Carnegie Mellon alum makes Jeopardy! history

Answer: Carnegie Mellon alumnus and creator of Jeopardy! history. Question: Who is Scott Weiss?

In the final round of his last game, Weiss, a contestant on three games of the popular television game show Jeopardy!, the last of which aired on March 16, bet such that he and the other two contestants would tie for first place, something that has never occurred in the history of the show’s 43 years.

All three concluded the show with $16,000 in prize money. In addition, they were required to play a fourth game that would serve as a tie-breaker.

Weiss surpassed his closest opponent’s score by more than double on the show that aired on Wednesday (March 14) and had an easy win on his second day (March 15), before making it to the historic show that aired on Monday.

In the final round of his final game, Weiss could either bet $2601, with which, assuming that he answered the question correctly, he would defeat the other two players outright, or alternatively wager just enough to force a three-way-tie with his opponents. This would result in all three contestants playing each other again in a fourth game.

He decided to do the latter. The show contacted a mathematician, who put the chance of such a three-way tie at one in 25 million. Weiss doesn’t regret the decision.

“I didn’t lose anything by letting others win,” he said.

Weiss is an alum of Carnegie Mellon’s first undergraduate computer science class in 1992. He currently works as a professor of computer science at Mount St. Mary in Walkersville, Md.
While at Carnegie Mellon, Weiss worked as a teaching assistant of Calculus for Humanities Students (now 21-111).

“That was my first real teaching experience that helped me get to the job I have today,” he said.

Weiss took Jeopardy!’s online test last March and was subsequently randomly selected to attend a live audition in Washington, D.C.

Following the audition, the show notified him that he would compete on the air in November. An estimated 400 out of 100,000 people who make it through the online test are selected to be on the show.

“I was overwhelmed to learn that I was one of those selected,” Weiss said.

In December, Weiss’ first episode was shot in Los Angeles. Due to the show’s Christmas hiatus, for three months Weiss was not allowed to disclose his victory with anyone except his wife and sister, who had come down to L.A. with him for the shooting.

“Five shows were shot in a day, and the final show was shot on the last day. It was hard keeping from people the fact that I had not only won but also created history on Jeopardy!,” Weiss said.

This is not Weiss’s first run-in with Jeopardy!. He has been an ardent viewer of the show since his teens.

While Weiss was an undergrad at Carnegie Mellon, a few of his friends drove to Cleveland for a chance to participate in Jeopardy!, but Weiss declined out of nervousness. He recalled watching Jeopardy! daily with his friends at Carnegie Mellon and having mock Jeopardy! games on campus.

“I’ve always watched trivia games and been pretty good at it,” said Weiss, who also enjoys solving crossword puzzles and playing board games.

One of the techniques Weiss used during the show was reading the question before seeing its video, which allowed him to answer more quickly.

Weiss cherishes the memories that he had on the sets of Jeopardy!, including his interactions with host Alex Trebek.

“He’s a nice guy. He knows the questions and so he’s like a security. He talked to us about his favorite shows and how he fixed plumbing,” Weiss said.

Weiss continues to keep in touch with co-contestants Jamey Kirby and Anders Martinson via e-mail.

“Anders, Jamey, and I bonded with each other,” Weiss said. “It was like three buddies playing a game together.”

Weiss holds no regrets about the way that he played.

“Having had such a wonderful time with them was even more gratifying than the actual experience of winning to them in the tie breaker would have been,” he said. “I would wager the same amount [so as to tie with the them] again if I were to play the game once more.”

Weiss plans on donating a portion of his winnings to a reform Jewish congregation organization and to some other charity firms. He also plans to save some for his 3-year-old son’s college education, which, he added, might be at Carnegie Mellon.

Other than using his Jeopardy! buzzer while watching the show on television and playing a Simpsons version of the Jeopardy! board game at home, Weiss said he prepared for the show by reading entry after entry on Wikipedia.

“At home, I asked my wife questions for fun,” he said. “I also wrote my own questions to enact the mindset of the game’s writers.”

On the spot during the actual show, he also used knowledge gleaned from his son’s alphabet book to answer a question in the show’s “fish, bird, or mammal” section, and an answer from a crossword puzzle, for which he subsequently sent the author a thank-you note.

Weiss has fond memories of his time on the Jeopardy! set in Los Angeles.

“Most of it is exactly the same as you see on air,” Weiss said.

However, he noticed few differences between the taped version of Jeopardy! and the episode that airs on television.

“They edit out tiny things like bad audio and Alex Trebek’s mistakes,” Weiss said. “[Also], the audience tends to look upward at a monitor above the contestants rather than at the contestants and the scores of the contestants are to the left.”

Towards the end of the show, Weiss had a heartwarming encounter with a teacher who had brought her class to the set.

“She came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for teaching my kids invaluable lessons of sportsmanship and generosity,’” he said.

The tie-breaking episode aired on March 19.

Though Weiss was in the lead for the majority of the game, he lost in the final round and Kirby was declared the winner. However, Weiss had won the largest sum of money over the four episodes.

Despite his ultimate loss, Weiss holds no regrets.

“If given a chance, I would go back in a heartbeat to play Jeopardy! again,” Weiss said.

His advice to Carnegie Mellon students who want to make it onto the show?

“Watch Jeopardy! daily and don’t be afraid to give it a shot,” he said.