Tina Nguyen '11's appearance on Jeopardy! sparked an answer-gone-viral

Tina Nguyen on jeopardy
December 16, 2013

Everyone knows that for the last 50 years, the television game show Jeopardy! has been in a master class by itself. Indeed, it deserves the appellation of the thinking person’s game show as it tests contestants’ depth and breadth of knowledge in a variety of categories.

On the show that aired December 3, Thien-Nga “Tina” Nguyen '11 became the latest CMCer to pit her pool of knowledge against other Jeopardy! panelists. Nguyen, who graduated with a BA in government, made it through the first two rounds and into "Final Jeopardy!”

We caught up with the alumna this week and quizzed her about her appearance on the enduring game show (though kindly stopped short of insisting she frame her answers as questions).

How did your liberal arts education at CMC benefit the knowledge you applied in Jeopardy!? Tina: Ah, the old “Liberal Arts is Important” question! Obviously the breadth of knowledge in the liberal arts helped, but its emphasis on communication skills really helped me, particularly in some of the wordplay-oriented questions For example, in the category “Starts and Ends with a Vowel:” It's soft; it's pendulous; it's one of the two on your head––What is an earlobe? Weirdly enough, you would get dinged for saying “earlobes” because that word doesn’t end in a vowel.

Why did you want to appear on the show? Tina: Because who doesn't? Honestly, it was on my nerd bucket list. I'm just glad I crossed it off early instead of wilting into my 40s, having never appeared on the show.

What did you have to do to appear on the show? Tina: There was an online test and an in-person audition in which I had to know a lot of things, answer many questions in a seven-second timeframe, and prove that I was a normal person who could handle being on television. (There are, surprisingly, not many of those out there. The audition process selects 400 out of 100,000 people to appear on the show. CMC’s admission’s committee better step up!)

Were you nervous or totally under control? Tina: There's a bit of a rhythm you get into when the game starts playing that obliterates any sort of nerves one has going into the game.

In the final round, what question was your downfall? Tina: I came in third in a very, very close game – probably one of the few times anyone could ever lose on Jeopardy! with roughly $20,000 dollars. And do not ever ask me about the pronunciation of GIF (see last question).

What were the easiest and toughest categories of questions and why? Tina: Easiest: “Television.” Oh, and “The 5 W's” which consisted of two U.S. politics, one physics, one restaurant and one finance question (Where is the largest stock exchange in Canada? Toronto, apparently.). It worked out well.

Toughest: “State Shapes.” That was probably where my government degree came in handy. So many state borders were shaped by political agreement and historical conflict.

We hear that your final answer has gone “viral.” Tina: There's been a longstanding debate on the Internet on how the image format “GIF” is pronounced: is it “JIF” with a soft G, or “GIF” with a hard G, like “girl?” The “Final Jeopardy!” question sided with the soft G pronunciation, and since everything Alex Trebek ever says is infallible (he is probably the Nerd Pope), the Internet went wild. On the down side, there is video now on every major blog of me losing on Jeopardy! Seriously, look it up. The girl who looks like she's about to pass a kidney stone? That's me.


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