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CAS Sophomore on Jeopardy! Tonight

Erin McLean gets lifelong dream, but does she win?


Erin McLean, next to host Alex Trebek, shows BU’s colors on contestants’ row. Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Final Jeopardy! answer: This student won the iconic game show’s recent College Championship. Whether “Who is BU’s Erin McLean?” turns out to be the correct question awaits McLean’s debut tonight and any possible follow-up appearance during the two-week championship.

McLean (CAS’13) and her family, along with other contestants, were asked not to disclose the outcome, although her mother, Loren, an administrator at Boston’s Joslin Diabetes Center, does say, “BU will be extremely proud of her.”

McLean’s childhood wish to compete on Jeopardy! became a reality last month when the show taped its annual College Championship. “America’s Favorite Quiz Show,” as it dubs itself (justifiably—its nine million daily viewers top the game show ratings), has been running a special competition for university students since 1989.

“My mom used to drop me off down the street with my best friends when she went to do errands, and their mother was a religious Jeopardy! viewer,” McLean recalls. The double major in marine science and English says she then started watching on her own and playing along with a friend over the phone; her mother would turn on the show during dinner. In high school, she watched college bowl meets and “fell in love with real-stakes trivia and the buzzer!”

To represent BU before a national TV audience, McLean had to hurdle a 50-question online test, followed by a Philadelphia audition that included a second test, a personality interview, and a mock game. “They have to like you a whole lot to pick you to be on the show,” says McLean, one of just 15 candidates out of 250 to make the cut. Watch an interview clip.

Host Alex Trebek and the college contestants taped all 10 shows in marathon sessions October 18 and 19, staying in the studio from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m., rehearsing, taping, and filming promos for the series.

After so many years of fantasizing about competing, McLean says, she found the real thing stressful. “The show tapes in only a half hour, so it moves quickly. You can’t think about Jeopardy! while playing Jeopardy! If you do that, you’ll psych yourself out. I kind of went on autopilot. I trusted that I knew things and that I’d be able to buzz in.” Still, she was nervous: “My heart was pounding the whole time I played.”

Her best categories? McLean rattles off music, Shakespeare, and history, while “any questions about sports are bad news, and politics questions are even worse.” As for her BU class work, “I kind of put it all to one side for those few days,” she confesses. “I had a lot of work to come back to.”

Even those who don’t spend their evenings glued to television acknowledge Jeopardy!’s status as cultural juggernaut. Now in its 27th season—not counting its first, daytime incarnation in the ’60s and ’70s—it has more Emmys (28) than any game show as well as the most viewers. It has been profiled on 60 Minutes, plotted into numerous movies and TV shows, including Cheers, and parodied on Saturday Night Live. So revered is it among the brainiac set that IBM is working on a supercomputer, “Watson,” designed to beat Jeopardy!’s top contestants.

BU students have competed in three past championships, according to Maggie Speak, the show’s contestant producer, but none has ever won. As for this year, stay tuned for that final Jeopardy! answer.

Jeopardy! airs at 7:30 p.m. weeknights and Saturdays on WBZ (Channel 4). Jeopardy! College Championship airs November 8 to 20; Erin McLean competes tonight, Tuesday, November 9.

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.


6 Comments on CAS Sophomore on Jeopardy! Tonight

  • 2012 on 11.09.2010 at 8:19 am

    Good luck!

  • Anonymous on 11.09.2010 at 9:55 am


    Awesome Erin! BU is so proud of you !!! What an honor. I can’t wait to see you compete tonight. I don’t know where you ended up, but you are amazing just to have been selected so … Kudos!!!!

  • Anonymous on 11.09.2010 at 8:01 pm


    Well done, Erin! You have a lot of confidence, only surpassed by your knowledge. best of luck in the next steps!

  • Anonymous on 11.10.2010 at 2:27 pm

    Well done, Erin!!!!

    Congratulations! You were amazing.

  • Anonymous on 11.15.2010 at 7:12 pm

    Congratulations Erin!!! GO BU!!!!!!

  • David Kaminsky, CLA 1973 on 11.19.2010 at 9:29 pm

    Jeopardy Champion Erin McLean

    I am delighted to see tonight’s Jeopardy where BU student Erin McLean was the big winner in the student contest. It is wonderful to have Erin put BU on the map.

    In 1973 I was the first BU student ever to deliver a commencement address at university graduation exercises. I wasn’t valedictorian or anything like that. I won an essay contest.

    I also spent my college years at BU working at the BU News. It was a university supported weekly that was banished from the campus and replaced with the university supported “Freep.”

    Although I was a liberal arts student (CLA) most of The News staff were studying journalism at what was then the School of Public Communications (SPC). News staff included Paula Span and Peter Carlson who went on to be key staffers at The Washington Post.

    My BU education prepared me well for a federal government career from which I will soon retire. I am proud of my alma mater and support it with a contribution every year.

    I hope that the Freep and the university will extend hearty congratulations in public ways to Ms. McLean and employ her success as evidence for the high quality of BU.

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