CCR Special 10 — Paul Schindler on Jeopardy!

Thirty-six years ago today, episode 482 of Jeopardy! hosted by Alex Trebek aired in syndication. One of the contestants was someone familiar to readers of this blog: Paul Schindler, the longtime software reviewer and frequent panelist on Computer Chronicles. As it turned out Schindler–who recently celebrated his 70th birthday–was something of a game show aficionado back in the day.

According to Schindler’s own account, he first tried out for the original Jeopardy! (1964 - 1975) hosted by Art Fleming. While a freshman at MIT in the early 1970s, Schindler took the train from Boston to New York, where Jeopardy! *taped at the time, to take the test. But he never received a callback, which Scindler thought might have been due to his long hair and beard scaring off the producers at the time.

Later, When Schindler worked as a San Francisco-based tech journalist in the 1980s, he regularly traveled to Los Angeles, where the Alex Trebek Jeopardy! taped. Schindler recalled that he visited. about once a month, and he would try out for game shows during his downtime before returning home. He made multiple failed attempts to get on the CBS game show The New Tic-Tac-Dough before managing to secure his first appearance on a 1982 episode of Wheel of Fortune, where he won $2,850 in cash and prizes (including a new computer!).

In June 1986, Schindler made the final player lists for The $25,000 Pyramid and Jeopardy! and ultimately taped his appearance for the latter on August 20 of that year. It was apparently quite a busy week for Schindler. He’d been attending a conference on Long Island and flew directly from New York to Los Angeles to make a noon taping.

“I Was There to Match My Intellect on National TV…”

It’s notoriously difficult to find old Jeopardy! footage online. But thanks to the website J! Archive, we can reconstruct what happened question-by-question–or answer-by-answer, I suppose.

The defending champion that day was David Traini, a “teacher from Medford Lakes, New Jersey, whose 2-day cash winnings total $26,601,” according to the introduction given by legendary Jeopardy! announcer Johnny Gilbert. The other contestants were Ian Barondess, a salesperson from Great Neck, New York, and of course Schindler, “a journalist originally from Portland, Oregon.”

Paul Schindler, wearing a gray three-piece suit, standing behind a contestant’s podium on the set of “Jeopardy!”

The Jeopardy! round began with six categories: Romania, Musicals, Milk, Ice Hockey, The Bible, and “Glad” Tidings. This was the old Jeopardy! rules, so the value of the questions ranged from $100 to $500 in this round. Traini, as the defending champion, selected the first clue and started at the top left of the board, taking Romania for $100. Schindler then gave the first correct response of the game:

A: Legend holds that a shepherd named Bucur founded this capital city.

Q: What is Bucharest?

Now in control of the board, Schindler took Milk for $100. (He later said he was comfortable with this category as his father once worked as a milkman.) He also got the correct response:

A: Process in which fat globules are broken up so that they don’t rise to the top.

Q: What is homogenization?

Schindler stayed with Milk for $200. Traini had the correct response and went back to Romania for $200. Schindler then gave this third correct response in the first four clues:

A: On TV’s “The Munsters,” part of Romania where Grandpa was born and Herman was assembled.

Q: What is Transylvania?

So at this early point, Schindler had $400 and the lead, which he kept for the next six clues. Barondess overtook him on the 11th clue. In fact, Schindler’s score didn’t move at all until the 17th clue, where he continued his domination of the Romania category at the $300 level:

A: Of Minnesota, Missouri, or Louisiana, the U.S. state sharing the same geographic latitude as Romania.

Q: What is Minnesota?

Schindler decided to finish up the Milk category at this point, correctly responding to the $500 clue:

A: This principal sugar of milk is not found in any other natural foods.

Q: What is lactose?

These back-to-back responses gave Schindler $1,200 and a $100 lead over both of his competitors. Barondess briefly regained the lead for one clue before giving an incorrect response, so Schindler was back on top again briefly before both Traini and Barondess pulled ahead of him. Indeed, Schindler remained stuck at $1,200 until the 28th clue of the round, when he gave his first incorrect response to the $500 clue in The Bible category:

A: Relationship of Naomi to Ruth.

Schindler’s incorrect response was, “What are mother and daughter?” The correct response was, “What is mother-in-law?” Barondess also gave an incorrect response–“What are sisters?”–and Traini didn’t reply.

Thus, Schindler ended the Jeopardy! round with $700, putting him in second place over Barondess (at $300) but well behind the defending champion Traini (at $2,300).

“Cause I Got the Daily Double Now…”

The six categories for the Double Jeopardy! round were American Revolution, Homophones, Actors & Roles, Notorious, Ecology, and Famous Lasts. Schindler stumbled out of the gate, giving an incorrect response to the second answer taken, the $400 clue for Actors & Roles:

A. Lawrence Olivier was fired from “Queen Christina” because he was “too nervous and scared of” this Swede.

Schindler replied, “Who is Ingrid Bergman?” It was a good guess–Bergman was Swedish–but the correct response was, “Who is Greta Garbo?” This dropped Schindler’s score down to just $300. Fortunately, he didn’t have another incorrect response for the remainder of the round.

