The Orthodox Jew On Jeopardy’s College Championship Semifinals
Question: Who is Natenal Paley?
Paley, who will appear again this Wednesday night as a wildcard on the semifinals round, became famous last week as the quarter finals aired and he won $18,000 (chai!), coming into second place. While the final outcome of his total experience on the show is still unknown, he is thrilled to have gotten a chance to make a kiddush Hashem.
Paley grew up Modern Orthodox in Teaneck, New Jersey and has enjoyed Jeopardy his entire life. “I grew up watching it and always wanted to be on it.” He went on to study in yeshiva in Israel after high school and now is getting a Biology degree from Yeshiva University, which he represents in the College Championship. The process began back in September with an online test. “They give you 15 seconds to answer each question.” A few weeks later, he received an email asking him to come to Times Square for an in-person audition. The process took two hours and was divided between a 50 question written trivia test and a mock game. “They test your buzzer skills and make sure you speak well.” There were two minute interviews and a question as to what he would say about himself if Alex Trebek, the longtime-host of Jeopardy, were to interview him on the air. “I wrote something about going to YU and studying Talmudic Law and synthesizing plastics in the evenings.” A few months later, he was on a plane to Los Angeles for the taping.
A month before the taping, Paley ordered several reference books to help him study. He didn’t get to study in earnest until the week before “and mostly day before.” Paley knew the answers to most of the questions that were based on current events. He also got the Final Jeopardy question right, even though he bet enough to only win second place in that quarterfinal game as a wildcard, which aired last week. Paley had a positive experience on the show. Though his Orthodoxy didn’t come up on the air, a fellow contestant asked about his lack of long (and hasidic looking) peyos. He explained what tzitzis were to some other contestants.
Regarding his winnings, Paley plans to use at least some of it to pay off student loans, give tzedeka, and hopes to save a little bit for travel. “I’ve been to Israel a bunch of times, thank God, I’d like to travel the world.” The reception at YU has been positive, and despite the recognition from being on TV, Paley is ready to get back to life as normal.
“It was definitely a humbling experience to be up there, representing Orthodoxy.” Because the show was nationally televised, it could have been some Jeopardy fans’ first time ever seeing an Orthodox Jew, outside of the Hollywood “hasidic” caricatures. But that didn’t pressure him; he thought about it afterwards. “I hope I made a kiddush Hashem. One of my friends pointed out that I said ‘please’ after asking for every clue. I wanted to have a chance to say something about being an Orthodox Jew – I didn’t have the chance. I did get to say something about doing chesed.”