Thursday, March 26, 2015 at 2pm

Harvard Business School Infiltrates Jeopardy! Gameshow: MBA News

Harvard Business School professor on gameshow

A professor of organizational behavior at Harvard Business School (HBS) has taken his quiz credentials onto a national platform in winning two episodes of the popular US gameshow, Jeopardy!.

Having stepped up to the Jeopardy! plate on Tuesday March 24, Gautam Mukunda has now tasted victory in two episodes, potting US$24,000 on his first night, and is set to appear again tonight as the show’s reigning champion.

Jeopardy!, ‘America’s favorite quiz show’, is watched by an estimated 25 million people each week. Its premise of giving contestants the ‘answers’ to which they must formulate the correct ‘questions’ is something of a cultural phenomenon in the US and has aired daily for over 30 years with a single host, Alex Trebek.

HBS’s Gautam Mukunda reveals lengthy selection process

'Jeopardy!' gameboardGautam Mukunda, who teaches a leadership and organizational behavior course at Harvard Business School, revealed that students have been having holding viewing parties to watch him play Jeopardy! – a show he always wanted to be on. Mukunda also revealed just how tough the selection process for Jeopardy! is – with the type of testing and interview stages that may sound familiar to those who have survived the MBA admissions gauntlet at a top business school.

Having passed an initial online test taken by 100,000 people each year, the Harvard Business School professor outlined the process in an interview for HBS:

“I did well enough to be invited to an in-person tryout in a New York City hotel, where I took a 50-question written test with a group of other prospective contestants. Then they put me in a conference room with two other people to play a simulated game with a producer. They check out your personality at this point, too, to make sure that if you make it to California, you’ll show some spirit and be able to interact well with host Alex Trebek,” Mukunda explains, suggesting that Jeopardy! might be looking for ‘best-fit’ candidates as much as Harvard Business School or any other leading institution.

To make matters worse, then came the waiting. “Having gone through all that, I didn’t hear a peep from them for more than a year. But then last December, they called me out of the blue…,” he added.  

Because of the way in which the show is taped, the HBS professor already knows how well he has done, but isn’t about to let on. Mukunda, who graduated from Harvard University before completing a PhD in political science at MIT, is happy just to have fulfilled another of his lifelong ambitions, noting that his experience reminded him of how much the show had meant to him when he was a kid: “if you like these kinds of things, Jeopardy! is on your bucket list.”

Gautam Mukunda isn’t the first business school professor to appear on the show. In 2012, a faculty member at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business, Sean Hansen, enjoyed a two-day stint and came away with just over US$30,000 for his efforts.

However, there’s also a dark side to the sight of an academic’s success on a gameshow in the US’s collective memory.  In the 1950s, an English professor at Columbia, Charles Van Doren, was involved in the one of the country’s most high profile cases of gameshow cheating – something that led to Van Doren’s eventual resignation from the University and has since been immortalized in the 1994 film, Quiz Show, starring Ralph Fiennes and directed by Robert Redford.

image source for Jeopardy! board.

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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