A research scientist from Raleigh, North Carolina...

David Skaar

Hi, Raleigh, I'm David Skaar. Grab some barbecue and watch me on Jeopardy!

Season 25 3-time champion: $102,000 + $2,000.

Jeopardy! Message Board user name: evadgib

I’ve been trying to get on Jeopardy! for about 20 years, since the first teen tournament was announced. I sporadically sent in my postcards for the teen and college tournaments, but never got drawn. I wasn’t sure how much it mattered, since I lived in New Mexico, and there never seemed to be any tryouts within 500 miles anyway. Once I moved to North Carolina, and online registration for tryouts started, it was easier to find in-range tryouts, but I still never got called. Then the online tryout came, and I took it. Enough time had passed that I decided that I wasn’t going to get drawn for a tryout, but then I got the email. I went to a tryout in Orlando, had a good time, and never got called. I did bring home a nice tangelo tree though.

I waited for the exclusion window to pass, and took the online test again. Again, I thought enough time had passed without a call that I wouldn’t be getting one. I came back from vacation, checked my email, and found one from Jeopardy! inviting me to a tryout. I was also 3 days past the response deadline for a guaranteed spot in the tryout. Heartbroken (and a bit annoyed), I wrote back, and got a response telling me to come on up to D.C.

I drove to D.C. and back in one day, had a few panic attacks that I would miss the audition when the metro train I was taking into town had to stop 5 times between the first and second stations. I did make it to the audition, had a good time, and left with about the same expectations as from Orlando. This time, however, I got a message on a Friday afternoon one month later to call Jeopardy! back. When I called, Robert said he’d call me back in a second. It was about the longest 10 minute second I’ve ever had. Anyway, by the end of the conversation, I was set to go to L.A. for a taping.

This made an immediate change in my life. When I went on a bike ride the next morning, I actually wore my helmet. I spent the next month re-growing the ulcer that I’d finally gotten rid of 2 years ago, wondering if I’d live long enough to get to the taping. I quit drinking, exercised nearly every day, finally read Shakespeare like I’ve been saying I would, and memorized the interesting monarchs of England, France, Spain, and the current crowned heads of Europe. I even bought another pair of long pants, some shirts, and even ties, given that I’ve only bought new dress clothes once in the last 15 years.

Despite my conviction that something would happen to keep me from actually making it onto the show, I made the flight to L.A. on schedule, and on the designated morning, I was at the studio, ready to go on the show. It was a fun group of people, and it turned out that another of the contestants was also at the same tryout in D.C. that I was. It was a worrying group, knowing that I would have to beat some of them to stay in the game, and they were good. Of course, the most worrisome person was the current champion (whose name, I unfortunately can’t remember, I’m usually pretty bad with names), because of the mystique that goes with the title.

I felt a little better after the practice, where I worked out a comfortable way to stand and hold the signal button, and got the timing figured out well enough that I was able to ring in first a few times. I also found out that anyone playing against me would have to stand on a box to even out the heights. The good feelings evaporated after watching the current champion ring in, and when I was drawn to be in the first game of the day, against him (sorry again for forgetting the name).

I don’t know that I can say anything about Alex Trebek that I haven’t heard from other people before, but I’ll say a few things. He’s pretty much as he appears on TV, just a little more honest when the camera isn’t running. He gets annoyed when things go wrong, argues with the producers, makes weird jokes, and has a thing about Denny Crane (I heard him talk about Denny on TV once or twice).

The other thing I didn’t think about until after I left was how unobtrusive the cameras were. During the interviews, I know there are handhelds to get different angles, but I don’t remember seeing them. Of course, I had tunnel vision, and could only look at the board and Alex. At the end of the show, when the contestants stand up front and talk to Alex, I didn’t even know the cameras were running, just that we stood there for a while, and then were told we were done.

I’m used standing over a lab bench a lot, so standing at the podium wasn’t too much of a stretch. Except that I was wearing about 4 times as much clothing as I usually do, and less comfortable shoes. I also had a little trouble with the height of the podium, trying to find a comfortable way to rest my hands without hunching over or crouching.

Game 1 – I was worried going in, since I’d have to play the current champion, who had a pretty good record, and I’d seen how fast he was in the practice rounds. I was carrying about 15 lucky charms on me, but I forgot all about them when we got going. When I rang in first on the very first clue, I realized that I had a chance. I beat the other two to the buzzer pretty consistently, picked up most of the high value answers, and got the daily doubles. I also felt like I had achieved a state of remarkable clarity, everything was just flowing. My hands and left leg wouldn’t stop twitching, but I was fast on the button, and I could get the answers fast and solid. When we got to the end of the game, I realized that I’d run away with it. I won’t comment on any particular answers, since I’m not entirely sure about which clues were in which game (I’m almost positive, but not entirely), so I will make one list of comments about particular clues at the end.

