Amherst Magazine

The Champ

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Ben Bishop '09
By Emily Gold Boutilier

Ben Bishop ’09 is not the first Amherst student to appear on Jeopardy!. Ann Danielson ’91 and Gwyneth Connell ’00 each took part in the annual College Championship. Several alumni have competed on the show, too—notably the author and attorney Scott Turow ’70, who demolished Paul Shaffer and Susan Lucci on Celebrity Jeopardy! in 2006.

But few Jeopardy! winners—from anywhere—have had a better run than Bishop. In December, the economics major and co-captain of the men’s squash team won four games before meeting defeat in the fifth. His $115,800 (pre-tax) total was the highest won by any contestant in 2008.

Bishop has been a Jeopardy! fan since his first year at Amherst, when he watched nightly with friends in Stearns Dorm. Twice, he took the online test to qualify as a contestant, and on his second attempt, he did well enough to make it to a try-out in Boston.

In October 2008, he flew to California to begin filming at Sony Pictures Studio in Culver City. One of the first answers on the board was about the cotton trade—great news for Bishop, who’d written a 40-page paper about cotton for a Special Topics course he took with Jan Dizard, the Charles Hamilton Houston Professor in American Culture. “It was a running joke,” Bishop says, “that the dream question I would get on Jeopardy! would be about cotton.”

Emerging as the new champion, he changed his shirt (to keep up the charade that each show is taped on a different day) and returned to film the day’s three remaining episodes. At one point in his fourth match, Bishop, who’s taken courses in at least 18 departments at Amherst, mistakenly added the word the to the title of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” But the slip-up was inconsequential; he didn’t once lose the lead that game. In Final Jeopardy!, he correctly named Corsica as the island that France bought from Genoa on May 15, 1768. Bishop walked out of the studio that day to back-patting and cheers.

The next day, the ride came to an end when Bishop, in second place going into Final Jeopardy!, didn’t know that Barbra Streisand was the only woman to win a Golden Globe for directing. His loss, though, was nothing tragic: Bishop had done well enough to make it to the next Tournament of Champions, which will air in March.

The Seattle native hasn’t decided what to do with the money, which he expects to receive in April, but he’s already treated his roommates to dinner at the Amherst Brewing Company. When the episodes aired in December, he got e-mail from old friends and teachers. Strangers stopped him on campus to say they were rooting for him. Bishop also attracted an online following. At www.amerst.com, for example, someone posted the comment, “He looks a lot like actors Channing Tatum and Chris Evans.” Another anonymous poster, writing on the Seattle Times Web site, gushed, “I speak for many when I say that he has reaffirmed our hope that smart, attractive men exist. Viewing parties are already planned for his appearance on the Tournament of Champions—now if we could just figure out how to get him to stop by for a guest appearance at the party…”

 

Click here for a video clip of Bishop on Jeopardy! and to read an interview with Bishop by fellow Jeopardy! veteran Katherine Duke '05.

Photo by Samuel Masinter '04.