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Eighth Time Is the Charm

Stetson history major Mari Hanley will compete in the 2017 Jeopardy! College Championship.

Stetson University student Mari Hanley confesses to being quite scared about her upcoming appearance on the 2017 Jeopardy! College Championship.

“I am not going to lie – I am scared witless!” said Hanley, a junior majoring in history and minoring in anthropology, who’s about to realize a lifelong dream to appear on the TV game show.

“I was about 6 when I started watching Jeopardy!, and I was a huge fan from then on,” said Hanley, who grew up in South Florida. “Every night we would watch Jeopardy! I don’t watch TV much anymore, with the exception of the next-day reruns of Jeopardy! that come on the ABC website.”

Hanley had taken the online qualifying test unsuccessfully seven times. This year, she was one of 10,000 students who took the test, and one of only 250 selected for a live audition. She competed against 29 other students in “mock games” at an audition in New Orleans, where she advanced to the 2017 college tournament.

Hanley will receive an all-expense-paid trip to Los Angeles for show tapings on Jan. 8-12. The college tournament is scheduled to air Feb. 13-24. The winner will receive a $100,000 cash prize.

Non-disclosure agreements prevent Hanley from revealing specific questions – OK, “answers” – that she faced during the audition, and she won’t be able to divulge details of her participation in the actual tournament until after the shows air.

Asked about the difficulty of the questions at the mock games, Hanley said her attitude was, “I got this! This is my game. The categories were biology and some of my favorites, including a literary ‘Before and After.’ I really love the word-play categories.”

Hanley’s goal is to work for a museum. Although she’s a history major, she focuses on “public history.”

“History isn’t just something to be kept by academic historians,” she said. “History is something that belongs to a community and should be disseminated. Museums are huge areas of public history.

“I’m an object historian,” Hanley added, holding up the book she had been reading prior to the interview: “A History of the World in 100 Objects” by Neal MacGregor, director of the British Museum. “I enjoy the idea that larger points of history can be tied down to single objects and singular individuals. I want to put that into the museum world.”

Hanley says her class work in the classics, Latin studies and Latin American history will help her on the TV game show “far and beyond.”

Her Stetson studies will aid her Jeopardy! experience “far and beyond,” Hanley said. She cited classics and Latin studies under Kimberly Flint-Hamilton, Ph.D., professor and chair of sociology and anthropology, and Kimberly Reiter, Ph.D., associate professor of ancient and medieval history. Hanley also cited Nicole Mottier, Ph.D., assistant professor of history, for her courses on modern Latin American history.

“Mari is what we used to call a Renaissance scholar,” said Reiter, who has taught Hanley in English history and public history classes. Hanley also accompanied Reiter to the United Kingdom for a field course studying the English landscape, and Hanley frequently attends “the weekly Dungeons and Dragons game at my house,” the professor said.

“There are Stetson students with deeper or more trained understandings of their studies than Mari possesses, but there are very few with the breadth and detail that she brings to the discussion of any subject,” Reiter added. “She speaks six languages and is fluent in sign language. She bakes for a hobby, thinks nothing of sending six hours translating old French, and thinks Neanderthals are fascinating.

“What she reads about, she absorbs like a sponge. Mari is the embodiment of the Stetson liberal arts mission, and will represent the university with distinction.”

Friends and roommates have been helping Hanley prep for the show, including Stetson alumna Athena Hale, who now works at the university’s Cross Cultural Center.

“Athena has designated herself as my quasi-coach,” said Hanley last week as she prepared for this week’s final exams. “She has been sending me all sorts of different things to practice on.”

Phi Alpha Theta, the history honors society of which Mari is a member, plans to hold a viewing of the Jeopardy! College Championship on a big screen in February, Reiter said.

And which does Hanley anticipate being tougher: Stetson final exams or fielding inquiries from Jeopardy! host Alex Trebeck? “Stetson final exams!” she said. “You know, we’re the Harvard of the South. We’ve got some stuff to deal with (laughs).”

– Rick de Yampert