Buzzer speed practice and 30 textbooks: How this Calgarian prepared to be on Jeopardy!
Ujal Thakor of Calgary is in an episode of the game show airing Wednesday
UPDATE: Ujal Thakor came close to unseating returning champion Margaret Shelton in the Final Jeopardy! round. They both answered correctly but she finished with $24,000 and he ended with $21,200.
Calgarian Ujal Thakor is the first Canadian resident to compete on Jeopardy! in two years, and just how he fared will be seen when his episode airs Wednesday night.
Thakor was on the Calgary Eyeopener to discuss how he went from working at a Calgary-based eyecare company to competing in Los Angeles on one of the longest-running televised game shows.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Question: Were you one of those people watching the show that would blurt out the answers and feel good about yourself?
Answer: Absolutely. I love that feeling of sitting on the couch and being the first one to answer among anyone else. I started a little more seriously tracking my score, and seeing how I would fare had I been on the show and against myself over time. That really kind of spurred me into thinking, "I could do this," and "I really should apply and take it seriously."
Q: Do you remember a moment when you realized, "I don't need to be my home couch expert, I could be one of those people"?
A: There was one game, I wish I could remember the question, but on the final Jeopardy all three contestants got it wrong and I got it right. I thought, you know, "I've got a shot at this."
Q: All right, Mr. Smart Guy, what makes you so good at Jeopardy!?
A: It's a combination of knowledge, being able to retain all the different facts around so many topics, but it's still a game. There are elements like being able to recall those answers in the five seconds you're given, or decipher the way they write the clues, because there's a certain Jeopardy! style of doing it.
I spent hours and hours practising my buzzer speed technique because often a question is on the board that all three contestants know and it's a matter of who's first to ring in — and wagering strategy, too. A lot of contestants, you may have seen in the past, enter in a good position and with a bad wager may kick themselves out of the running.
Q: How did you speed up your buzzer time?
A: First I read a book. A previous contestant has actually written an entire book on the buzzer, how to hold it, where to put your hands. There's an app he's created where you can check your time. So my goal was to get below 200 milliseconds. They say that's generally kind of champion-level buzzing. When I first started practising, I was at about 300. And just over time and practice, I started to bring that down and getting to 180 to 200 milliseconds. It sounds like a small increment, but it makes all the difference sometimes.
Q: What's your day job?
A: I'm a director of strategy with FYIdoctors. We're a Calgary-based optometry and health-care company with locations all over the country.
Talking to different clinics, we have a little bit of a refresher on Canadian geography, which you hope will come up.
Q: How do you study for this? How do you prepare?
A: A few different sources. I bought about 30 textbooks, junior high to university level on all these topics — Industrial Revolution and Greek mythology, U.S. presidents, of course, U.S. geography, and really drill down on those.
That plus things like Wikipedia, there was a whole category when I was studying college football conferences in the U.S. I spent an hour on Wikipedia trying to memorize the differences, because I knew there's a chance I may need to know what those are against people who probably went to one of the colleges in that conference and could nail those questions.
Q: The day comes. Was playing the game for real the same as the mock game?
A: When the actual time came, the filming was really quick. In fact, of the 22 minutes you see on TV, it's only about 30 minutes to film. I didn't really have time to get nervous once I was in the podium for the actual game.
Q: How will you be watching tonight?
A: I've got some family and friends coming over to the house and we're going to put it on and just watch, just enjoy.