Syracuse University doctoral student to appear on 'Jeopardy!'

Ashley O'Mara, a Ph.D. candidate in English, will make her TV game show debut on Monday.

When Ashley O’Mara took an online application quiz for Jeopardy!, she would have never thought a year later she would appear on the broadcasted show. Right before Thanksgiving break of this year, O’Mara received a call that would change her life; that day, producers from the show called to invite her to Los Angeles to be on the show in mid-December.
O’Mara, currently a Ph.D. candidate in English in the College of Arts and Sciences, recalled being in awe after receiving the phone call, and told students of her race and literary text class that she wasn’t entirely sure she wouldn’t pass out.

“They were shocked, they were like THE Jeopardy? They were so excited for me and were saying they were cheering me on,” O’Mara said. “They would say, ‘I can’t wait to tell my friends, like was your instructor on Jeopardy? My instructor was on Jeopardy.’”

O’Mara said the application process for Jeopardy! was long and pressure-filled. After the 50 question online quiz, she was invited to New York City for an in-person interview. The interview consisted of another 50 question quiz, a screen test and a practice round where the contestants practice using clickers similar to the show. Contestants that did well during this round were later invited to film the show.

“They ask you questions as if Alex was interviewing you, so they’re testing you as much for your knowledge as much as they are for your personality and how it plays on TV,” O’Mara said.

After learning she would be on the show, O’Mara said she studied immensely. O’Mara has been a long time fan of the show, and even appeared on two seasons of a high school academic quiz show hosted by local pbs station WCNY. To prepare, O’Mara watched old episodes, studied popular show categories and had her family quiz her.

When it came time for the filming, O’Mara said she felt in control of her nerves, and was confident in the categories she had studied.

“Being a teacher and being in front of new students once a semester, as well as getting up in front of a live audience who may or may not be interested has helped me develop this persona that can project confidence and interest which is sincere even if I’m tired or I’m stressed,” O’Mara said.

During the show, O’Mara said she was surprised by the little interaction she had with host Alex Trebek, as the first time she saw him was when the introductory music played.

“When you see me talking to him at the break about a fun fact about me, that’s literally the first time we had ever spoken, so he’s really good at performing this intimacy with the contestants.”

Going into the show, O’Mara said she knew what she wanted to do with the money if she won. As a supporter of the House Rabbit Society, an organization for the welfare of domestic rabbits, O’Mara wanted to either create her own bunny “bed-and breakfast” if she won a lofty amount, or make a donation with a smaller amount.

O’Mara’s episode of Jeopardy! will air in Syracuse on Fox 68  at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 12.

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