Journalism professor Kathy Olson competed on an episode of the game show "Jeopardy" that aired on May 15. (Courtesy Kathy Olson).

Lehigh professor lands spot on ‘Jeopardy’


Kathy Olson has been watching “Jeopardy!” her whole life. She’s wanted to be a contestant on the show for nearly as long. 

On April 3, Olson checked off a bucket list item by competing in a taping of “Jeopardy!” that aired on May 15.

The Lehigh journalism professor said she started applying to compete on the show after graduating college. 

The required qualifying test is offered once a year in cities across the United States. She took it four times without advancing further in the process. 

Until this year, when she achieved her goal.

“I kept trying,” Olson said. “I wanted to give hope to people who were trying to get on because it took me 38 years, but I finally got on the show. It’s been a goal of mine for quite a long time.”

In 2022, she attempted the “Anytime Test,” an online version of the qualifying test which includes 50 questions, each of which you have 15 seconds to answer. 

“Jeopardy!” does not reveal test scores, but Olson said she knew she passed when she was invited to take a second test over Zoom. 

Once she passed this second test, she played in a mock game against eight other potential contestants and did well enough to be entered into the candidate pool for the show in June 2022. 

Potential candidates remain in this pool for 18 months, and they can be invited to a taping at any time during that period.

“My eligibility, as I understood it, expired at the end of 2023,” Olson said. “I’d kind of given up on getting picked, and then in March, they texted me that they wanted me to be on the show.”

As she was preparing for the show, Olson tried to brush up on some common topics that might come in handy, including state capitals and the solar system. However, she said the topics on the show are often too broad to study for specifically. 

Laura Guili is one of the contestant coordinators for “Jeopardy!” and has been working on the show since 2019. Part of her job is selecting who will appear on the show. 

She said she looks for many kinds of people when selecting potential contestants, and teachers like Olson are often strong players since they are “always thirsty for knowledge.” 

“I look at ‘Jeopardy!’ as always wanting to learn more,” Guilli said. “(Olson) has that in her, so that was pretty exciting to have.”

Olson and her husband flew to Culver City, California a few days before the April 3 taping of her episode. 

Once in California, Guili and other coordinators were there to help Olson and her fellow contestants prepare for their appearance on TV through a briefing, rehearsal games, and reminders on stage about what is coming up next in the game and filming process.

Olson said one of the most important parts of preparing for the game was learning when to hit the buzzer. If pressed too soon, the player is locked out for a quarter of a second, which Olson said felt like an eternity during play. 

She said when players are chosen, it is assumed they know most of the answers, but it’s a matter of whether they can get to them in time. 

“I never did quite get the rhythm of it, and that really is at least half the battle in ‘Jeopardy!’” Olson said. 

Five episodes are shot on each day of taping, so the contestants spend the whole day together waiting for their turn to play. 

Olson said she enjoyed getting to know the other players and by the time the competition began she was comfortable around them. 

“It just made it more pleasant, so that it wasn’t hyper-competitive,” Olson said. “Everybody played to win, but we were just supportive of each other.”

She said even though she wanted to stay focused on playing the game, it was also nice to know her husband was cheering her on from the audience. 

Players must sign a non-disclosure agreement before filming, which prevents them from discussing any details about their episode until it airs. That meant Olson had to wait until May 15 to tell family and friends about her experience. 

She held a watch party that day and said viewing her episode reminded her of moments she had forgotten about in the blur of filming. 

Looking back, Olson said she wishes she got more answers right, but she’s proud of how she did. 

History professor Monica Najar shares Olson’s love for trivia. 

Najar said she was excited to hear her friend was going to be on the show, and she attended Olson’s watch party. 

“I’m so incredibly impressed and had so much fun,” Najar said. “She did a fantastic job.”

Olson said she enjoyed her experience on the show, and she’s proud she was able to make it on. 

“It definitely was worth all the effort to do it for so long,” Olson said. “The contestants were really supportive. All of the staff at ‘Jeopardy!’ were very nice (and) very supportive. I would do it again if I could.”

Comment policy

Comments posted to The Brown and White website are reviewed by a moderator before being approved. Incendiary speech or harassing language, including comments targeted at individuals, may be deemed unacceptable and not published. Spam and other soliciting will also be declined.

The Brown and White also reserves the right to not publish entirely anonymous comments.

Leave A Reply