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UD 'Jeopardy!' Contestant

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UD’s Deborah Steinberger to compete in inaugural Professors Tournament

two women standing on the game show television set

​"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 French.

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 again.”

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.)​

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host and contestants standing on the Jeopardy television set

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.​

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About Deborah Steinberger

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.​

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Watching the Jeopardy! Professors Tournament

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).​

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​ Article by Ann Manser, photos courtesy of “Jeopardy!” 

Published December 06, 2021

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