Double Jeopardy! Harvard Law student, grad take center stage on game show

BY CHRIS SZABLA

Andrea Saenz ’08 on “Jeopardy!”
Sarah Boyette ’10 on “Jeopardy!”

Though it goes without saying that Harvard Law School students and alumni are smart, it’s not every day that they get to show off their often considerable non-legal knowledge. But the chance came for both Sarah Boyette ’10 and Andrea Saenz ’08 over the last few weeks, when both starred as contestants on the quiz show “Jeopardy!”

Just getting on the long-running show is a challenge – requiring both an admissions test and a practice game – and any contestant whose appearance airs is well-qualified for the match. Saenz, who was the Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Law Record from fall 2007 to spring 2008, and who now works as an immigration attorney in Boston, knew the protocol better than most. Her husband, Dan Pawson, was one of the show’s stars.

“Dan went on to win not two, not five, but nine games and over $170,000, collecting more money in regular season games than all but three other people in show history, and winning more games than all but two others,” she wrote in the Record in January 2008. Only six other contestants have won over five shows, a category “Jeopardy!” fans have anointed “superchampions”.

Pawson, a University of Chicago Law School graduate who turned down a firm job to live with Saenz in Boston, now works as a legislative aide at the Massachusetts State House. He was invited back to the show in 2009 for its Tournament of Champions, which he also won. Pawson’s winnings allowed the couple to pay down their bills – which helped the public interest couple with their law school debt and other expenses – just as Saenz gave birth to their first child. (Their baby, Rebecca, was born the night Pawson’s final Jeopardy appearance aired. The “Final Jeopardy” category was “Baby Names”.)

But while Pawson’s success grew, so did Saenz’s sense that she, too, could compete on the vaunted quiz show. “I’ve been a Jeopardy fan since I was a kid and it’s always been a dream” to compete, she said. “After Dan got on and won everything in sight, I thought it’d be fun to take my shot.” She felt increasingly that she should have taken the show’s qualifying test when Pawson had invited her to, back when he began his run. When she finally did, she was not only rewarded with an appearance on the show – her first aired on January 7 – but became a champion herself.

Saenz made over $30,000 during her first appearance, trouncing her competitors in the dramatic final round, when she surmised that “The Flintstones” was the animated show whose premiere had been sponsored by Winston Cigarettes. Although she fell to a competitor the next day, ending her run with a second place finish, she will be added to the show’s Hall of Fame for one of the greatest totals ever earned in a single game.

“I was basically hoping to not embarrass myself,” Saenz said of her initial goal. “The fact that I won a game and made a healthy fraction of my nonprofit salary in 30 minutes was beyond anything I expected!”

And while Pawson and Saenz were not the first married couple to have both been contestants on the show, they are fairly confident they are the only pair to have both won at least one game.

Saenz’ “Jeopardy!” appearance was the second time in under a month that a Harvard Law School affiliate had been on the show. 3L Sarah Boyette starred as a contestant on December 24th. With a respectable second place finish, Boyette finished the show with a $21,000 total, but, per the show’s rules, was only allowed to keep $2,000.

Boyette and Saenz are part of a long line of Harvard Law students and alumni to have competed on the show at some point before, during, or after their time in law school. Several – including Pam Mueller ’08, who was on the show’s college edition before entering law school, and Amanda Goad ’05, who appeared on its teen tournament – have been champions. Other quiz shows have also attracted HLS brains; a few have displayed a gusto for risk-taking that eludes most law students. Ken Basin ’08 (who formerly wrote a column for the Record on his experiences studying abroad in Hong Kong) could have walked away with half a million dollars during his appearance on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, but chose to go for the million dollar question. When he got it wrong, he took home only $25,000.

Despite the prevalence of Harvard Law students on quiz shows, Saenz doesn’t think her legal education helped her much – even if one of the categories she encountered during her first “Jeopardy!” appearance was “In the Courtroom”. She said her J.D. was actually more useful for interpreting the release form she had to sign for Sony Pictures Television, which produces the show.

And when she was asked to describe her profession, she was careful to describe herself as an immigration lawyer rather than just a lawyer “because,” she said, “I’ve found that when people hear you’re a lawyer, they often think you chase ambulances or have annoying television commercials.”

Still, she thinks HLS students and alumni should try their hand at a game they seem particularly adept at winning, particularly if they could use help with their cash flow problems. “I strongly encourage any students or faculty who are feeling nervous about the economy or job market to hurry and sign up for January’s online qualifying test,” she wrote, adding that a “Jeopardy!” victory was “even better” than the law school’s low income debt repayment plan.

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