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Categorically Wise
A high-scoring Jeopardy contestant makes her way to the Tournament of Champions.


Donna Vogel
Donna Vogel had a month’s warning to prepare for the tournament. “The first two weeks I didn’t do anything special,” she says. “After that, I boned up on topics they seem to favor, like U.S. presidents and world geography. My philosophy was, just get up there and play the game.”

Last July, we reported that Donna   Vogel, director of Hopkins’ professional development office, had appeared on the television game show Jeopardy and walked away $87,299 richer. We told readers to stay tuned because she might eventually qualify for the Tournament of Champions. During the two-week tournament, the 15 highest-winning contestants since the last Tournament of Champions face off to determine the ultimate winner.

Sure enough, Vogel was among those selected for the tournament, which was taped in Las Vegas on Jan. 8 and 10. Before a live audience at the Sony booth during the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show, Vogel competed for a chance to win the grand prize.

“It’s all a blur,” says Vogel, whose husband, sons and several other family members accompanied her to Vegas to watch. “It was pretty intense.” Vogel is sworn to secrecy until the tournament airs—March 11 through 24, at 7 p.m.—but the M.D./Ph.D. did make one observation: “I didn’t totally embarrass myself.”

Although the ultimate winner takes home the most money—$250,000—every participant is guaranteed payouts. The runner-up is assured $100,000, and the second runner-up gets $50,000. Both take home either their guaranteed prize amount or the amount of money they earn in the finals, whichever is higher. Semifinalists receive $10,000, while quarter-finalists earn $5,000. Vogel hasn’t decided what she’s doing with her undisclosed winnings just yet. (Last time, she donated all of it to charity.)

Was she nervous during the tournament? “Not for a minute,” she says, “but the competition was extremely stiff.” Other contestants included a minister, an investor, grad students and teachers. Vogel says she enjoyed getting to know them during the taping’s down time.

It takes more than broad-based knowledge to advance on the show, says Vogel. “Knowing when to ring and how much to wager are just as important,” she says. “That’s what makes it fun.”

Vogel says she’s surprised at how much the entire Jeopardy experience has changed the way she is perceived. “People think I’m an expert in everything, which isn’t always true,” she says. Yet being a Jeopardy champion has helped her professionally “because it’s something unusual that stays with people and gives me something to talk about when I lecture.” But she’s quick to state her rule: No questions about the show until she’s done teaching the course material.      

–Kim Hoppe

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