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"Jeopardy!" Professors Tournament host Mayim Bialik (left) and UD Prof. Deborah Steinberger stand on the set of the quiz show.
Here’s your clue: When this University of Delaware professor appears on Jeopardy!
this week, it will not be her first time competing on a televised quiz
show, but it will be the first one in which she speaks English.
Please answer in the form of a question:
Who is Deborah Steinberger?
The associate professor of French in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
is one of 15 higher education faculty members nationwide to take part
in the inaugural Professors Tournament of the iconic quiz show, in which
contestants are given a clue in the form of an answer and must then
supply the question. The tournament begins on Monday, Dec. 6, with
Steinberger making her quarterfinal appearance on Friday, Dec. 10. If
she is among the winners and wild cards from the first week, she will
advance to semifinal and final play the following week, with a champion
crowned on Friday, Dec. 17, and awarded a $100,000 prize.
Steinberger’s journey to Jeopardy! began when she was a
contestant on the popular French show “Questions pour un champion” in
2009. After winning a spot on the U.S. team at an audition in New York,
she traveled to Paris for the international competition and advanced to
the finals. It was a double challenge, she said, as she drew on her
knowledge of trivia and culture while also thinking and speaking in
Ever since that adventure, she said, people have been encouraging her to try out for Jeopardy! Steinberger
took the preliminary test the show offers several times a year and was
invited to audition on three occasions. After the most recent audition,
she was invited to appear on the show, but the COVID pandemic was
raging, and she felt it was unsafe to travel to California.
“Once I declined, I thought I had lost my only chance to be on the
show,” she said. “I asked them to please keep me in mind for the future,
and I kept watching and practicing, but I didn’t expect to be invited
Then she saw publicity this fall about plans for the first-ever Professors Tournament, took the online Jeopardy! test
again and was selected. By late October, she was in Los Angeles for a
day of preparation and two days of competition. (The show routinely
tapes multiple episodes a day.)
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
The 15 contestants in the Professors Tournament of "Jeopardy!"
stand behind host Mayim Bialik; UD’s Deborah Steinberger is in the front
of the group, to the right of Bialik.
To prepare, Steinberger continued watching Jeopardy! while
clicking a ballpoint pen to simulate pushing the button that contestants
use to signal that they want to answer. She tried to brush up on some
topics the show commonly includes, and on the flight to California she
read the book Secrets of the Jeopardy Champions by Chuck Forrest and Mark Lowenthal. But she’s not sure any of that was especially helpful.
“How you do on the show is based on knowledge you’ve gained over a
lifetime,” she said. “I’m not sure it’s something you can really cram
for unless you have a photographic memory.”
She’s not sure the ballpoint pen technique was useful either. Like many other Jeopardy! contestants
over the years, Steinberger described the timing and rhythm needed for
ringing in on the hand-held signaling device as the most difficult part
of competing. Even now, she said, she doesn’t feel as if she ever got
the hang of it.
But she is “absolutely” sure that the experience was positive and
amazing, she said. She can’t reveal how she did, but she had fun and
enjoyed meeting host Mayim Bialik and her fellow contestants, who
represented a wide range of academic disciplines, types of institutions
and geographic areas.
“It was just a fabulous group of people,” she said, and the
contestants were able to socialize a bit while still following protocols
set by the show and by COVID precautions. “I enjoyed getting to know
them, and there was always a nice team spirit.”
Steinberger said she didn’t get any clues in her areas of expertise,
such as French literature or culture, but there was one category in
which she did especially well.
“You’ll just have to watch and see what that was,” she said.
Steinberger is an associate professor of French and comparative literature and associate chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at UD.
Her research focuses on 17th century French journalism, and her
current book project takes a gender-studies approach to fiction
published in one of the first French newspapers, Le Mercure Galant.
The tournament will air every weeknight from Dec. 6-17.
Jeopardy! can be seen at 7 p.m. on WPVI-TV (ABC Channel 6) in
northern Delaware and the Philadelphia area. In southern Delaware, it
airs at 4:30 p.m. on WBOC (virtual channel 16) and at 7:30 p.m. on WRDE
(virtual channel 31).
Article by Ann Manser, photos courtesy of “Jeopardy!”
Published December 06, 2021