Applications, placement tests, and auditions—more than a dozen IU alums have been through the rigorous process required to become contestants on a number of iconic television game shows.
Many admit that nostalgia was what drew them to the opportunity. It was a chance to meet their childhood idols, such as Alex Trebek, the late host of Jeopardy!, or Wheel of Fortune’s Pat Sajak and Vanna White.
Keep reading to find out who walked away with cash and other grand prizes.
Kristen Courtney “K.C.” (Williams) Backer, MA’04, was a contestant on season 21. During the episode, which aired Oct. 14, 2004, Backer finished in third place and earned a $1,000 cash prize.
Jennifer Lloyd, BA’88, JD’93, was a contestant on season 32. During the episode, which aired June 28, 2016, she finished in third place with a score of $300 and a cash prize of $1,000.
Lloyd grew up watching Jeopardy! with her family.
“I used to get home from school before anyone else. I’d secretly watch the recording and rewind it. That way, I already knew all the answers when we watched as a family [after dinner],” Lloyd says. “My parents thought I was a genius.”
During the Final Jeopardy round, Lloyd and her fellow contestants were presented with this clue: Before his death in 1932, he donated over $100 million, including $50 million to the University of Rochester.
“I missed the answer about inventor George Eastman,” recalls Lloyd. “My brother-in-law works for Eastman Corporation— that was pretty embarrassing.”
Matthew McDaniel, BA’98, was a contestant on season 37 of the classic game show. During the episode, which aired Nov. 24, 2020, McDaniel finished in second place with a score of $17,700. He received a cash prize of $2,000.
Ruth Reichard, JD’85, MA’08, PhD’15, was a contestant on season 37. She wagered all of her game money during Final Jeopardy but didn’t come up with the answer. The clue was: Based on the 1974 novel, this film has been described as combining An Enemy of the People and Moby Dick. She finished in third place and received a cash prize of $1,000.
“The inclusion of the Enemy of the People totally threw me off,” Reichard told The Indiana Lawyer. “We had 30 seconds, and I just drew a blank.” The correct answer was Jaws.
Brett Dvorak, BA’03, JD’06, was a contestant in the 2001 Jeopardy! National College Championship. He finished as a semifinalist and won $5,000.
To Dvorak’s surprise, he wasn’t nervous during his time on set.
“While filming the show, it felt like I was sitting in my apartment with friends watching Jeopardy!, not standing in front of a studio audience,” he says.
Sarah Bauer, BA’13, JD’16, was a contestant in the 2012 National College Championship. She finished as a quarterfinalist and took home $5,000.
Bauer met her future husband, Greer Mackebee, while competing on the game show; however, Bauer and Mackebee didn’t become a couple until they reunited in Washington, D.C., several years later.
Their love story, and Mackebee’s unique proposal, was documented by The New York Times.
Tyler Combs, BA’20, was a contestant in the 2020 National College Championship. He finished as the first runner-up and pocketed $50,000.
Combs has been a fan of the popular game show since he was in elementary school, and he tried multiple times to become a contestant.
“I’d taken the online test for Jeopardy! once or twice in high school for the teen tournament and once freshman year of college,” he explains.
Luckily, his mom encouraged him to apply one last time.
“My most memorable experience [on set] was when I was taping my first episode and the legendary Alex Trebek walked up to me and started speaking in Russian,” Combs says. “It took all my brain power and every lesson I’d had in the language at IU to respond!”
To learn more about Combs’ Jeopardy! journey, read Who is Tyler Combs?
The Price is Right
In 2008, Jason Hain, BS’10, went on vacation to Los Angeles and didn’t expect to end up on the set of The Price is Right, let alone be a contestant.
“I was on vacation with one of my friends, and he’s a really big fan of the show,” Hain told the Indiana Daily Student. “He was the one that got us the tickets, so really I just went along with him, and I ended up being called.”
Hain took home a $3,200 home-theater system.
In 2016, Lindsay Cate, BS’16, and her uncle spent nine hours waiting in the audience line for The Price is Right. They used that time to discuss show strategies and prices in case they were asked to “come on down” by host Drew Carey.
Cate ended up playing a game called “Side by Side.” The prize was a four-day trip to Seattle. Cate had to choose between two prices for the cost of a trip. Unfortunately, she chose the wrong price.
“I’ll never forget it,” Cate told the Indiana Daily Student. “I basically had a 50/50 chance, and I blew it.”
Brandon Howell, BS’04, bought tickets for The Price is Right while visiting Los Angeles on a work trip.
To his surprise, he was chosen as a contestant.
“It was the most exhilarating feeling,” Howell recalls. “When I heard my name, I shot right up.”
He ended his time on the game show with a little over $36,000 in cash and prizes, which included a grill, a car, and a trip to Washington, D.C.
Wheel of Fortune
Kelsey (Kapral) Murphy, BS’09, appeared on Wheel of Fortune during its annual College Week in 2008. She received $17,000. More recently, Murphy won season 11 of MasterChef.
Emily (Fergason) Newell, BS’14, was a contestant in 2011. She won more than $31,000 in cash and prizes, including a trip through the Canadian Rocky Mountains from Calgary to Vancouver.
After graduation, Newell took the trip with her twin sister.
“[It was] truly a trip of a lifetime,” Newell says. “I invested a majority of the cash and took an additional trip to Australia with my best friend.”
It was the first round and the first puzzle of the episode. With a chance to win a trip to London and $1 million, Julian Batts, BS’17, MS’19, was ready to solve after filling in all the letters on the board.
However, the phrase looked unfamiliar to Batts.
“All I had to do was read the puzzle, but I had never seen the word Achilles spelled out,” Batts says.
Out came the now-notorious mispronunciation—”A-chillus,” with a hard “A.” The pronunciation was rejected (show rules).
Despite the hiccup, Batts finished the episode victorious and collected $11,700. But once his error aired on national TV, the internet was merciless, calling him the “worst Wheel of Fortune contestant ever.”
Find out how Batts dealt with the negative press in Wheel of Fortune Contestant Moves on From Competition.
Emily Hogg, MPA’17, was a contestant on season 37 of Jeopardy! She also appeared on ABC’s The Chase—a fast-paced quiz show where three competitors face off against a “trivia titan.”
“Being on the shows reminded me of how many people are in my corner,” Hogg says. “After my episodes aired, former pastors, old friends from IU, and classmates from high school reached out to express how proud they were.”
Hogg came in second place on Jeopardy! and walked away with $2,000. Her episode aired March 11, 2021.
“I didn’t really do anything crazy or fun with my winnings,” Hogg says. “I used some to invest and pay down my student loans.”