Sony Pictures Sony

Featured J!Buzz


Victoria Groce Reflects on Winning the Jeopardy! Invitational Tournament: ‘The Buzzer Was Fantastic to Me’

At the beginning of February, I went to Culver City to cheer on my friend and quiz teammate, Troy Meyer, in the Tournament of Champions. During a break between episodes, another trivia friend in the audience and I were chatting, and he jokingly asked me, “When are they going to invite you back?”

My response was more or less, “Uh, I assume never? Why on Earth would they invite me back?! There have got to be literally thousands of people with a longer Jeopardy! resume than I have.”

I’m a notoriously terrible liar, and this was, if I may say so myself, one of my better attempts. It helped that I believed every word I said! But, for about a week, I’d been sitting on the secret that I had, in fact, been invited back to compete on the Alex Trebek Stage, where I’d last played in 2005, for the Jeopardy! Invitational Tournament.

No matter how competitive you are, the worst part of losing on Jeopardy! isn’t actually losing to your opponents. It’s the fact that you can’t come back and play again. It’s not about the money, and it’s not about prestige, not really. Most people I know who have been on Jeopardy! would gladly come back even if the show was never going to air on TV and there was no money involved whatsoever. It’s because the whole experience—getting to play this game on that stage with these people who love the competition as much as you do and are a delight to spend time with—is tremendously fun on every level.

I can’t honestly say I’ve always dreamed of coming back because at no point did I ever think it might happen. I might just as realistically have dreamed of, I don’t know, getting a call out of the blue to join Cirque du Soleil. Jeopardy! was basically this very, very cool experience I had half a lifetime ago, something I’d get asked about in job interviews or occasionally when someone Googled me.

One of the ramifications here was that I was, in many ways, unprepared for this tournament. In one sense, I’m always preparing. I compete in a huge number of quiz competitions around the world, and the piece of Jeopardy! that is “know the things and remember them fast” I knew I was in good shape for. But so much of the rest of it—the buzzer, gameplay strategy, lateral thinking, and wordplay skills—I knew would be tricky to train for over just a few weeks.

I suspected I’d be in okay shape against people who hadn’t done Jeopardy! or other quiz seriously in a long time because those quick recall skills take some time to come back online. But I also suspected (correctly, it turns out) that there wouldn’t be very many competitors in that boat. Beyond the returning Masters Amy Schneider, Andrew He, and Sam Buttrey, we didn’t know exactly who was going to be in the field before we arrived. But I expected that many of them would be folks like Sam Kavanaugh and Jennifer Quail, whose Tournaments of Champions had been relatively recent; folks like Matt Jackson, Pam Mueller, and Alan Lin whom I regularly compete against in other competitions; or folks like Larissa Kelly, David Madden, and Alex Jacob, who write and edit quiz material on a regular basis. And I was not at all sure how I’d match up against people who were not only in competitive shape, but also had a lot more experience with gameplay and the buzzer.

My biggest concern—could I buzz in at all against experienced, skilled players?—turned out to be a non-issue. I was able to win my quarterfinal against Dhruv Gaur and Ben Ingram without hitting a Daily Double. I hit a couple of Daily Doubles and fended off Matt Jackson and Sam Buttrey in the semifinal, and found myself up against Amy and Andrew—returning Masters players who had played 56 and 24 games, respectively, over the last few years—in the finals. I was worried my luck would run out, but other than a crucial stretch at the end of the first game when Amy switched into an unreal gear and grabbed enough of the final stretch of questions to break my lock while I flailed away futilely at the signaling device, the buzzer was fantastic to me through the finals—which saved my bacon in game three, when I flubbed a couple of gettable Daily Doubles but got enough questions overall to take a narrow lead into Final Jeopardy!

I still can’t believe it. If you’d told me in the middle of January this would be where I’d be today, I wouldn’t have believed you. 

The gameplay is a huge blur because of the level of focus it takes to play the game; until watching my episodes, I remembered very few of the questions and answers in each game. What I do remember is the social time. From various quiz world things, I knew about half of the field at least a little bit. Still, though, many of the folks in the field have known each other for quite a long time. Because of that, there’s the potential to feel like an odd person out, but everyone was so welcoming that never happened.

I’m so excited and grateful to have the chance to play in Masters. I’m excited for the challenge. But mostly, I’m excited about getting this very, very unexpected chance to do what everyone who plays Jeopardy! wants to do—to play more Jeopardy!