IES Abroad Alumna Wins More Than $18,000 on Jeopardy!

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Ashley Houston
February 16, 2016

Study abroad on Jeopardy!Meet Elizabeth “Liz” Fritz, IES Abroad Madrid alumna (Spring 2008) and recent Jeopardy! champion. After a two-day winning total of $18,401, we were curious how her study abroad experience may have helped her succeed on Jeopardy!

Read our interview with Liz below:

IES Abroad: How did studying abroad impact you both personally and professionally?

Elizabeth Fritz: It’s so cliché to say that studying abroad changed the course of my life, but it really did. Before I went to study abroad in Madrid, homesickness was a big problem for me. I can be very quiet, so I know I came off as incredibly shy and awkward at the beginning of my semester abroad. As the semester progressed, however, I began to come out of my shell, and I really saw a difference in my confidence once I returned home.

While I was in Madrid, I met someone who told me about a summer teaching program in Italy. I applied, was accepted, and spent the next four summers teaching English in Italian summer camps to children all over the country. I learned Italian through immersion, and became familiar with the country and culture in a way a tourist can never be.

study abroad Spain

During my second summer in Italy, I worked with a guy who mentioned all the opportunities available to expats in Buenos Aires. Within weeks, I had decided to make South America my next adventure. I bought the plane ticket to Buenos Aires five days before the plane departed.

When I arrived in Buenos Aires, I knew no one. I found an apartment, and spent a few months freelancing as a nanny before moving to Jose Ignacio, Uruguay, to do the same thing. A month later, when that job fell through, I bought a bus ticket to Cuzco, Peru, and showed up on the doorstep of a well-known hostel looking for work. I spent six weeks working as a bartender there.

That entire chain of events was set in motion by my study abroad experience.

IES Abroad: What made you decide to audition to be on Jeopardy!?

EF: I have been watching Jeopardy! for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my sisters and I would take the bus to our grandparents’ farm after school and I would watch Jeopardy! every day with my grandfather.

Growing up, my family always encouraged me to learn and read. I was definitely a know-it-all as a child. Different cultures and languages always fascinated me, and my parents supported this. I collected foreign language dictionaries and maps. I had pen pals from Italy, Spain, and Burundi. I read voraciously. Auditioning for Jeopardy! just seemed to be a way to take advantage of all the random knowledge I’d accumulated.

IES Abroad: What was the audition process like?

Machu Picchu

EF: The audition process for Jeopardy! is surprisingly difficult. Each year, Jeopardy! offers an online, 50-question test that up to 100,000 people sign up and take. You have 15 seconds to answer each question. Of those 100,000 people, as many as 3,000 may be invited to live auditions at different cities across the country. At these auditions, prospective contestants must take another 50-question test, this time with just eight seconds to write each answer. There is a practice round against other candidates, a brief personality interview, and a written application. Out of those 3,000 people, 400 are selected to appear on television. Only about 100 of those people will win even a single game.

I was lucky—my audition process was relatively speedy. I took the online test in April 2015, was asked to audition July 1st, got ‘the call’ September 16th, taped my episodes on October 20th, and then they aired on December 7th and 8th. Many people audition multiple times.

I actually took the online test for the Jeopardy! College Tournament while I was studying abroad in Madrid in 2008, and was asked to come to a live audition then, but of course I wasn’t able to because I was out of the country.

IES Abroad: How did you prepare to be on Jeopardy!?

EF: I prepared for my appearance by cramming. I kept a notebook and filled it with information on presidents, composers, countries, and capitals, etc. I read books by past contestants, and watched YouTube fail compilations to try and figure out what not to do.

IES Abroad: Did you feel like your study abroad experience specifically helped you with any of the categories?

Study abroad field trip to Salamanca

EF: Jeopardy! is such a random thing. The categories vary so much from episode to episode. I took an art class in the Prado Museum while I studied abroad, so I was really hoping that would give me an advantage, but I didn’t get any art categories. I would have loved a language category, but that didn’t come up either. I did get a travel category, but the three questions I should have known from living abroad, I didn’t buzz in on. My Daily Double response was nothing more than an educated guess.

In general, Jeopardy! contestants tend to be quite worldly. I would encourage any IES Abroad student or alum to try out!

IES Abroad: Walk us through your experience of being on the show.

EF: I woke up around five the morning of my taping, had a breakfast of scrambled eggs and fresh fruit, and spent entirely too much time working on my hair. I met the other contestants in the lobby at seven, and we were shuttled over to the studio, where we were briefed on all the rules, given waivers to sign, recorded promos, had our makeup done, and took part in a couple of practice rounds. The coordinators do such a good job of keeping you loose and relaxed that you barely realize four hours have passed, and then the audience and contestants’ families are filing into the studio and you’re drawing names to see who will play first. Jeopardy! tapes two days a week, and they tape five shows each day, so once taping begins, it’s very fast-paced.

I was drawn to play in the first match, which was terrifying, but not unexpected. Everything started to happen very quickly. Before I knew it, I was getting beaten pretty handily by my two opponents. We took official photos with Alex Trebek, and then the brief interview portion of the show gave me a chance to regroup, but I was still in third place going into Double Jeopardy. That meant I got to select the first clue of the round. I managed to find the Daily Double, bet everything, and answered a geography question correctly. Just like that, I was in the lead.

I went on to win with a total of $16,401. The next day, I was beaten pretty soundly by a guy who had also studied abroad and spoke multiple languages. I took home $2,000 for my second place performance for a total of $18,401.

IES Abroad: What was the most exciting aspect of being on Jeopardy!, other than your big winnings?

EF: It was pretty overwhelming after I won that first match. I came off stage and heard someone say, “We haven’t seen a poker face like that in a while!” Then I was rushed into a private dressing room, labeled ‘Jeopardy! Champion,’ to change outfits. I had my makeup done again, was given an opportunity to grab a snack, and then it was time to get back on stage. Later, when I returned to my seat in the audience after my second game, it seemed like everyone was congratulating me. Even as I made my way out to the taxi to return to the hotel, there were people high fiving me. It was very validating.


Liz was born and raised in Kansas. She attended William Jewell College and graduated in 2010 with a B.A. in Spanish and Art. Her most memorable experience while studying abroad in Madrid was the course she took about Velazquez, Goya, and El Greco that met weekly in the Prado Museum with one of the museum’s curators. 




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Ashley Houston

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