A senior from Marquette University...

Danielle Zsenak

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself in 10 years... being incredible successful in whatever I choose to do! [Laughs]

How did you prepare for the show?
I didn't prepare for the show--I'm a freak. [Laughs]

What's the coolest thing about your university?
The coolest thing about my university is being 125 nation unto ourselves in the middle of Milwaukee.

What will you do with the money you win?
With the money I would win on the show, I would buy a lots of stuff.

Can you sing your school's fight song?
[Claps and sings]
Ring out ahoya with an M-U rah-rah /
M-U rah-rah /
M-U rah-rah-rah-rah-rah /
Ring out ahoya with an M-U rah-rah /
M-U rah-rah for old Marquette!
[Chants]
Gooooo, gooooo, go! Marquette! /
Go! Go! Go! Go! /
Gooooo, gooooo, go! Marquette! /
Go! Go! Go! Go!
[Laughs]

...

[After winning quarterfinal game]

What was the turning point during your game?
It came, probably, in the Double Jeopardy! Round where I started getting a lot--my competition started creeping up on me. And then, Final Jeopardy! had to be a big, uh, y'know--had to make a mark.

How did you determine your Final Jeopardy! wager?
It was a category I should know. [Laughs] It was a really, um, familiar, and there's only seven wonders to pick from, so... [Laughs] I had to take a chance.

Are you more or less nervous for the next game?
Relaxed, a lot more relaxed. Just ready to go play some more.

Will you have a party to celebrate your success?
Yeah, [Laughs] I will. It'll be the last week of finals, so... everyone--I think everyone will be ready for a party.

What's more fun: spring break or playing Jeopardy!?
Jeopardy! is more fun than spring break. [Laughs]

Congratulations on your victory!

...

[After winning semifinal game]

How do you feel about your win?
Really happy and excited and relieved that I made it through this round! Yeah!

Who is here to cheer for you?
My mom and my dad and some friends from, y'know, around. I also have some--some support from here at Madison 'cause I went to school with a lot of kids who go to Madison now.

Did you expect to make it this far?
I had--you have to keep thinking positively!--so...

How will you celebrate if you win the championship?
Um, I'm probably going to get together with, um, all the other finalists and contestants, because we've actually kind of gotten very bondy since we've been here. We're all at the same hotel, we're hanging out with each other, having dinner together, and so whatever the outcome is, I know that we will all want to celebrate together because we've gotten so far together.

Have you perfected your buzzer technique?
[Shakes head] It's still shaky! I--I just have good runs and then I have bad runs, so... I was thinking of trying with the pointer finger, but it's almost too late in the game to change it up, so I've been with the thumb all the way.

Congratulations on your victory!

2008 College Championship 1st runner-up: $50,000.

Last name pronounced like "zshen-NOCK".

20 and from Waukesha, WI at the time of the College Championship.

Jeopardy! Message Board user name: DZsenak

Danielle's First Blog Entry
Posted May 2, 2008

My name is Danielle Zsenak. I am 20 years old and a senior at Marquette University, where I study history. At Marquette I play in the concert and pep bands, occasionally do production work at MUTV, and play rugby.

I've been a fan of Jeopardy! for as long as I can remember and have been watching and playing along with the show for years. My first year of adult eligibility was also the first year the online test was offered, and I took the online test twice before the opportunity came up to audition for the college tournament. I took the pretest, passed, went to take a midterm, and came back for the second part of the audition. I was one of the six people who passed the long test at my session. The mock game was fun, but the interview was a little stressful, because I was the first to go through it at my session and had to watch everyone else give more diplomatic answers.

A couple of weeks went by after the audition and I was still a little worried, because I was still waiting for news. I went on spring break and had my wisdom teeth out; while I was recovering from having the surgery my mother got the call that I had been selected to represent Marquette at the college tournament, and she and her contact set up an elaborate plan to surprise me with the news. My mother's actions over the weekend let me know something was up, even though she wouldn't explain exactly. I spent the whole weekend freaking out, because I hate surprises. Monday night my mom got me to put on my new Marquette sweatshirt and come down to watch Jeopardy! Then CBS 58 showed up to our little staged scenario and surprised me. I was very happy and excited but I kind of wanted everyone to leave before my emotions got the better of me and I said or did something embarrassing. I think they managed to get plenty of goofiness on tape, though.

