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$800

$1000

I’ve gone from dead in the water to having a shot, but it’s going to take some weird, weird wagering to make this happen. – Ryan Fox

Ryan Fox (right) with Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek. BUSY WEEK

The unexpected invitation set off a whirlwind of activity. Fox was scheduled to appear the final week of the season, all five episodes of which would tape March 23, two days after his dissertation was due. He made his academic deadline and then set off for Los Angeles. Fox will never forget his first steps onto the famous Jeopardy! set. There, in front of him, were those three familiar podiums, along with an intimidating wall of 52-inch HD monitors on which the questions would appear. “It’s like walking into a cathedral or, if you’re a sports fan, a major league stadium,” he described. “The angelic choir in the background is just about the only thing you need to complete the imagery.” Ten other potential contestants joined Fox in the studio for the daylong shoot. Before each episode, a blind draw determined which two competitors would challenge the returning champion. Everyone else sat in a secluded area of the studio audience so they wouldn’t be recognized. With few exceptions, episodes are recorded in real time, complete with

commercial breaks. Fox watched the first two from the audience before hearing his name called for the Wednesday show. The air date of July 27, his parent’s wedding anniversary, proved to be a good omen. INTO THE BREACH

Standing behind his podium, Fox acclimated himself to a new view of the set he had seen so many times on television. He found the perspective to be “surprisingly calming,” noting, “It’s actually really hard to see the audience. The board is so big and the studio lights are so bright, that’s all I could see.” Host Alex Trebek is also positioned at a unique angle, so he’s not always in the players’ line of sight. Contestants, Fox noted, pay particular attention to the “strands of Christmas lights” on either side of the question-and-answer board that indicate when it’s OK to ring in with an answer. Click too early, and your buzzer is locked for a quarter of a second. “That doesn’t seem like much,” he explained, “but that’s all you need to not be the first to answer a question.” Right away, Fox discovered that the grip he had used in College Bowl wouldn’t work – the buzzer was too big. He made the necessary adjustment but was still buried in third place with a negative dollar amount at the first commercial break. Fox kept his composure and gradually got back into contention, making his big move in the Double Jeopardy! round with a strong showing in the category of “Colleges and Universities.” By the time that round ended, Fox was still in third place but within striking distance of the leader. Considering his wager for the Final Jeopardy! category of “Royalty,” he thought, “I’ve gone from dead in the water to having a shot, but it’s going to take some weird, weird wagering to make this happen.” He decided to risk $4,000 of his $14,800 total, figuring that the second-place contestant would “go for broke” and that the returning champion – in the lead with $19,600 – would wager enough to leave the door open for him. If his assumptions were correct, he would win regardless of whether he answered correctly, so long as both of his opponents missed.

As soon as the question was revealed, Fox flashed back to Atkins’ class and the list of kings in his British history textbook. With the unmistakable Final Jeopardy! music serenading him in the background, he wrote “Who is Charles I?” so large on his screen that there was no room to strike through it if he changed his mind. This answer had to be correct, and it was! Because he was in third place, Fox’s correct response was revealed first, increasing his final total to $18,800. The second-place contestant missed the question, eliminating her from contention. The camera then focused on the defending champion, who was shaking her head from side to side. When her incorrect answer and correspond­ ing wager were revealed, the realization hit him – “Oh my God! I just won Jeopardy!” “Even now, it’s like it didn’t happen,” Fox said months later. “Only in your wildest dreams, in some sort of made-for-Hollywood ending, is that going to happen.” ONE MORE THRILL

Fox’s Jeopardy! experience ended with a second-place finish in the next taping. Afterward, the math education major in him mused of his victory, “I just made $18,000 in 30 minutes of work. That’s the best hourly rate I’ll ever get in my life!” As soon as he returned to Atlanta, Fox was off again, flying to Philadelphia to interview with his current employer. No one but wife Sarah Purvis Fox (02C) knew how things had turned out in Los Angeles. All he could reveal was the air date. On the night of the broadcast, Fox gathered with friends at a restaurant in Athens, Ga. He enjoyed watching their reaction as he steadily gained steam. In the meantime, his cell phone began buzzing with congratulatory texts from friends watching in another market where the show aired a halfhour earlier. When the end finally came in Athens, the reaction was electric. “Once people realized that I had won, it sounded like the Bulldogs had just won the SEC in football or the Braves had won the World Series,” he recalled. “It was just an eruption of celebration. It was the funniest thing. I loved it!” B

BERRY MAGAZINE • WINTER 2011-12

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Profile for Berry College

Berry Magazine - Winter 2011-12  

Berry Magazine - Winter 2011-12

Berry Magazine - Winter 2011-12  

Berry Magazine - Winter 2011-12