Alumni Spotlight: South graduate appears on Jeopardy

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Alumni Spotlight: South graduate appears on Jeopardy

Will Dawson '06 with Alex Trebek during filming. Photo courtesy of Will Dawson.

Will Dawson '06 with Alex Trebek during filming. Photo courtesy of Will Dawson.

Will Dawson '06 with Alex Trebek during filming. Photo courtesy of Will Dawson.

Will Dawson '06 with Alex Trebek during filming. Photo courtesy of Will Dawson.

Victoria Gardey '20, Web Editor

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From Mr. Maguire’s class to AP U.S. History to running on the cross country and track teams, South appears to have prepared Will Dawson ’06 well for his recent four-day appearance on Jeopardy.

Dawson won a total of $71,601 as a three-day champion, eventually ending his run Feb. 6 in third place. His episodes, which began airing Feb. 1, were actually filmed in early December.

After graduating from South in 2006, Dawson attended the University of Kansas before graduating in 2010 and pursuing a masters at Wayne State University. He now resides in Washington D.C., and although Jeopardy introduced his job as a tour guide, that is only part of what he does at the National Geographic Museum. He also serves as a visitor experience representative there.

Dawson said he has always wanted to be on Jeopardy and used to tell his grandmother when he was little that he would be on the show when he was older.

“I’ve always been really good at trivia, and I always know random facts,” Dawson said. “I thought if I got on the show I could do really well so I always wanted to get on. With Alex Trebek possibly retiring in the next couple years, it motivated me to be on the show, and I thought if Trebek could host, that would be an added bonus.”

Part of what draws Dawson to Jeopardy is the fact that it is one of the only shows today that rewards knowledge.

“I have been a Jeopardy fan ever since I was a little kid,” Dawson said. “I used to spend after school with my grandparents a lot and I used to watch it with them. I still watch it every day. It’s sort of the only show I will not miss.”

The first step to auditioning for the show was taking a timed 50-question online test. After scoring above a certain score cutoff, Dawson said he was  invited to an in-person audition. The audition, which took place in March, included mock games and a paper test. Dawson then was in the contestant pool before being called in October for a filming date in early December.

“The way I prepared the most was by watching old episodes and buzzing in with a clicky pen,” Dawson said. “You can’t ring in until Alex Trebek is done reading the question, otherwise you get locked out for a half second. I trained by  watching old episodes while standing to get used to standing while playing the game and practicing waiting until he stopped talking to buzz in.”

For Dawson, one of the best parts of being on the show was meeting his fellow contestants from all around the country.

“Going onstage and seeing the board for the first time, it was like ‘oh my gosh, here it is, it’s real,’” Dawson said. “Meeting Alex Trebek was really cool– I mean, this is a guy who I’ve been watching ever since I was a little kid. I don’t get starstruck very easily, but I was kind of starstruck. He was very funny and gracious.”

Initially, Dawson said his goal was simply to not embarrass himself and to make it to final Jeopardy.

“I was floored away with how well I did,” Dawson said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Dawson had to keep his winnings a secret before his shows aired, a feat which he said proved challenging.

“After my first episode aired, it was kind of a relief that I didn’t have to keep it a secret,” Dawson said. “I could just say keep on watching to find out how I do. It was difficult, but I was able to keep it a secret which I am very proud of.”

Dawson said his favorite memories from South include the life-long friends he made during his time in high school.

“It was obvious that the education I got at South had prepared me really well for a future in academia,” Dawson said. “There was a noticeable gap between how I was prepared and ready to go compared to a lot of my classmates in college. It was kind of a bit shocking because I thought it was normal to have teachers who work hard. It made me thankful that I had gotten the education I did at South.”