Northwestern student on Jeopardy: Who is Dan Donohue?

Communication junior Dan Donohue competed on

Source: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Communication junior Dan Donohue competed on "Jeopardy!" this week. The episode will air in May.

Jeanne Kuang, Assistant Campus Editor

Competing on “Jeopardy!” is no trivial affair, but for Northwestern Quizbowl president Dan Donohue, it is only fitting.

The Communication junior traveled to Los Angeles last week to represent NU in the game show’s college tournament, which begins airing May 6.

Donohue has been watching “Jeopardy!” since childhood, “pretty regularly, with the understanding that one day I wanted to be on it,” he said.

To try out for “Jeopardy!,” Donohue had to pass a 50-question online test in October before being invited to an in-person audition in Cleveland that involved another written test, a mock game and an interview.

“They were looking for people they can put on TV,” Donohue said. Donohue had been to an audition once before, during his freshman year.

This year, he received a phone call in February inviting him to compete. He and the 14 other contestants, who Donohue said represented “a pretty large cross section of colleges in America,” were flown to California last week and driven to Sony Pictures Studios to tape the competition Monday and Tuesday.

Donohue said he didn’t meet famed “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek until his on-air interview before the round.

“They really keep us separate from him,” Donohue said. “The first time you see him is when you’re on air, which is kind of crazy.”

Donohue said speaking with Trebek was a surreal experience, and the contestants joked that “maybe he’s a robot.”

“He doesn’t look real up close,” Donohue said.

Knowledge-based game competitions are not new to Donohue. In addition to being a longtime “Jeopardy!” viewer, he participated in quiz bowl throughout middle school, high school and his past three years at NU.

Donohue said he has always been “intellectually curious,” and his penchant for watching television and live theater gives his mind a way to “cling to” facts.

“When I hear something on television I don’t understand, I’m always looking it up on Google or Wikipedia,” Donohue said. “It’s a lot easier to learn things when you have interests like that.”

Quiz bowl has been good preparation for “Jeopardy!,” Donohue said, but the two have their differences. Quiz bowl competitions are more academic and require more speed because competitors do not have to wait for the question to be finished before buzzing in with an answer. Since his junior year of high school, Donohue has been writing his own hypothetical questions to study for quiz bowl based on information he has retained from competition.

Cory Haala (WCAS ’12), who competed on NU’s quiz bowl team with Donohue for two years, called him “very self-motivated, very talented.”

“I could sit back and watch him go,” Haala said. “He has a vast bank of knowledge of, you know, authors and cell organelles. A lot of it was just, I had to complement his abilities.”

Donohue’s academic adviser, John Haas, who also taught an internship class that Donohue attended, said the junior is “exceptionally smart.”

“He’s one of those guys with an encyclopedia-like recall of knowledge,” Haas said. “When I heard he was going on ‘Jeopardy!,’ I was like, well, of course he is.”

Donohue, who returned from Los Angeles on Thursday, called the experience once-in-a-lifetime but admitted he thinks of the game show differently now.

“I’m so grateful Sony afforded me the opportunity,” Donohue said. “It’s going to be weird watching ‘Jeopardy!’ now that I’ve been on it.”