Fennell’s episode on Jeopardy! aired on Sept. 12. Photo: Courtesy of Jeopardy!
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Despite loss, Chris Fennell shares research on national television

Chris Fennell, a professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa, recently competed as a participant on Jeopardy! in an episode that aired Tuesday Sept. 12.

Fennell started the game out strong, answering several of the first questions correctly, but ended up placing third. However, he says that it was a positive experience with a unique U of O connection.

“It was just fun,” Fennell said. “Despite being in a bit of a high pressure situation on national television, it was something that was just purely fun.”

A self-professed trivia nerd and life-long fan of the show, Fennell said that he applied to be on the show back in 2014. “I was on sabbatical in Chicago at the time, and my friend told me about an online test you can take to qualify for the show.”

After successfully passing the test, Fennell went on to the in-person interviews where he hoped to set himself apart from the rest of the applicants.

Having competed three years after initially applying, Fennell said that the delay can probably be chalked up to the fact that Canadians were banned from applying to the show from mid 2014 until May 2016.

One of the reasons why Canadians could not participate was due to the requirement of a zip code—a Canadian participant couldn’t even take the test to prequalify at the time. Although Fennell was successful in making it on the show in 2014, he said that they didn’t film his episode until April 2017.

One of his favourite parts about being on the game show was getting to share his research on national television. “I’m really happy that I got to say my area of research, which is studying bilingual language development in babies,” he said.

Despite being on the show, few students have mentioned it to him. Fennell said that on the night it was airing, he taught a class until 5 p.m. and at the end of the class, a student ominously said, “Good luck tonight,” as they were on their way out. Other than that, most of the support has come from his hometown of St. John, New Brunswick.

Fennell also said that he and show host Alex Trebek did talk about their shared U of O connection while on the show—Trebek himself is a U of O alum.

“At the end of the game, you can see (Trebek) chatting with each of the contestants a little bit and we were talking about the University of Ottawa,” said Fennell.

To become a contestant individuals have to pass the online test first. After that you qualify for a place on the show.