Interview with Jeopardy Champ Celeste DiNucci

As most of you know by now, Philadelphian Celeste DiNucci pulled off a spectacular run at the recent Jeopardy Tournament of Champions and came away with a $250,000 victory. An occasional quizzo player, I asked her about her experience on the show, how quizzo compares to Jeopardy, and about the rock star-like rager I assumed she had after her win.

JGT: First of all, congratulations, Celeste. Tell me, how intense is it to be up there with Alex, the bright lights, the cameras etc.?

Celeste: Well, not nearly so comfortable as sitting around a table in the Black Sheep or O’Neals, but it also seems to go by much more quickly.

JGT: How would you compare Jeopardy to quizzo, in terms of difficulty?

Celeste: Two totally different games, actually. Quizzo seems to be about scouring the corners of your brain for all of those inexplicably irrelevant yet interesting facts, whereas for Jeopardy, there’s more of a core of information that makes up the Jeopardy universe. You know that you’ll be asked about Shakespeare, you know that you’ll be asked about science, you know that you’ll be asked about some aspect of American history. And often you can sort of piece information from different areas together to come up with the right response.

JGT: Do you think that quizzo would be a good or bad study aide to someone who wanted to be on Jeopardy?

Celeste: I think it would be a very bad thing. Deadly. Brain-rotting. (Joking!) Seriously, I think it’s good just because it gets you in the habit of calling up discrete pieces of information from your own databanks on the spot, and you don’t get many opportunities to practice that. It’s an underused skill, prized only in places like Jeopardy and Quizzo and academic cocktail parties.

JGT: Did you play most of the games over the course of just a day or
two? How is it set up for the TOC?

Celeste: The entire tournament is filmed over two days, five games a day. So the first day, each of the fifteen contestants plays one game, and then by the end of the day they’ve determined the wildcards, so the semifinals field is set. Second day taping is the three semifinal matches and the two finals matches.

JGT: Was there a big rager after you won, complete with hookers, trashed hotel rooms, and illegal narcotics?3.jpg

Celeste: The rager consisted of cake, champagne (and sparkling apple cider), and chocolate-covered strawberries. As for hookers, etc., not even Alex stuck around for the party. And I didn’t need illegal narcotics–I was still in such a daze that I couldn’t even handle a glass of champagne and opted for the cider instead. Later that evening, about seven of the contestants, including myself, went out
to dinner, but frankly, I was so exhausted (refer to question 4–yes, 10 games taped in two days) that I had to call it an early night. This is what happens when you get to be my age: you’ve learned a lot of stuff that might come in handy on the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions, but putting it to good use exhausts your limited supply of energy, so you can’t really enjoy the Jeo-Party.

JGT: In the coming weeks, how are you gonna celebrate the win?

Celeste: OK, I know this one by heart now: (1) Pay off debt and student loans; (2) go back to Italy for at least another month; (3) put the rest in the bank or the stock-market while I finish my dissertation so that I can make a decision about what to do next with my life. Then, when I’ve got that figured out, I’ll have this nice chunk of change to help me “transish” (which my high school English teacher told me was the verbal form, intransitive, of “transition”).

Oh, you said how will I celebrate, not what will I do with the money…Well…I’m back in Portland right now, celebrating with my family. By the time I get back to Philly, I think the celebration will just take the form of spontaneous little celebrations whenever I feel like it: you know, a nice dinner out here, a drunk karaoke night there…

JGT: Are you gonna play in the 2008 Quizzo Bowl?

Celeste: Yes, I believe so. Unless I’m discovered by someone in Hollywood and given the role of a lifetime and whisked away to a glamorous life, in which case I will never mention the word “quizzo” again.

JGT: Put the following game show hosts in order of their greatness: Pat Sajack, Alex Trebeck, Bob Barker, Chuck Woolery, Johnny Goodtimes.
Celeste: Sorry, Johnny, but I gotta give first chair to Chuck Woolery–I mean, the double life, the assassinations, etc. After that: Johnny Goodtimes, Alex Trebek, Bob Barker, and Pat Sajak. (JG, gotta stop putting those extra “c”s in the last names of the hosts of the Merv Griffin game shows…what’s that about?)

JGT: Well, Celeste, I may have mispelled Trebek, but at least I never accused Chuck Woolery of being an assassin. (I think that was Chuck Barris). Ha! Thanks so much for the interview. It’s nice to have a champion in Philly!

Celeste: Thanks!

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