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May 20, 2013

Alum in Jeopardy

Hannah Spector Wins Big with Film Topics

By Matthew Kredell

Hannah Spector had been trying to get on Jeopardy! for 10 years. Here she was with a slim lead heading into the final round, and host Alex Trebek reveals the deciding subject to be “70s Blockbusters.” It's a movie category and she got her graduate degree from the USC School of Cinematic Arts in 2003.

“Things are either going my way or I'm about to make my whole college experience completely worthless,” Spector says she thought to herself.

There was no need to worry. It was definitely her day. Trebek read the final clue: “A direction in this film: 'Start with the tone ... up a full tone. Down a major third. Now drop an octave. Up a perfect fifth.'”

She immediately knew the answer (or question, in Jeopardy terms) – Close Encounters of the Third Kind. How could she not? She took a class specifically focused on Steven Spielberg films at USC. The correct response made her Jeopardy champion with winnings of $29,201.

Connecting back to her graduate-school days in this big moment was eerily appropriate. It was while attending USC that Spector first auditioned for Jeopardy.

It's a long and arduous process to get on the hit ABC game show. It all begins with a 50-question, 10-minute online test. Applicants with at least 35 correct responses are randomly selected to participate in an in-person interview. Spector was first invited to audition in 2002. The audition consists of another 50-question written test, a short mock version of the show complete with buzzers and a brief personality interview.

Over the next 18 months, about 10 percent of those who audition are given the opportunity to appear on Jeopardy based on some unknown combination of test scores, audience appeal and luck. Once that time period elapses, unused contestants are released to start the process all over again.

Spector, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Van Nuys, CA with husband Jeff and sons Nathan (5) and James (3), was on her third try auditioning when she finally got the call.

“I think it was a factor that, by the third time, I thought this never was going to happen so I didn't feel any pressure,” Spector says. “I was completely friendly and normal.”

There were only a couple of weeks notice before the show filmed, leaving little time to brush up on her knowledge. She was confident she could excel in history, presidents and anything entertainment or pop culture related.

“Just from watching Jeopardy and knowing a lot of the clues at home, I felt I knew enough trivia to do well on the show,” Spector says. “I've always been someone who enjoyed trivia. Trivial Pursuit is my favorite game. I read a ton and know a lot of random stuff. I thought my knowledge was broad enough that I'd probably do all right.”

Her shows were filmed near the end of 2011 but didn't air until March. In her second game, Spector struggled on the buzzer against two strong opponents and entered the final round in third place despite putting up a respectable total of 11,000. The final category again focused on movies with the answer being Orson Welles. All three contestants responded correctly and Spector walked away with an extra $1,000 for third place, bringing her final Jeopardy! total to $30,201.

When she's not winning on game shows or raising her kids, Spector is an avid runner who completed the L.A. Marathon the past two years. She left her position as academic advisor for undergraduates majoring in Writing for Screen & Television at the USC School of Cinematic Arts when her first son was born. With both kids soon to be in school, Spector plans to begin working on her own screenplays.