A nanotechnology scientist from Nashville, Tennessee...

Saad Hasan

Yo, Music City! I'm Saad Hasan. Watch me rock out on Jeopardy!

Season 26 1-time champion: $22,700 + $2,000.

Saad Hasan
Nashville, TN

July 14, 2010

A Nanotechnology Scientist
From Nashville, Tennessee
..Saad Hasan

Becoming a contestant on Jeopardy! was a happy accident, because I didn't know the online test even existed until January 2008. I had driven from Nashville to New Mexico for an internship and I was staying with my friend Guillaume while I searched for my own place to stay. His wife, Raea, told us that the online test would be open that time, so I decided to try it with them. All I remember is that the test questions went by quickly. Four months later, I received an automated email inviting me to an audition in Dallas the following month. The timing for the audition was not great, because I was presenting at a conference in Phoenix the day before and would have to fly out very early the day of the audition. Inevitably, I overslept and got to see my plane back away from the gate, but luckily I got on the next plane and was able to grab a quick lunch before getting to the audition site.

There were several parts to the audition. We started by completing interview fact sheets and being photographed with a Polaroid camera by the Jeopardy! staff. Next was another test, this time written. Finally, we went to the front of the room, three at a time, and played a mock game. In the game portion, I struggled with the buzzer, reaching a point where I just wanted to ring in first. I remember buzzing in at least once with no notion of the correct answer, happy only to get the timing correct. After the game portion, all the contestants were interviewed by the staff including one producer, Maggie. I thought I did better on this part, but nothing about my game play suggested that I could compete on the actual show. On top of that, I thought I looked frazzled from my travel. I figured that I had no chance of passing this stage. They told us that we would be placed in a contestant pool for 18 months, and if we didn't hear from then in that time, I inferred that things ended there.

So, 20 months later, in January 2010, I was back from lunch and trying to take a nap on the office futon (remember, I was a grad student at this time). My cell phone resting on my chest started ringing and when I answered the voice at the other end said it's Glenn Kagan from Jeopardy! and I just didn't believe it. He gave me information on the taping date in L.A. and which hotel to use, and when I still sounded skeptical, he said that he could read me the fact sheet that I'd filled out at my Dallas audition. He read the factoid "started a free food society in college" and I stopped him because he'd proven his point. My taping date was four weeks after this call and again, it was not the best timing. I was working to finish my PhD dissertation and I could not afford major distractions. But seriously, how many times do you get invited to be a Jeopardy! contestant?

In the one-month interval, I tried to fit in studying around my dissertation work. I had played quiz bowl in high school but since then my only involvement with this type of game was the occasional pub trivia in Nashville. I used my old studying method of building lists. Back in high school our coach, Ken Brandt, would give us printed lists with the important names and items starred. I didn't have those lists but I used Wikipedia to build my own lists, using pages such as Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Once in L.A., I reminded myself to not be overawed by the setting. The studio-how else to say it?-is cool! Seeing all the off-screen action that facilitates successfully making an episode-cool! Seeing Trebek in person after all the years of seeing him on the tv set-cool! All the contestants were given extensive time on stage during a rehearsal with a mock game, so by the time you got to play it felt natural being up there. Challengers were drawn at random, and as it turned out, I was not drawn until the last game of the day. In the first few games, the Final Jeopardy! questions were on academic topics like Physics and Russian Composers, and I thought, "just watch there be a fluff question in my game."

I remember very little from my actual game. It happened way too quickly. Only a few days later was I able to visualize some things that happened. The first round category "1920s Lit" captured just how flighty this game can be. On the Sinclair Lewis "Arrowsmith" clue I initially thought the answer was "The Jungle" but had the good fortune of not buzzing in first. And the only reason I knew this answer was because I'd taken a moment to read its synopsis since it was on the list of fiction Pulitzers. The Joyce "Ulysses" clue was another example of good fortune, because, on a whim, I'd read the wikipedia page for Joyce the night before. Finally, some of you who know me will wonder how I missed the "Book of Glinda" clue, considering that "Wicked" is only one of my favorite musicals ever.

The Double Jeopardy! round was a complete blur, but somehow I managed to be in second place when it was done. Recall my prediction about Final Jeopardy! topics... my game had Actors, of course. I wasn't certain what to wager but I sensed that everyone was uneasy about the topic. Once the clue came up, my line of reasoning went like this: Denzel Washington, definitely. Another actor who could have won Oscars... Sidney Poitier? My parents had shown me "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" when I was a kid, but I didn't know any of his other films. Poitier just didn't feel correct. My next thought was Morgan Freeman since everything sounds more interesting when he narrates it, i.e., he must get recognition for being a serious actor. I wrote down Denzel and Freeman. The first answer given was Denzel and Poitier... and I'd stopped breathing until Trebek said it was incorrect. My answer was correct, but the intensity of the moment, given how close the scores were, meant that I had nearly zero reaction to this. When I saw the leader had answered Denzel and nothing else, my mind went blank. Only when the camera focused on me and my victory was announced did it strike me, OMG I've won at Jeopardy!

I think I was pretty cool-as-a-cucumber during the game, but in the winner's circle interview I was reduced to near-complete incoherence. So to rectify that, I'd like to give proper shout-outs to everyone I'm so excited to share this with: my parents and sister, who believe in me even when I pursue far-fetched goals like getting on Jeopardy; Raea and Guillaume, who told me about the online test; Ken Brandt, who showed me how the trivia game could be played; Jamie, who let me watch on her tv so I could get used to answering in the form of a question; and, all my friends and mentors, who have been waiting for me to finally achieve something meaningful in my life!

Signing off from Sweden,

Saad

Saad appeared in the following 2 archived games:
#5962, aired 2010-07-13 Saad Hasan vs. Anne Anglim vs. Van Lane
#5961, aired 2010-07-12 Aaron Wicks vs. Barbara Gayle vs. Saad Hasan

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