David Madden interview, part two!

     I couldn’t help but notice that quiz bowl experience is a good predictor for success on Jeopardy! Two of this year’s Teen Tournament finalists, Raynell Cooper and Kailyn Laporte, are quiz bowl participants. I asked David how those of us with no such experience can get caught up now. He said, “It’s tough because there’s lots of stuff that most educated people simply have no reason to know unless you’ve gone about it systematically. I spent more than one Friday night in high school memorizing lists of Russian poets, opera composers, etc. The ‘Trebekistan’ approach is a good one, too.” (That is a reference to Bob Harris’ book Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! Harris would create his own cartoons or images that linked two or more bits of information together to make it easy for him to remember them.) I asked David how he (David) retained what he learned. He said, “First, I’m genuinely interested in almost everything under the sun. Next, I’d run through facts in my head to make them stick, sometimes with mnemonic devices.”
     David says he also studied for the show by calling his parents every night from Germany (you may recall he was studying there when he appeared on Jeopardy!).  He kept track of which clues he answered correctly just from studying for the show.  By the time he appeared, he was getting an average of three clues right per episode from studying specifically for the show.  He says he picked up $7000 on a Final Jeopardy clue about John Wayne that way.
     David also kept track of Daily Double locations while listening in from Germany.  He’s a big believer in searching for them when he plays.  I asked him why, if a person can’t be certain he’ll get them right.  I asked if the point was to take them away from opponents.  He said, “Absolutely.  And my all-time record on Daily Doubles is 47-2, including 3 against Watson in sparring matches….I bet it all on all three occasions against the machine and got all three right.” 
     Until David said that, I didn’t know he was one of the former champs who helped Watson prepare!  I told him I didn’t remember seeing him on the episode of PBS’s “Nova” that featured Watson.  David said, “They didn’t want to make Watson look bad. ;)”
     David goes on to say, “I hate Watson and am incensed at its buzzer speed on the show.  It was a joke.  IBM masked its failures through unfair buzzer speed.”  I recalled seeing a post of David’s on the Jeopardy! message boards about this.  David also mentioned that he wrote an op-ed piece about it.  I don’t know about you guys, but I would love to see video of David playing Watson, having read these editorials and having heard David say they didn’t want Watson to look bad!  I wonder if the tape was destroyed… 😉
     I asked David if he had any advice for mastering the Jeopardy! buzzer. He said, “Not really. If the buzzer were about speed I would’ve done even better. I hated having to wait for Trebek to be done with the question. Sometimes I got in the groove but I don’t think I ever really had it down that great. I think I was late ringing in in the two Watson games. Of the 120 questions, I probably knew about 100, but was only recognized on about 15. Very frustrating, but luckily the Daily Doubles and Watson’s ineptness in [the] Final saved me.”
     I asked David which former champ he played against when warming up Watson. “Larissa Kelly, a friend of mine from college – I tried out with her husband Jeff Hoppes for the show.” David said that this was his first time trying out (I’m jealous!) and that he was later told that living in Berlin helped his cause to be selected. David says, “Of course I wasn’t privy to the selection process itself, but it’s a well known fact that J! strives for diversity in its contestants, and I think the fact that I was living overseas made me stand out some. Also, maybe it gave the show more of an international scope or something like that. In any case, it’s pretty rare to see someone on the show who is living overseas.”
     Read more about David’s Jeopardy! audition tomorrow night!

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