Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek with John Presloid, a research assistant in the department of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Toledo. [WTOL]

John Presloid fulfilled a lifelong dream when he entered the Jeopardy! studio as a contestant after passing his fourth audition. In episodes that aired last week and earlier this week, the University of Toledo research assistant in the department of medical microbiology and immunology, who specializes in studying Lyme disease, made the most of his opportunity with a four-day reign as champion in which he won $94,200 over his five days on the show.

“Everyone at work has been so supportive,” Presloid told GEN last night. “A couple of the PIs had known I tried out previously, but this time I kept it pretty quiet because when people know you auditioned, they tend to keep asking about it and it’s hard to keep saying ‘I haven’t heard back yet’.”

Presloid first auditioned to be a contestant a week after he turned 18. He finally succeeded in October 2018, getting the call from Jeopardy! while at work in the lab.

“I actually got the call while I was at work in the middle of a long experiment in one of our mouse rooms,” Presloid recalled. “It was funny because I was annoyed at first until my labmate said it was Jeopardy!, and then I couldn’t get my PPE [personal protective equipment] off fast enough!”

In statements released earlier by the University and WTOL, the TV station that airs Jeopardy! in the Toledo region, Presloid shared how he felt well-prepared having been a lifelong viewer of the answer-and-question show, yet brushed up on some fine arts topics with which he is less familiar, such as classical composers and opera.

Fortunately for Presloid, one of the clues hit close to home. When Alex Trebek read: “This city in Ohio, ‘glass capital of the world,’ is named for one in Spain,” Presloid gave the correct response: “What is Toledo?”

“I have to get this, I have to get this. I will never live this down if I don’t get this question,” he told The Blade of Toledo.

Presloid discussed his Jeopardy! experience and its impact on him and the broader science community with GEN:

What kind of a response did you receive from your scientific colleagues, friends, and family after being on the show? Have any of your scientific friends expressed interest in being on the show? 

Once everyone found out they were so supportive. They would ask me random science-related trivia when they saw me in the halls, or ask me what I was studying. And when it came time for the actual episodes they helped set up groups to come to my viewing parties and cheer me on.

And now afterward they can’t stop saying how proud they were and how well I represented the school and the department. So, it’s really been amazing support from them. Actually, it’s been the opposite. So many people have come up to me and said ‘I knew you knew a lot of science, but how did you know all that other stuff? I could never get those questions!’ I think a lot of trivia is luck, and just getting the right questions that you know.

Do you think a show like Jeopardy! is of interest to scientists, and why?

I think it is. Scientists are really just seekers of knowledge, and what better show is there for that than Jeopardy! Even the nonscience categories can throw in some cool information you didn’t know before. And there’s even a little science into the betting and wagering strategies; when to go big, when to go small, what numbers to shoot for. I think it’s a really complex game on levels that a lot of people don’t notice at first until they watch it a lot.

Do you think more scientists would be interested in appearing on the show as a result of your appearance?

I hope so! One of the fun things about the show is that everyone is on an even playing field; you can be a doctor, or a cop, or a housewife, and you have just as good a shot as everyone else. It’s about knowledge, and it’s about reflexes, and those don’t know any boundaries, whether that’s age, occupation, sex, race, orientation. So, while my specialty is definitely science, that doesn’t mean I can’t also know about history, or literature, or geography. I think ultimately, I hope it would inspire people to go for their dreams; if that’s being on Jeopardy!, then go try out for Jeopardy! If it’s running a marathon, then go run that marathon! Don’t be scared of failing, you could miss out on so many great experiences.

Do you think there is room for some type of separate, independent quiz show strictly devoted to science? Or at least a regular Jeopardy separate category of science for the show?

I think Jeopardy! is set up pretty good as a general trivia show. Many people complained that there were several science categories when a microbiologist was a contestant, but Jeopardy! generally has at least one science category every show. It also has a literature category, and a geography category, and a ‘fun’ category every show too. That mix is what makes the show exciting; you never know which categories will hit your sweet spot.

That being said, a science Jeopardy! would be very fun for me personally to watch. They’ve had Sports Jeopardy! and Rock & Roll Jeopardy! and those were fun shows because they can go much more in depth and ask more intricate questions than you normally see on Jeopardy! It would be fun to see a chemistry category, followed by astronomy, then physics, then geology, and then get some scientists from different fields up there to battle it out. And maybe it would even lead to an increased interest in different scientific fields. I would definitely watch, and help set it up if the producers wanted to!

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