Game 2 – I feel a little bad about how badly I ran away with this one, but I know they would have done it to me if they could. All I will say about this one is that yes, I made my final wager in order to end up with 42. I should also say at this point, given all the grief Alex was giving me about my wagering on Daily Doubles, what my strategy was. I didn’t really have one. I was checking how much money I had compared to my opponents (that sounds a little harsh, competitors maybe?), and betting what I thought I could afford to lose, but what I hoped would give me a better lead if I were right. In most cases, I could have, and maybe should have bet more, since I felt pretty secure that I would be right, given the category. However, I had thought about it before, that I would try to bet reasonably in early games, since it was more important that I win the game, than run up the score. I was hoping to win a couple games, to build a dollar total that I would be happy with (and aim for tournament status) before I started making gung-ho wagers to go for the big bucks.

Game 3 – I really don’t have a lot to say about this game either, it was all blending together by this point, just that I was still feeling in the zone, and riding high.

Game 4 – This game was after the lunch break. The adrenaline had worn off a little bit, I felt that if I lost at this point, it would be OK, I’d done well enough that I could be happy with what I’d done. Brian (I remembered his name! I think…) was a fierce player and really made a game of it. I didn’t like the Civil War category much, even though I’d done a little review on the major battles, they didn’t stick with me. None of the other categories worked very well for me either (at least not compared to the first 3 games). I had a real problem with how to wager on Final Jeopardy!. I’ve read the stats paper on how the second place contestant should wager to be safe, but I just couldn’t be sure what Brian would do. If he assumed that I would bet to cover his double, then he could bet low, and I should bet low too. It turned into a “but if he knows that I know that he knows” situation. In the end, I decided that I had to bet to top his double. I got the answer wrong, he got the answer right, and as it turns out, if I’d bet nothing, I could have won. Oh well. I beat him in the regular game, and he beat me in the final, he won fair and square, all credit to him.
A humorous side note, my parents were in the audience, and they knew the right question. They had been to the country in question, and in fact, had told me about the inflation there, and I think even showed me some inflated currency they’d brought back. None of that stuck with me, the right response never even crossed my mind. Probably the most expensive example I’ve had of the importance of listening to my parents.

I stuck around for the next game to see how Brian did, and as it turns out, the other two players in that game were, with Brian, the folks in the contestant pool that I was most concerned about (besides the reigning champion) playing against, Matt (I think) and Orlando (I know). That was proved by the brutal slugfest that that game turned out to be. I’m pretty sure I could have won that game, though. I knew the high value clues that they didn’t, and I knew the Final, that I think 2 of them got right. Oh well.

I’ve been saying for years that I would be good at Jeopardy!, and it was really gratifying to find out that I am actually good at Jeopardy! This was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. If you want to contact me and abuse me about my time on Jeopardy!, go ahead, I’m not that hard to find.

General comments on interesting questions:

If I’d gotten the hemoglobin question wrong on the Daily Double, my mother would have killed me. We’re both biologists, and she taught physiology (among other biology subjects) for years.

I was pretty sure that in the THE "THE" category, my response of "What is 'My Mother'" was wrong, but it did fit the category, and I try to never pass up a chance to take a cheap shot at my mother, who was in the audience, as I said. Best money I’ve ever spent.

My wife would have been severely disappointed with me if I’d gotten the Amblin Entertainment question wrong, since that logo appears at the end of every episode of Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Freakazoid.

I didn’t know the answer in the volcano question was Mauna Kea, but the other two players were nice enough to eliminate the other obvious answers, so I thought it was worth a try.

I’m really annoyed that I got beat at the buzzer on the North Carolina Scuppernong question.

I’m really glad (as were my parents) that I got the Conrad Hilton question right, since I went to college in Socorro, NM, very near San Antonio, NM, where Conrad spent a lot of time.

I really liked the elements category, but it was unfortunate for the third player that two of us were serious scientists, and he was faster than me on that one.

There were two questions that I knew specifically from my preparation that I would not have known otherwise. One was James II, and now I can’t remember the other one.

My son’s name is Garrett. It will blow his mind to hear me say it on TV like that.

The October 8 Jeopardy! had an H.P. Lovecraft question that nobody got. I was hoping and praying to get an H.P. Lovecraft question when I was on, since I’m a huge fan of his work, but I didn’t.

David appeared in the following 4 archived games:
#5559, aired 2008-11-06 David Skaar vs. Kate McCoy vs. Brian Muth
#5558, aired 2008-11-05 David Skaar vs. Shelly Mills vs. Karthik Balasubramanian
#5557, aired 2008-11-04 David Skaar vs. Matt Hackler vs. Mary Beam
#5556, aired 2008-11-03 Carl Brandt vs. David Skaar vs. Catherine Muldoon Carl Brandt game 5.

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