BY JONAS BLANK
Two years after 3L Nick Brown braved the physical and emotional punishment of Survivor: Australian Outback, 1L George Hicks has put Harvard Law School back in the game show spotlight. Rather than brutal daytime temperatures and the unpleasantness of eating vermin, Hicks put his smarts to the test on Jeopardy!, the storied 38-year-old game show that continues to be the most popular quiz show in the United States.
“I was bored at work one day back in March,” said Hicks, who was working for the Justice Department at the time. “I started surfing the web and came across the web site. It said they were coming through D.C., so I decided to sign up.”
Even after the initial signup, becoming a Jeopardy! contestant is relatively easy. The show requires potential contestants to take a 50-question written test, with about seven seconds’ time to write down each answer. Hicks estimates that about 10 percent of those who took the test with him were selected for the next round, a mock version of the Jeopardy! show that asked slightly more difficult questions than those of the program itself. After succeeding in that round, Hicks was selected to fly to Los Angeles for taping of the show in July.
Although Jeopardy! contestants are forced to pay all their own travel expenses, Hicks’ trip proved to be more than worth it: He won almost $22,000 on the first show before taking third in the second, which brought his total winnings to just under $23,000 (and an all-important copy of the Jeopardy! board game).
Hicks’ win in the first game came down to the game’s final round, where the topic was business geography. As a former investment banker, Hicks said he couldn’t have asked for a better category. The question asked for the name of the U.S. state that ranked among the lowest in the nation in per capita income that also houses the U.S. corporation with the highest annual revenue. Almost immediately, Hicks said he knew the company was the Wal-Mart Corporation, which is headquartered in Arkansas.
“I thought, ‘I’ve come all the way to California, so I might as well bet the whole thing,” Hicks said. He fared worse on the second day, when he took third place behind two contestants with a decided competitive advantage.
“There were all sorts of different kinds of people there, from all over the country,” Hicks said. “But a few of them were really annoying, like the woman who ended up beating me on the second day. She was the type of person who, when we were sitting together watching the other tapings, would be gesticulating and mouthing answers and expressing annoyance when other contestants didn’t answer correctly.” Worse still for Hicks was the fact that the second-place contestant was a high school teacher who coached his school’s quiz bowl team.
Hicks’ own training consisted of little more than a knack for remembering useless facts coupled with a month-long review session with World Almanacs and the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. “I stopped working for good in early June so I could come to law school, so I had nothing better to do,” Hicks said. “I figured as long as I was unemployed, there was a marginal benefit to it.”
Playing Jeopardy! live, Hicks notes, is not quite the cakewalk that shouting answers at the television can be at home. “It’s definitely harder and more nerve-wracking. If you watch at home there’s no downside to making the wildest guesses ever. When you can lose money, you’re a lot more risk-averse.”
Hicks said one of the most surprising aspects of the show was host Alex Trebek. “Trebek is a genuinely funny guy. Very sardonic – my kind of humor.” Hicks also got a little surprise when Trebek dropped the dreaded “H-bomb” against his wishes in his introduction.
“They said they’d introduce me as a law student,” Hicks said. “I told them to make sure they didn’t say ‘Harvard Law student.’ I didn’t need to tell the world I went to Harvard Law.”
Now that he has a Jeopardy! win under his belt, Hicks has also been gaining a little notoriety in his own social circles. Since the shows aired this past Friday and Monday, Hicks said he has gotten several phone calls and e-mails – even from traveling soccer teammates from eighth grade.
For his part, Hicks is taking the mild-mannered approach to exploiting his game show success. “It’s definitely on my resume as a conversation piece,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to talk about than my investment banking experiences.”