This past weekend, New Haven welcomed “Jeopardy!” with open arms and Pepe’s pizza.
Fifteen college students from around the country competed in the show’s College Championship, which took place Friday and Saturday in Payne Whitney Gymnasium’s Lanman Center against a vivid two-dimensional representation of Yale’s campus. Robby Schrum ’05 represented Yale.
The show, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary season, had never held the College Championship at an Ivy League university before.
In an exclusive interview, “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek said the audience of 1500 was 10 times larger than the normal studio audience, yielding more dynamic interaction between the show and the audience.
Yale students’ enthusiasm was sometimes overwhelming, prompting Trebek to try to control the crowd from the stage.
“It would be easier if you didn’t applaud after every question,” Trebek said. “Especially when [Schrum] answers a $200 question — the easiest on the board — and you are beside yourselves.”
But Schrum said that Yale support was crucial to his game.
“Some of the contestants were afraid to play against me because of the crowd,” Schrum said. “Some of them were psyched out by it.”
Jenny Scharf ’06 said Yale students were a dominating presence in the audience, many of them hoping the competition would capitalize on historical tensions between Yale and Harvard.
“I think most people in the audience were from Yale,” Scharf said. “I wasn’t there for more charged games, some Ivy League face-offs I heard about.”
But Yalies were not Schrum’s only supporters.
“I hope the Yale guy wins,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said. “Otherwise, everyone’s cars are going to be towed.”
DeStefano gave crew members a taste of New Haven culture with gift boxes from his office packaged in Pepe’s pizza boxes. DeStefano explained that Sally’s Pizza was on vacation.
Unfamiliar with New Haven’s culinary offerings, Trebek quickly learned about the subject from an audience member during a commercial break.
“To be honest with you, ladies and gentlemen, I worry about a community the size of New Haven where the main interest seems to be two pizza places that are on the same street,” said Trebek. “There are other things in life.”
An unidentified student quickly replied, “The burrito cart!” marking the trend of audience involvement.
Technical difficulties slowed some of the filming, frustrating some audience members. Trebek tried to occupy the audience, but he received mixed reactions.
“The more we found out about him, the more annoying he seemed,” Diana Dosik ’06 said. “His favorite book is ‘Wuthering Heights’? And his favorite animal is this random animal from the Arctic or something — a musk ox?”
Schrum said that regardless of the tournament’s outcome, the contestants valued the experience and had a great time at a party he threw Saturday night.
“Half of them came over to my house off-campus, and it was a lot of fun,” Schrum said. “A lot of the contestants left feeling high on Yale and the whole experience.”
Due to the fact that the shows have not aired yet, reporters are not allowed to publish the results of the competition.
Trebek said the College Championship has more difficult material than the standard show. But Schrum sent Trebek running to the judges with a complicated response to a $200 question.
Despite the technical difficulties and Trebek’s lukewarm reception, many students felt the weekend was a success.
“I just think that the weekend went incredibly well, and Yale was a fantastic host for the event,” Schrum said. “Yale was lucky to have the event, and ‘Jeopardy!’ was lucky to have it at Yale.”
The shows will air weekdays at 7 p.m. on Nov. 10 through 21 on WTNH Channel 8. Schrum will appear on Nov. 10 and 19.