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From Jester to Jeopardy!: UT Grad’s Game Show Success

When Jared Hall stepped down from the “Jeopardy!” stage for the first time, he was greeted by crew members. “Nice job, Champ,” they said. “Good work, Champ.”

“I could get used to this,” Hall thought to himself.

And he did. He went on to be the champ five more times.

Story and Photos by Kris Seavers

Hall, a University of Texas grad and current research associate, won six consecutive episodes of “Jeopardy!” between April and August of this year. He walked away with over $180,000 after his seventh and final round on Friday, Sept. 20. “It was surreal, definitely,” Hall says.

He began his game show legacy, he says, “as a kid reading atlases and references books like a sort of weirdo.” It progressed in his living room where he watched America’s Favorite Quiz Show® a couple of times a week in college. “I noticed myself knowing all the answers and being frustrated with people on TV who didn’t know all the answers. Eventually the whim hit me to apply for the show,” Hall explains.

In March of 2012, Hall and 100,000 other people across the nation took the online test required for anyone who wants to be on “Jeopardy!,” and Hall scored high enough to be called for an audition in New Orleans. Hall says, “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if I made it this time, but eventually I’m gonna be on the show.’”

Jared Hall Finals - 3

Jared Hall, University of Texas alumnus and Jeopardy! champion. Photo by Kris Seavers

In April, more than a year after taking the online test, Hall stepped into the Thunderdome for his first game. He had poured over reference books, Wikipedia articles and flashcards. He had made lists of the all of the English monarchs since William the Conqueror and all of the U.S. presidents. “That’s how I would go to bed at night, reciting the presidents from Washington to Obama and then from Obama to Washington,” Hall remembers.

When the cameras turned on, Hall’s girlfriend, Chicago native Alethea Merelos, looked on from the studio audience. “I was so nervous for Jared, yet he seemed completely calm and confident,” Merelos says. Hall, too, says he felt confident. “But then it just all happened so fast. You don’t even really have time to process it. All of a sudden the intro music is playing, and they’re like counting down from 10, and you’re like ‘Okay, here we go, no stopping now,’” he explains.

Hall won that game, and he didn’t stop for five more.

Fellow Austinite and three-time “Jeopardy!” champion Neal Pollack says he studied Hall and his Jeopardy! runs in case he would have to play against the “ruthless player.” “The game favors the bold. It’s often not about who was the smartest, but who made the right bets at the right times. Jared Hall, for instance, was such a good player because he knew a lot, played smart, and also got lucky in some key spots,” he says. Now, Hall and Pollack, who have bonded over coffee and game show “war stories,” are on a trivia team together. “We’re gonna win some titles,” Pollack adds.

Hall, who plans to use his winnings to pay off his student loans and take Merelos to Machu Picchu, says his overall “Jeopardy!” experience was “super positive,” and not just because he won. “Just because everyone was friendly, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing. Even people who don’t have great success, they say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I’m happy I was able to do it,” Hall says.

For anyone thinking they could be the next Austinite on “Jeopardy!,” Hall offers a few words of advice: “Shows like J! are perfect for people who have a really strong sense of curiosity. People who just want to know stuff, who are always thinking ‘Well, what’s the story behind that?’ or ‘Who made that happen?’ or ‘Why is that that way? Because that leads you to read and investigate and question the world around you, which then helps you build up this knowledge,” he says.

Look for Hall at the “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions in the fall of 2014.

ORANGE EXTRA:

4 Things You Didn’t Know About “Jeopardy!”

1. The only interaction participants have with Alex Trebek is what the audience sees on television.

“He’s sort of like the man behind the curtain,” Hall says.

2. The contestants aren’t super nerdy.

“People might perceive a game show like J! filled with people who are like intense, nerdy types, and it being a dynamic of people being competitive, but that’s like 100% not the case. Everyone is competitive in, you know, a friendly way,” Hall says.

3. Five episodes of “Jeopardy!” are taped in one day.

“And that you have to sit there watching other people play, waiting for your turn,” Pollack says.

4. Contestants cannot interact with friends or family during the day of the taping, or else they will be disqualified.

“It was hard to not be sharing the day’s experience with him,” Hall’s girlfriend, Merelos, says.

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