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A Beautiful Mind

Jeopardy! college champion Cliff Galiher talks to SIOC

Posted: Friday June 1, 2007 2:53PM; Updated: Tuesday June 5, 2007 11:41AM
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Move over Mr. Clavin -- there's a new Cliff in the Jeopardy! town and his name is Cliff Galiher, a UCLA sophomore who outlasted 14 other undergraduates to take first place in the 2007 Jeopardy! College Championship. Now that he's had a few weeks to decompress, Galiher sat down with SIOC's Andy Gray to dicuss the experience.

Cliff poses with Alex after being declared the winner of the 2007 Jeopardy! College Championship.
Cliff poses with Alex after being declared the winner of the 2007 Jeopardy! College Championship.
Photo courtesy of Jeopardy!

SIOC: First things first, tell me about the process of trying out.

Cliff Galiher: Luckily for me, the tournament was being hosted by USC, so they wanted a student from both USC and UCLA. The Clue Crew came to campus and invited people to try out at the Student Union.

SIOC: Did you have to take a written test?

CG: Yeah, and it wasn't multiple choice. It was fill-in-the-blank -- you either knew the answer or you didn't! But God I wish it would have been multiple choice. They have the announcer for the show, Johnny Gilbert, read the clues and they put them up on the screen and you write down the answer instead of buzzing in and shouting it out like you would on the show.

SIOC: How difficult were those questions compared to, say, the hardest test you've ever taken in school?

CG: It was a humbling experience. I went in thinking let's see if I can max out and get a perfect score, but it wasn't so easy. It's quick; You only have about eight seconds to answer each question. They range from basic facts to things I've never known in my entire life. And it's everything -- not just science, art, math -- it's all sorts of really random stuff they throw out there.

SIOC: Were you surprised then when you got the call to appear on the show?

CG: Yeah. When I was audtioning, they picked a certain amount of people who passed the test to appear on stage. The guy I was standing next to was in the military. The girl next to me was born in Indonesia and grew up in South America. I didn't think I was nearly interesting enough for them to pick me. But I wasn't about to question their judgement when I got the call.

SIOC: What's your background?

CG: I'm from the bay area. I have a younger sister who's heading to the University of Vermont next fall. I'm here at UCLA, applying to the undergraduate film program. I'm hoping all the extra publicity will give me a boost.

SIOC: What was your family's reaction when they found out you were on the show?

CG: My sister warned me that I better not lose. My dad doesn't want the show, but he's always happy to have something to brag about. My mom was really thrilled and she actually came down to watch me at USC, so it was a lot of fun.

SIOC: What was it like when you arrived on the set?

CG: The set was really great -- it's a makeshift thing they built for the taping. The audience was a bit intimidating. I always imagined a regular studio audience, but this was about 1,000 people. It was empty the first time we went out there, and seeing all those empty chairs lined up was something else. What I remember most vividly was the statue of Tommy Trojan staring at me the entire tournament.

SIOC: Did that intimidate you?

Alex Trebek may be an award winning game show host, but he is not afraid to dress up like a Trojan to razzle a UCLA  student.
Alex Trebek may be an award winning game show host, but he is not afraid to dress up like a Trojan to razzle a UCLA student.
George Pimentel/WireImage

CG: No, I expected it to be there. It definitely reminded me of what I was fighting for. Plus, during the contestant interviews before the tournament started, Alex [Trebek] came out dressed in Trojan gear which they included in my interview.

SIOC: Was his behavior surprising. Alex always seems so straight laced?

CG: Yeah. I've never seen him do that to any other contestant on the show. He's got a great sense of humor. He's kind of a sly, witty person and I guess it shows on the show. But even when they're not recording, when it's offhand and not scripted, he's still very smart, very clever and funny.

SIOC: What was your prep like? Did you study the almanac like Rosie Perez in White Men Can't Jump?

CG: I didn't have a lot of advanced notice -- maybe 10 days or so before the tournament began. I wasn't one to trust my own knowledge so I got all my friends to quiz me with various trivia books and I made lists of things I ought to remember. My roommate helped me out -- especially with college football. I tried to learn every college's hometown and team name.

SIOC: So are you a sports fan?

CG: Yes and no. I follow baseball and college basketball, but that was definitely patchiest area, so I tried to brush up. And there was this one category on sports that I came across -- college arenas and stadiums -- which was not one of the things we covered.

SIOC: Was that the hardest category you came across on the show?

CG: Yeah, I didn't get a single question right in that category. That was my least favorite.

SIOC: What was your favorite?

CG: Well, I'm actually a film buff and there were three movie categories that came up in my round. My favorite was on film directors, because knowledge of that was something I never thought would earn me money.

SIOC: If you could take all your winnings and go to a desert island with only three movies, what would they be?

CG: Spirited Away, Apocolpype Now and Nashville.

SIOC: Now that the show has aired, are you recognized around campus?

CG: Actually, I was really surprised at how many people watched the show. The Daily Bruin did a piece on me, which helped publicize it. On Facebook, I was deluged by a lot of new found friends, about two-thrids of them girls. Apparently, the camera becomes me a whole lot better than in real life.

SIOC: Did you have a gilrfriend before the show? Did it help in that department?

CG: I'm keeping my options open. But it's nice to have the attention, I gotta say.

SIOC: How much did you win?

CG: I won the full $100,000, but it's taxable. So I'm not sure how much I'll get, probably $70,000 after taxes. My dad is a financial consultant, so I'm leaving it up to him.

SIOC: If he gave you $1500 to buy whatever you wanted, what would it be?

CG: Yeah, the biggest plasma television $1500 could buy. My roommate and I have already talked about this.

SIOC: Who did you watch the show with when it aired?

CG: The RAs in the dorm put it on in the lounge. I was with a few dozen friends. It was very exciting and I'm grateful they were able to take out their time at night, especially Friday evening, to cheer me on.

SIOC: Was it hard to watch yourself?

CG: Yes. There are so many little things I wish I could go back and change. You know, wrong answers are embarrassing, but during one of the show's intros, I was too nervous to smile when the camera was on me. On the whole, however, I guess I shouldn't want to change a thing

SIOC: What are your summer plans?

CG: I'm coming back to UCLA for a little while to take an intensive French class. Other than that, I plan to kick back and just enjoy the summer.

SIOC: Okay, I couldn't finish this interview without asking you a few questions to test your knowledge.

CG: Okay, shoot

SIOC: The capital of North Dakota?

CG: What is Bismarck?

SIOC: The 13th president of the United States is ...?

CG: Who was Milliard Fillmore?

SIOC: Where were the Olympics held in 1968?

CG: What is Mexico City? But I'm not sure, so don't my answers in if they are wrong.

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