Response Magazine

History alumnus wins more than $90,000 on Jeopardy!

Contestants’ strategies on the Jeopardy! TV game show take different forms.

During his four-day winning streak aired earlier this year, history major Ryan Fenster ’16 sometimes buzzed in whether or not he necessarily knew the correct response, “just to throw the others off.”

Being fast to the buzzer helped the spirited Pacific Northwesterner best eight competitors and win more than $90,000 in February. Twenty-three million people tune in each week to view Jeopardy!, a daily, half-hour quiz show with an answer-and-question format.

“If I had to choose a former student to compete on Jeopardy!, it would be Ryan,” says Assistant Professor of History Rebecca Hughes. “He demonstrated encyclopedic knowledge on a multitude of subjects. He continually surprised me and his classmates with fun facts. On top of that, he is a genuinely kind person.”

Fenster is on track to join the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions later this year, where the season’s biggest winners compete to win $250,000. By early May, Fenster was still in the running and ranked fifth by number of games won in the season.

Still, Fenster takes a measured approach to money. “There’s more to life than paying the bills,” he says. Taking a calculated risk and choosing adventure is more his style. “SPU taught me that we all have a purpose,” he says. “Seek that, and God will work it out.”

His recent winnings will cover living and travel expenses at grad school through the University of Iceland and the University of Oslo, which offer a joint Viking and Medieval Norse Studies program. Fenster, who is half Norwegian, will study archaeology.

A love of history from a young age, coupled with Seattle Pacific University’s strong history program, compelled Fenster to apply for the program. To save money, he moved in with his grandparents, who last year urged him to take the Jeopardy! eligibility test online. He was one of 400 out of 7,000 people who made it from the initial quiz to the TV studio in Los Angeles. Not all 400 would be chosen for the show, but at least they had a shot.

Fenster fielded a number of history and geography challenges during his Jeopardy! run. He recalls a few more in the categories for football, ballet, and French words for food. “I got in the zone but much of it was a blur,” he says. He correctly identified four out of the five “Final Jeopardy” challenges, scoring hefty winnings.

Whatever happens going forward, Fenster knows life can be unpredictable. After a recent diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, he’s working to get healthy. And if he can hold his lead in the standings for amount won, Jeopardy! may come calling again.

Long term? Says Fenster, “Perhaps one day SPU will have an opening for a medievalist.” If it does, he hopes to be the first to buzz in.

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