, , ,

This Wisconsinite is a finalist for the Jeopardy! 2024 Tournament of Champions

Who is St. Norbert college assistant philosophy professor Ben Chan?

Jeopardy! host Ken Jennings and contestant Ben Chan “raise the roof,” Chan’s signature move. Photo Courtesy Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Green Bay’s “King of the North,” assistant professor of philosophy Ben Chan won his round in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions quarterfinals and semifinals.

Marking his 10th and 11th Jeopardy! wins, Chan is a finalist in this year’s Tournament of Champions. The entire 2024 Tournament of Champions was filmed over four days in February. 

Chan joined WPR’s “The Morning Show” the day his quarterfinal game aired. He shared wisdom gained during his Jeopardy! career and provided a look behind the scenes of a Jeopardy! taping. 

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The following interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Kate Archer Kent: Green Bay fans have started an online petition that would commission a mural of your face along with the words “King of the North.” How do you feel about this outpouring of support?

Ben Chan: I think it’s great. Last year I wasn’t sure if anybody (would) care. It was important to me to represent our area well, so it was one of the things that I was preoccupied with — ‘Is anybody going to notice?’

It was really heartwarming to see that people noticed and that they were proud. So that’s great.

KAK: Jeopardy! fans on social media say you were robbed of that 10th win when you wrote “Benedict” from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing instead of “Benedick” in Final Jeopardy. What do you think about the show’s rules on spelling?

BC: I talked to some people on the show afterwards. It was what we would call an “edge case.” 

There’s pretty clear rules about spelling. There’s pretty clear rules about sources. That case just happened to touch a boundary (of) three different ways that the rules intersect. It didn’t align with the canonical spelling, but it also was a misspelling, (which) kind of changes pronunciation. And then there’s a question of sources. Shakespeare is complicated to source. That threw an extra layer of complexity on it. So it just turned out to be a tough case to adjudicate.

KAK: And in the scheme of the show, in Final Jeopardy, your answer has to happen within seconds, and then the host is saying the outcome. So it’s not like in sports where the officials go to the sidelines and review the tape.

BC: Yeah, there is a little editing in the show. So there’s sometimes what we call “stop downs” that happen behind the scenes. But even then, there’s only so much you can find out in 10 or 20 minutes. That would probably be the longest they take. 

You know, I’m a huge sports fan. Sports (actually) helped me realize that we’re not exactly doing scholarship on the show. It is a game. In sports, sometimes rulings have to be made that are maybe not platonically perfect rulings, but they have to be ruled that way because otherwise it would open up a can of worms for the game moving forward.

KAK: This year’s Tournament of Champions was delayed by last year’s Writers Guild of America strike. Guild members write clues for the show. Did that extra wait time give you any type of edge, or perhaps even a disadvantage, over other competitors?

BC: I think it gave everybody more prep time, which I think maybe closed the gap between the top game winners and the not top game winners. So I think it made for a better competition.

KAK: Do you watch yourself on Jeopardy!?

BC: Yeah, that’s actually the biggest surprise. I had dreaded that part of it, because, you know, a lot of people don’t like their voice. I thought I would not like my voice or my face if I saw myself on TV. But the watch parties were actually probably the most fun I had. You really do it for your family and-or your community, because that’s what brought you there. So that really completes the experience. 

KAK: Jeopardy! fans say that you clutch the buzzer close to your chest. Is that posture on purpose? 

BC: It is on purpose. You know, there’s a lot of talk, (about) how to prepare for Jeopardy!, and one of the big things is buzzer anxiety. I liked (holding it close) because I knew where the buzzer was and I didn’t have to think about it. There are other preferred stances (such as) holding it down by your waist. When I tried that, I lost track of where it was. When I kept up close, I knew it was there, and I didn’t have to think about it again.

KAK: Did you make your own flashcards for preparing?

BC: I did. They’re all made by apps through your phone, which is handy. Instead of having a deck where you’re cycling through them, the flashcard apps will keep track of when you’ve seen them and when you need to see them again.

I think in general performance has gotten better on the show, and it’s probably 50 percent due to the fact that we have these flashcard apps that make this kind of learning more effective. 

KAK: What is your approach to staying collected in such a stressful environment? How do you keep it together?

BC: Actually, once the game begins, it’s very freeing. There’s a psychiatrist who’s in the tournament who mentioned that for a lot of people with anxiety, Jeopardy! is great because it’s actually not a lot of thinking. There’s not enough time to think. You do all the thinking beforehand, and then once they start firing clues at you, you’re just saying things. You’re not thinking.

KAK: You’ve talked about how you want to play with joy. What does that mean, for Ben Chan to play with joy?

BC: That’s a good question. It’s a bit of letting go of thinking. Once you’re there, you really let something else take over, because you’ve done everything that you can. So once you give up that sense of control, that’s probably what allows you to experience joy, whatever you’re doing.

KAK: Is there any philosophical wisdom that can be applied to the game on Jeopardy! itself?

BC: I’ve been in the middle of writing a (book) chapter for a friend who’s putting together an anthology on some related stuff in philosophy. And actually, the best thing is that the Tournament of Champions has given me an excuse to go past the original deadline. I told him “Wow, if we wait till the Tournament of Champions is over, I can incorporate all of the wisdom from the Tournament!” So that’s been nice.

KAK: What is your advice for preparing to compete on Jeopardy!? 

BC: I think Ken Jennings put it well. He borrowed this from another contestant: “The best preparation is a lifetime of paying attention.” 

It’s very hard to get on the show, so I wouldn’t encourage anybody to study specifically for the show, unless they (get invited). 

But other than that, watching the show was enjoyable for a lot of people, including myself, because there’s so much that the show covers in 20 minutes. If there’s one thing that’s most effective in preparing for the show, it’s just watching the show.

KAK: Have you made some new friends from this experience?

BC: Yeah, for sure. It feels less like ‘I found my people’ than ‘I wandered into a group of really random and cool people. Weird random weirdos.’ But I think maybe that is “my people” — a random assortment of people with really interesting lives who happen to also be good at this fun game show.