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Trivia master

Rebecca Dixon ('08), a Madison summa cum laude oboe performance major, took the podium to show off her mastery of knowledge far and wide on the TV show Jeopardy!®

Rebecca Dixon ('08), a Madison summa cum laude oboe performance major, took the podium to show off her mastery of knowledge far and wide on the TV show Jeopardy!

Rebecca Dixon ('08) a Madison summa cum laude oboe performance major, took the podium to show off her mastery of knowledge far and wide on the TV show Jeopardy!

In this interview with Madison magazine, JMU 2008 music graduate Rebecca Dixon talks about competing on the television show Jeopardy! This Madison summa cum laude oboe performance major took the podium to show off her mastery of knowledge far and wide. While at JMU, the Myra Doherty Scholarship recipient played English horn, studied Russian, tutored music history, was a chorister and won first place in the 2008 academic writing competition. During Dixon's Jeopardy! competition televised in February 2010, her winnings totaled over $53,000.

You must be a master of knowledge. How early did your talent begin? Are you also amazing at crossword puzzles?

I really love trivia. I consider myself to be a pretty serious crossword puzzle solver (I swear by the New York Times crossword puzzle), and I love to play games like Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble. My best friend and I have regular weekly Scrabble games where we'll meet up at local coffee shops and play on my vintage 1940s Scrabble set. Plus I have kind of a competitive vein in me, so that helps with Jeopardy! too. I've been watching Jeopardy! since I was a kid, but not really seriously watching until I was probably a teenager.

How did you practice and get ready for the Jeopardy! auditions and then the show itself?

I didn't really study too much for the Jeopardy! auditions or the actual show. I looked at a few study guides for topics I really needed help on, but I would say that preparation was minimal. What I did to prepare was play along at home and try to pretend I was in the game as much as possible, especially practicing the timing on the signaling device (I practiced with a click pen) and developing a better sense of when to either attempt a response or omit it if I wasn't 100 percent sure of the correct response.

What's the difference between practicing and answering the questions correctly at home while watching Jeopardy!?

The biggest difference in playing the real game is that you're playing against two other people instead of just yourself, so the real key is the signaling device. There's nothing more frustrating than knowing the correct response cold but not being to able respond because another player was a fraction of a second faster than you!

How does Jeopardy! work behind the scenes?

Jeopardy! usually tapes five shows in one day. My shows were taped back in December. When we're not out on stage for a rehearsal or an actual game, all of us [contestants] are sequestered away in the green room. There we get our makeup done, enjoy refreshments, and get important information and pep talks from the show's contestant coordinators and contestant producer. They are really amazing — they're the ones who do the auditions, select the contestants, and guide us through everything. Most of all, though, they want us all to do well. All of us in the green room then usually have an amiable, light-hearted and fun-filled dynamic.

What were your Madison years like?

At JMU (2004-08), I was a music performance major, and my primary instrument is oboe. I played in most of the bands and orchestras at some point while at JMU. I also sang in the JMU Chorale, which I loved, and I was active in the Double Reed Club as well as being a tutor for students in one of the music history classes in the School of Music. Outside of my major, some of the other subjects I enjoyed at JMU were Russian, art history, oceanography and economics. As a freshman I took a general art history course in Renaissance to Modern Art, and I think that definitely helped in being able to come up with Cezanne in Final Jeopardy! on my first show. Thank you to Dr. Kay Arthur for that great class!

What are you doing currently?

I am currently on a leave of absence from the University of Pittsburgh. I was there as a graduate student studying musicology during the 2008-09 school year. This year I am back in my hometown of Vancouver, Wash., so I could focus on applying to other grad schools. I just finished all of my auditions and can relax for a little while now. My plan is to attend a new school in the fall for a Master of Music degree in oboe performance, and hopefully play in an orchestra one day. While at home, I've been keeping up with my music by taking private lessons, singing in my church choir, and playing in a local wind symphony.