French Literature for $600

Graduate student Patrick Antle tells how he grabbed a win on "Jeopardy!" and became champion for a day

On March 13, Patrick Antle, G13, became the first Tufts student crowned champion on Jeopardy! In the Boston area, however, his achievement was obscured from view, because the broadcast was interrupted by news coverage of a large transformer fire in Boston’s Back Bay. What viewers did see—when they weren’t viewing a smoke-filled city—were portions of the first round and final Jeopardy. Only Antle, who is working toward a Ph.D. in chemistry, provided the only correct answer to the show’s concluding clue: “After dying, she’s described as having ‘too much of water,’ and her brother says, ‘Therefore I forbid my tears.’ ” The question? Who is Ophelia?

Tufts Now: How does it feel to be Jeopardy! champion?

Patrick Antle: Wonderful. But as great as it is to have personally done something, I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier than last night, the moment after the episode was decided, and all of my friends and loved ones watching with me just erupted. To be surrounded by nearly 100 people who cared enough and were emotional enough to celebrate in the same way I did when I won, that was unlike anything else.

What went through your mind when you realized you had won?

“If you’re not ringing in on nearly every question as soon as the light comes on, you’re dead in the water,” says Patrick Antle. Photo: Marlene Sauer“If you’re not ringing in on nearly every question as soon as the light comes on, you’re dead in the water,” says Patrick Antle. Photo: Marlene Sauer
To use a cliché, it was all a blur. I was frustrated the whole game because Jessamine, my fellow competitor, was playing great; she was beating me to the punch and finding all the daily doubles. Then the final Jeopardy category was revealed to be an area that I wasn’t too strong in, and I was completely convinced that the game was over, that I had no chance of winning. So, I was more than happy to take my second-place finish and go home having done my best. That’s why I smiled at the camera—might as well go out with a smile, right?

It didn’t hit me until Alex Trebek actually announced that I’d won. Then all of the emotion I was feeling hit me. I had spent many long nights reading what most would consider useless knowledge, and before the game, I was terrified of looking like an idiot on television. It was like at the end of Rocky III. Rocky Balboa just kind of collapses in the ring from a combination of ecstasy and exhaustion. And that’s where my multiple fist-pump explosion at winning came from.

How did you come to be on the show?

I’ve always enjoyed Jeopardy! I mean, who doesn’t watch, laugh at the awkward stories and yell answers at their television the entire time? I occasionally play pub trivia with a few friends of mine, and a few years back, one of my friends tried out for the show and planted the idea in my head that I should do the same. I saw a notice for the online test for prospective contestants while watching the show one evening, and decided to give it a shot. I figured that at best, I’d get a tryout and have a fun story to tell at parties. Obviously, I did do well enough on the online test to be selected for an in-person tryout in Boston.

How did you prepare for the tryout?

I hit the books hard during the little free time that one has as a graduate student. Still, I thought my tryout was a disaster. I got a really easy question wrong and somehow ended up dancing in front of the contestant coordinators. But I did have the story for parties that I wanted, so I figured that was the end of it.

Then, out of the blue, several months later, I got a call telling me that I’d been selected for the show and was needed in Los Angeles six weeks later. More than anything, I was terrified that I’d make a fool of myself on national television. This fear provided me with six weeks of the most extreme motivation to study anything and everything. Before I knew it, I was in makeup, waiting to take the long walk to the podium to face two other peculiar individuals in a 61-question pop quiz. All I could hope for were questions about chemistry and professional wrestling!

Professional wrestling?

Growing up, I was obsessed with the WWF. I recently discovered Netflix’s treasure trove of old wrestling documentaries, so it’s still a guilty pleasure. It’s great in its simplicity—you have the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other side, with very few shades of gray. As a youth, my friends and I would get together every week and watch on TV, throw each other around and pretend to hit each other with steel chairs and the like. So some of my heroes growing up were these over-the-top, bombastic individuals. More than anything, I admired the bad guys who could whip the crowd into an angry frenzy just with a look.

 What surprised you most about being a contestant?

The speed of the game. It all moves so quickly, and there’s not a ton of time to think. I’m not exactly one who is cool under pressure, so I survived on pure intensity, ready to answer every single question. And you do have to be constantly ready, because if you’re not ringing in on nearly every question as soon as the light comes on, you’re dead in the water. But every time there was a stoppage in play, I couldn’t help but realize how much fun I was having.

What was the most enjoyable part?

Playing the game. Once the bright lights came on, and the clues started flying, it was as much fun as the lead-up was nerve-racking. Seeing the big board, writing your name on the screen and listening to the “Think” song during final Jeopardy was all pretty fun stuff. I mean, how many people actually get to say, “OK. Alex, I’ll take French literature for $600?”

What is Alex Trebek really like?

Alex is a total pro. He works at his craft, making sure to get pronunciations right and understanding what other possible answers should be ruled correct or incorrect. And he’s got a great tan! But I will admit that there is no worse feeling than answering a clue and hearing his trademark snarky “no, sorry.”

Shifting gears, tell us about your doctoral research.

I’m working on developing an instrument which is based on a chemical technique known as gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. If I’m successful, the instrument will detect, speciate and quantify any organic pollutant, whether in the subsurface, water or air that we breathe. Additionally, I’m trying to develop methods to more accurately quantify these pollutants so we can prevent environmental decisions based on faulty data.

Patrick Antle went on to a second day of competition, but lost in the final Jeopardy round. For a recap of Antle’s first day on the show, go to this Jeopardy! fan site.

This story first appeared in GradMatters, a Graduate School of Arts and Sciences blog.

Robert Bochnak can be reached at

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