Curry Grad Student to Appear on ‘Jeopardy!’

Curry School doctoral candidate Terry Hanlon poses with Alex Trebek on the set of “Jeopardy!”

This doctoral candidate in the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education will enter the ultimate battle of wits on Thursday night.

Who is Terry Hanlon?

In the months he spent studying for his “Jeopardy!” debut, Hanlon confesses that remembering to answer everything in the form of a question was one of the hardest parts. Luckily, he had some seasoned pros to help him prepare.

“My whole family watched “Jeopardy!” together growing up and I’m actually the third one in my family to be on the show. My oldest sister and my brother have also been on it,” he said.

His sister, Aileen, won two games and brother Ed took second place in his match-up.

Hanlon, who studies the marketing and management of higher education at the Curry School, used a combination of his siblings’ techniques to prepare for his appearance alongside Alex Trebek. His brother relied heavily on trivia books and flashcards, while his sister turned to Jeopardy’s digital archive,, to practice.

“I did a little bit of both and I made lists of presidents, capitals and currencies to memorize. Of course, I also made sure that I got home every night for Jeopardy and that I was keeping score for myself to see if I was improving,” Hanlon said.

He explained that those who regularly watch “Jeopardy!” and play along learn that there are certain “trigger phrases” that you need to learn in order to answer quickly and stay competitive.

“For example, ‘Chinese American Architect’ almost always refers to I.M. Pei. So you need to know clues like that. Really it’s a recall game more than anything,” he said.

In the midst of all his studying, Hanlon had to pass through two rounds of tryouts to make it as a contestant on the show. First he had to take a lengthy online test and when he received a high score on that, he was invited to a group audition in Washington, D.C., to show off his knowledge in person.

While the tryout process was a bit nerve-wracking, Hanlon was surprised at how relaxed the atmosphere was once he actually made it to the real “Jeopardy!” set.

“The people there are so wonderful,” he recalled. “All the staff there goes out of their way to make you feel comfortable and relaxed and make sure that you have a great experience.”

Although viewers will have to wait until Thursday evening to find out if Hanlon will become a returning contestant on the show, he says that trivia will remain a favorite hobby of his, no matter what. He’s long enjoyed competing in trivia nights with friends, and he even has a favorite piece of trivia about UVA that first brought the school to his attention.

“I love that UVA is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I had a teacher in high school who was sort of the Indiana Jones of our school and used to be a photographer for UNESCO,” he said. “He instilled in me a great love of world history and the impact that institutions like UVA can have not just through the weight of history they bear, but also through the way they were built to continually influence the world of today.”

Walking through history everyday is a thrill for a trivia buff like Hanlon, but it’s the chance to be a part of UVA’s ongoing teaching mission that excites him most of all.

“Living down the street from a UNESCO site is pretty great, but if you study higher education, there’s no place more interesting and unique than UVA. It’s a really rigorous academic institution and at the same time, it upholds this great public mission,” he said. “Choosing to come here was kind of a no-brainer.”



Media Contact

Katie McNally

University News Associate Office of University Communications