STEELEVILLE — A writer from Steeleville recently went home with $32,601 after appearing on the “Jeopardy!” game show.
Lauren Kiehna, whose episodes aired this past Friday and Monday, said in a phone interview that she has liked the show since she was a child.
“I remember coming home from school … and watching it with my mom, who has been a huge ‘Jeopardy!’ fan for a long time, and just kind of the thrill of getting questions right and learning things through that,” Kiehna said.
Last spring, Kiehna’s fiancé, Mark, started pestering her to take an online test to get on the show after seeing her play along one afternoon.
“I really did it so he would stop bothering me, honestly,” Kiehna joked.
Kiehna, who holds a Ph.D. in English and runs a blog about royal jewelry, was selected to audition in Chicago in August 2017. Several months later, she was invited to a taping in Los Angeles, California.
“I was really glad that Mark was able to come with me to California — for one just to have a supportive, cheering person in the crowd. That makes a huge difference,” Kiehna said.
On the first day, Kiehna won big: she raked in a total of $31,601. She didn’t fare as well on her second day — she came in third, netting $1,000.
“At that point, I had a ‘go big or go home’ philosophy. I’d been playing for a while, and it’s fun, but it is difficult. And it’s not just the actual game that’s difficult ... there’s just the whole ‘being on camera’ thing. For me at least, that was a big challenge, to make sure that I was cheerful and spoke loudly enough and engaged in the whole thing. So doing that for two whole days, I was not really super disappointed to have lost. I won big the first time, and then after that I was kind of ready to go have fun in California for a couple of days,” Kiehna said.
Kiehna performed well on sports questions, on music questions and in the French category. She said she struggled most with knowing how much to wager on the Daily Doubles.
“My attitude toward the whole thing was that this was an adventure. ... I told myself when we went out there, ‘Even the third-place winner gets to win $1,000, that’ll pay for the trip, and it’ll be so fun and I’ll get to tell people forever that I went on ‘Jeopardy!’. So I think that attitude was really a good thing, because it kind of let me take a lot of it in stride,” Kiehna said.
“Jeopardy!” contestants are barred from talking about their experiences on the show before their episodes air, so Kiehna and her fiancé have had to stay quiet for the past four months.
“Every time over the last four months people would ask how I did on ‘Jeopardy!’ or try to trick us into saying how it went, we both agreed that all we would say is ‘July 6. July 6,’ because that was the day the episode was going to air,” Kiehna said.
The couple plans to get married on that day next year.
“We agreed: we’ll never forget our anniversary, because of how many times we’ve said ‘July 6’ over the past half a year,” Kiehna said.
Some of her winnings will go toward the wedding, and she also plans to buy a new car.
“I drive the same car I drove the year I graduated from high school,” Kiehna said.
Kiehna said she was impressed with all the contestants she met throughout the audition and taping.
“Everyone is as smart as the people that win. It’s just who gets the category and who figures out the buzzer,” Kiehna said. “And not only are they so smart — everybody is super nice. It’s not a competitive, cutthroat environment.”
Kiehna graduated from Steeleville High School and attended University of Notre Dame, where she completed her bachelor’s in English. For about a decade, she was a graduate student and instructor: She obtained her master’s from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and her Ph.D. from University of Kansas.
While she was writing her dissertation, she launched a blog about royal jewelry called the Court Jeweller. In 2016, she left academia and moved back to Southern Illinois to start blogging full time. Now she splits her time between Steeleville and St. Louis, where her fiancé lives.