'Jeopardy!' host Ken Jennings with Kathy Olson.

'Jeopardy!' host Ken Jennings with Kathy Olson. She will appear on the show Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Photo: Contributed

Lehigh Journalism Professor Kathy Olson Appears on ‘Jeopardy!’

Olson achieves dream of being a contestant on long-running game show.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Fulfilling a lifelong “bucket list” item, Lehigh Journalism Professor Kathy Olson appeared May 15 on the long-running syndicated game show "Jeopardy!"

Sworn to secrecy about the outcome, she couldn't say in advance how she did. “But I was joking that I had two goals,” she said. “One was to not end up with a negative score, so I couldn't be in Final Jeopardy. And the other was not to become a meme. And you know, we shall see!”

Olson had tried four or five times over more than three decades—since earning her undergraduate degree in communication from Northwestern University—to be a “Jeopardy!” contestant. And although she had previously passed the initial tests and made it to auditions, she had never previously been chosen as a contestant.

That changed in April, when she taped the show that aired at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Two years earlier, in 2022, Olson had decided to give “Jeopardy!” another try and took its online test. A proctored test over Zoom followed.

While in Paris for a conference, Olson was contacted for the next step—an interview and participation in a mock game, also over Zoom. While she thought she did well—she was comfortable with the communication platform, having taught over Zoom during the pandemic—she didn’t hear from anyone affiliated with the show for over a year. She figured her time had expired to be called as a contestant.

Then, in March 2024, she received the text message she had been hoping for.

“I was super excited, but I was also nervous because I feel like over the last few years, my quickness has sort of gone down,” said Olson, mindful that contestants' timing in “buzzing in” to answer is an important part of contestants’ success. “But, I thought, you know, I have a new resolution to do things that scare me, so I certainly said ‘yes,’” she added with a laugh.

Not having a lot of time to prepare, Olson reviewed familiar topics, such as state capitals and planets, rather than trying to learn new stuff. On site at the studio in Culver City, California, the contestants were given time to practice using the buzzer.

The overall experience, she said, “was terrific,” with staffers who put everyone at ease and contestants who were supportive of one another. “I had just decided to see how I can do and try to have fun,” she said.

Olson joined Lehigh in 2000. In addition to her undergraduate degree from Northwestern, she holds a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, a masters in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin, and a doctorate in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She will retire from Lehigh in August 2024.

Editor's Note: Kathy Olson obtained her goals--she made it to Final Jeopardy! and she wasn't a meme. She finished the episode with $2,000.

Read more stories on the Lehigh News Center.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

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