Daily Double’ in, so that felt really good too.”

The game in which Guiles found the Daily Double was her last match. Dennis Wright of Council Grove, Kan., became the new winner Friday with the correct “Final Jeopardy” answer of “Scrabble.”

As Guiles figures out what to do with her winnings – she plans to pay student loans and donate to her church or a charity – those who know her say they eagerly awaited her appearance on “Jeopardy!”

Sally Guiles, Cathy Guiles’s mother, said her daughter has “always had an interest in acquiring knowledge.”

“She’s an avid reader,” Sally Guiles said. “She’s always been a good information-gatherer.”

Medill professor Eric Ferkenhoff said he is not surprised to hear about his former student’s victory.

“She just had it all together,” Ferkenhoff said. “She stood out as someone who was so smart that it was almost frightening to teach her.”

For students who want to compete on “Jeopardy!” Guiles offers this advice: “Just give it a shot.”

“If you get to be on the show, try to relax and enjoy it as much as you can,” Guiles said. “And don’t freak out too much.”

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