Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications
Alex Damisch ’16 is a big fan of knowledge games. Now more than ever.
Her gaming history, which included stints at Lawrence University as a trivia master for the Great Midwest Trivia Contest and president of the Quizbowl club, paid off recently with a run on Jeopardy! that included three days of winning and a tally of $35,549. The episodes featuring Damisch on the popular TV game show aired in late November.
“I’ve been a fan of competitive knowledge games for as long as I can remember,” said Damisch, who lives in Chicago and works as a data analyst for Underwriters Laboratories.
She was drawn to the games while growing up — Jeopardy! and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire were favorites — but it was her experience with Quizbowl while a student at Lawrence that really prepped her for her shot when the Jeopardy! cameras rolled.
Quizbowl is a team knowledge competition. Students at Lawrence meet regularly to practice and they travel to compete against other schools.
“Quizbowl asks about a wider range of academic subjects, and with greater depth, than anything you’d see on TV,” Damisch said. “I was never a dominant player, but it broadened my range of knowledge and got me reading about things I would have never imagined.”
That wasn’t the only Lawrence connection contributing to her success as she fielded questions from Alex Trebek on the set in Los Angeles. She credits her fiancé, John O’Neill ’18, with prepping her in the three weeks leading up to her Jeopardy! taping. She and O’Neill met at Lawrence when she was a sophomore and he was a freshman. He, too, is a big fan of the Jeopardy!-style games.
“After I got the call, we dropped wedding planning and pretty much everything else but work for the three weeks that we had to prepare,” Damisch said.
She used a standup desk and held a click pen to simulate a buzzer while playing along to old episodes of Jeopardy!, with O’Neill coaching and keeping score along the way.
“John worked in various capacities at the library for all five years at Lawrence, and he’s particularly gifted at finding resources on any topic you can imagine,” Damisch said. “That really came in handy when we tried to attack some of my weaker subjects, like animal science and older pop culture. … It says a lot about John that he would, for example, quiz me on Canadian provincial capitals and major cities well into the night without complaint.”
This marked the fourth time Damisch had auditioned for Jeopardy! — once as a Lawrence student and three times since graduating in 2016. It’s not an easy process. This time, she felt she was ready.
“The day after I came back from vacation, I got the call,” she said. “I admit that my first thought was exasperation at having to take more vacation time. But for Jeopardy!, you make it work.”
Damisch is used to juggling tight schedules. While at Lawrence, she completed a B.A. degree in mathematics and a B.Mus. degree in clarinet in four years — and served as a trivia master for the Great Midwest Trivia Contest in both 2015 and 2016. She went on to earn a master’s degree in predictive analytics from DePaul University.
Now she plays trivia games with co-workers and continues to volunteer for organizations that work with Quizbowl competitions. When she receives her Jeopardy! winnings in a few weeks, she said she plans to set aside a little for a honeymoon trip, donate some to Orthodox Christian causes that are important to her, and invest the rest.
And she’ll look back fondly on her Jeopardy! experience, even if much of it is a bit fuzzy.
“I’d say I probably remember one or two distinct moments from each game, the rest is a blur,” Damisch said. “It doesn’t take that much longer to tape an episode of Jeopardy! than it does to watch one. … After I taped the shows, I thought to myself, ‘Man, it went by so fast, and I was always so focused on my next move, I hope I remembered to smile.’ Spoiler alert: I did not.”
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: email@example.com