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Former Janesville resident a 'Jeopardy!' contender

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Marcia Nelesen
October 17, 2013

JANESVILLE--If only there had been categories on Shakespeare or even pop culture.

Alas, it was not to be for Jane Wanninger, a 2003 Craig High School graduate and recent contestant on the popular TV game show "Jeopardy!"

Instead, Wanninger grappled with such categories as “Field of Dreams'' and “Rap It Up.”

But she made the champion work for his money and didn't embarrass herself, which is all she was worried about, she said.

Wanninger, an expert in Renaissance literature, is an English lecturer and academic advisor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Her go at "Jeopardy!" aired Wednesday.

“The show that aired before mine had the category, 'Celebrity Baby Names,'” Wanninger recalled. “I thought, 'Are you kidding me? That's my category!'”

Wanninger, 29, took the online test to qualify for "Jeopardy!" in January and later made it through an in-person interview.

“My mom was never a stage mom about anything,” Wanninger said of her mom, Patty. “But she was about "Jeopardy!" She had this idea I would be on 'Jeopardy!' and, lo and behold, I was.”

Even though she suspected studying for the show would be useless, Wanninger did anyway, concentrating on categories she sees often on the game show, such as geography and presidential history. She read the constitution and reviewed Nobel Peace Prize winners.

I am the kind of person that really likes—in a weird way—reviewing information about the solar system,” she said.

Wanninger and her mom traveled to Culver City, Calif., to tape the show.

Five shows are taped in one day, and contestants are slotted into shows randomly. Contestants are sequestered and always accompanied by coordinators, who follow them even into the bathroom.

Wanninger had fun meeting other people from all over the country. She said staff members were fantastic and care about the quality of the show.

Once the game started, Wanninger first had to master the buzzer.

She had always assumed silent contestants didn't know the answers. But, “It is so hard to get that timer right,” she said, recalling her frustration.

When she finally answered a vocabulary question with “rapacious,” she felt she was hitting her stride.

Her answers came faster and included, Brigham Young, Halle Berry and Morgan Freeman. Unfortunately, she didn't hit any Daily Doubles.

Final Jeopardy came down to Wanninger and the champion. He had accumulated $14,400. She had $9,400.

Wanninger felt confident enough about the category to bet all but $3.

The answer: In 2013, she became the third female singer after Aretha Franklin and Madonna to chart over 40 Top 40 hits.

“I should have known it,” Wanninger said later, adding she feels a “little bit of shame” for faltering on a popular culture question.

The question: Who is Taylor Swift?

Wanninger won $2,000 for second place, “which is good because otherwise I'd have had $3,” she said. The third place contestant wins $1,000.

Wanninger said her "Jeopardy!" appearance was a once-in-a lifetime experience.

“They say 100,000 people take the test, and between 300 and 400 people are on the show in a year. With those odds, I was so excited to get a chance to do it,” she said.

Wanninger said her mom is proud of her.

“She reminded me I should not regret it,” Wanninger said.

“When I was a little sad about my Final Jeopardy, she pointed out, 'You should never regret taking a chance on yourself … especially in situation when it's all fun.' ”



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