Indeed, while he wouldn’t catch up to Traini, Schindler did manage to work his way up to $5,900. Perhaps not surprising given that Schindler’s a writer, his next two correct responses came in the Homophones category, which as Trebek helpfully explained were “words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings.” Schindler took the $200 clue first:

A. Crafted, or the upstairs cleaning lady.

Q. What is made/maid?

He also took the $600 clue:

A. Fuel from a bog, or the “Little Rascal” dog.

Q. What is peat/Pete?

After another extended period of inactivity, Schindler made his move in the American Revolution category. Again, this likely played to his strengths and was somewhat prescient. After Schindler left the tech journalism field in the 1990s, he spent many years as a middle school history teacher.

He took the $800 clue:

A. From 1770 thru the end of the revolution, Lord North held this position.

Q. What is Prime Minister?

Then Schindler hit the jackpot–or at least the Daily Double, which was the $1,000 clue. At this point Schindler had $1,900 and he chose to bet $1,800, which paid off when he gave the correct response:

A. In a celebrated speech, Patrick Henry reminded George III that Caesar and Charles I “had” these 2 men.

Q. Who are Brutus & Cromwell?

Schindler went on to give four more correct responses before time was called on the round. The first was the $600 clue in the Notorious category:

A. Marie Lafarge’s French pastry had this element, atomic #33, which sent her to prison.

Q. What is arsenic?

Then there was the $200 clue in Famous Lasts:

A. He last hit #1 on the singles charts with “Suspicious Minds” in 1969.

Q. Who is Elvis Presley?

With one minute left in the round, Schindler took the $400 clue in Famous Lasts:

A. The night before he passed away in 1566, he made his last prediction, his death.

Q. Who is Nostradamus?

His final correct response was for the $1,000 clue in Ecology:

A. Author of “Science & Survival” & 1980 Citizens’ Party Candidate for President.

Q. Who is Barry Commoner?

When Trebek called time–with four clues still left on the board–Schindler was in second place with $5,900. Traini led for the entire round, ending up with $8,700. Barondess was well behind both at $2,300.

“I Sure Hope I Do Better Next Weekend on ‘The Price is Right’…”

Schindler decided to bet his entire $5,900 on the Final Jeopardy! round. The category was Business & Industry, which you think would be suited to his knowledge base. The clue was:

In 1985, this Michigan-based company was the nation’s largest single exporter.

Schindler later wrote that his response “was the first one that came to mind.” That was, “What is Dow Chemical?” Dow was a Michigan-based company, but that was not the correct response. Schindler thus ended the game with zero dollars.

As it turned out, neither of the other contestants had the correct response either. Traini and Barondess both replied, “What is Ford?” Again, a good guess. But the correct response was, “What is General Motors?” Schindler said later that he “briefly thought” of GM but decided to “go with my gut.”

Traini wagered $3,300, so his incorrect response dropped him down to $5,400, which was still enough for the win and a three-day total of $32,001. Barondess didn’t bet everything, so he finished in second place and won a trip to Honolulu. Schindler received a new Maytag washer and dryer for his third-place finish.

Schindler later wrote that the whole experience was “the fastest 30 minutes of my life.” He said the aftermath was “deflating” and that it only took about 20 minutes from the end of taping before he was back out on the streets of Los Angeles. He said he immediately went back to work to take his mind off things, and within a couple of days he was “normal again.”

Notes from the Random Access File

  • Jeopardy! wasn’t the end of Schindler’s game show career. He later won $3,000 on Scrabble, a television version of the popular board game that aired in the 1990s. Schindler also competed on the Comedy Central game show Win Ben Stein’s Money, where he said he took home a Sony Walkman after being eliminated in the second round.
  • Dave Traini ended up winning the maximum of five games allowed under the original Jeopardy! format. He’d earn a total of $54,502 for the week and later competed in the 1987 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, the 1990 Super Jeopardy! competition, and the 2005 Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions, winning an additional $66,000 altogether.
  • Special thanks to podcaster and tech journalist Glenn Fleishman, himself a two-time Jeopardy! champion, who mentioned the J! Archive during an episode of The Incomparable podcast, which is how I learned about this amazing website.
  • My favorite clue of Schindler’s Jeopardy! game was the $200 answer for Actors & Roles: “This macadamia nut rancher said, ‘I don’t know where I stop & Gomer begins.’” Traini correctly replied, “Who is Jim Nabors?” Alex Trebek then helpfully added that Nabors’ macadamia ranch was located in Hawaii. Who knew that you could ranch nuts?