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A Strong Terp (Game) Showing

‘Wheel of Fortune,’ ‘Jeopardy!’ to Feature UMD Contestants on Same Night

By Annie Krakower

Alex Trebek, Andrea Dragan and Gabrielle Christopher on "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" sets

Dragan photo courtesy of "Jeopardy!"; Christopher photo by Carol Kaelson

Institutional Review Board Manager Andrea Dragan ’10, M.P.H. ’20 will compete on “Jeopardy!” on Wednesday, while Honors College student Gabrielle Christopher ’21 will represent UMD during College Week on “Wheel of Fortune” on the same day.

Whether they’re asking “What is …?” or to buy a vowel, two Terps will be going for game show glory on Wednesday night—and, in Baltimore and D.C., during back-to-back time slots.

Honors College student Gabrielle Christopher ’21, a sociology and government and politics double major, will represent UMD during College Week on “Wheel of Fortune,” while Institutional Review Board Manager Andrea Dragan ’10, M.P.H. ’20 will compete on “Jeopardy!” on the same day.

“What are the odds of that?” said Dragan, who frequently watches “Wheel of Fortune” while she cooks dinner and “Jeopardy!” while she eats it. “I’m all about Terps taking over the world. … I think we’re an excellent representation of smart and fun people. These games highlight the best of intelligence and personality.”

Before they grace our television screens, see what it took for these two Terps to set foot on their respective sets:

Christopher took an indirect route to “Wheel of Fortune” fandom: She’d catch it before watching “The Bachelor,” which aired later on the same channel. Eventually, she became as invested in wheel-spinning and puzzle-solving as rose ceremonies and group dates.

Having been playing along for four years, Christopher sent in an application video on a whim. She received an invitation to an in-person audition a few months later, but when she didn’t hear back for a while, she assumed she didn’t earn a spot—until one day, while she was at the airport on the way to Paris, her phone rang.

“I was so shocked,” she said. “At that moment, while we were waiting to board, I started watching old episodes.”

Christopher focused more on letter-guessing strategies during her prep— for categories like “What Are You Doing,” for example, I, N and G are safe bets— and less on the “wheel” part of “Wheel of Fortune.”

“In my opinion, that’s up to chance,” she said.

When Dragan would watch “Jeopardy!” with her dad while growing up, she was impressed with how many questions he’d get right. Those roles slowly reversed, and she took the show’s online application exam for the first time in 2012.

After a few more tries at the 50-question test and a couple in-person interviews, she saw “Culver City, CA” pop up on her phone while in a meeting on campus. After listening to that voicemail, she immediately called her husband, Peter Sooy ’09, and then, of course, her original viewing partner.

“I feel like it was almost a dream coming true for him too,” Dragan said of her dad.

Consumed by defending her thesis proposal, she didn’t have much time to beef up her trivia knowledge before her appearance. But she did watch as many episodes as she could, either as they aired or on Netflix, and she enlisted the help of former “Jeopardy!” champ Fritz Holznagel through his book, “Secrets of the Buzzer.”

Seeing the three podiums in person was a surreal experience for Dragan—a “very dignified tear” might’ve escaped when she met longtime host Alex Trebek—and she hopes others won’t be afraid to give the game a shot.

“You never know if it’s gonna happen for you, so why not try?” she said. “The odds are quite slim, but it absolutely can happen.”



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