- Come back and read Danielle's next blog entry on May 5!

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Posted May 5, 2008

Seeing the stage in real life is a little disconcerting, because it looks a little like it does on television and you can understand how it becomes the finished product, but it doesn't look entirely right in real life. And no matter how many times you hear "watch your step" you probably won't bother until you fall down at least once.

The first day of rehearsals and promos and interviews was incredibly boring, I'm not going to lie. You wake up and get all ready for the camera, then you wait to leave. You get to the Kohl Center, and then wait to have makeup spackled all over your face. You go out to shoot promos, then you wait for your turn, trying to not get makeup on anything it isn't supposed to be on, and then you find out that you are running out of time and you are not going to get to use all the good ideas you had thought up while watching everyone else shoot their promos. But who cares! It's Jeopardy!

I am not a good interview, apparently. I don't tend to think about what will make a good sound bite and I am alternately harshly honest or bitterly sarcastic, which will inevitably wind up out of context. And when you're being interviewed, everyone hates the words "I don't know," even if it is the safest thing you can say about a situation. Whatever. I was going to play Jeopardy!

Everyone wants to know about Trebek, though. Alex Trebek is a pretty cool guy. I don't get how people think that he isn't. I introduced myself by falling off my podium, as mentioned above. This not to be blamed on Trebek's sheer amount of awesomeness, nor on the height of my heels, but rather on the fact that I was shooting a promo and cannot tell right from left, so I managed to move myself out of the frame and off my box.

The buzzer is pretty obvious. It is technically called a "signaling device", but people only call it that when they are speaking in an official capacity. I've heard button, trigger, thingy, and I prefer "buzzer." How it works is, the "answer" is read, a light goes on to signify that the buzzer has been activated, and you can ring in. I am not very good at it. So what, right? It takes more than being able to hit the buzzer first to play Jeopardy!

The good thing about spending so much time waiting around was that the contestants all got to know each other pretty well, and not just trying to gauge weaknesses or psych each other out. I was really happy that we got on so well together; I was worried that we would spend the whole weekend hating each other because we were competing against each other. It wasn't like that at all. We met to watch Jeopardy! and then looked up old games online and played them before Suchita took us out to dinner on State Street.
It was a pretty long day. It was fun, though.

- Read all about Danielle's first game in her next entry on May 7!

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Posted May 7, 2008

The big day started off much like the first. Lots of waiting around. We were only told which round we had directly before we were supposed to go out and play. My round had just enough time between being announced and going to play for me to start to feel sick.

All the nerves were gone once we went out to play. I do this everyday, right? With a couple of big differences from playing on the couch: my lack of buzzer skills were about to become pretty obvious, and guessing is a lot different when you are risking your own money.

The buzzer would come back to bite me, for sure. I'd go through dry spells where I was almost certain my buzzer had died, and when I was finally able to beat the other two players, my mouth would get ahead of my brain and blurt out an answer I knew was wrong by the time I had finished saying it. I tried to sort it out and was eventually able to slow down and sort out my answer, but these errors definitely hurt my score.

Having already lost a bunch of money earlier in the game, I wasn't as enthusiastic about trying to guess my way through the board. People sometimes misunderstand when I talk about guessing in the game. Between on pure knowledge and hints from the categories and hints within the clues, there are many ways to figure out a response. Some of these, I would definitely think of as guesses. Educated guesses, for sure, but for example, in my first round Final Jeopardy clue, I had never heard of the quote I was supposed to base my response on. However, the category was about the seven wonders of the ancient world, and being that there were only seven options and only one that the quotation could have been referring to, I didn't have any problem coming up with a response. Kind of a guess, though. I only wagered so much because I felt comfortable with the category and because Vera's score was close to mine. Turns out it wasn't necessary, but it was pretty cool.

- Danielle's a lock for the Semi-Finals! Look for her blog entry after her next game, and check back at jeopardy.com for Semi-Finals dates and match-ups!

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Posted May 13, 2008

So I had a shot at the semifinals.

The semifinals were harder. I still wasn't having much luck with the buzzer, and I was still making some dumb mistakes. We were pretty close at Final Jeopardy, and none of us had the correct answer. I only won because even though I had bet more, I had had enough of a lead that I could keep the lead; if either Gabrielle or Tara had had the correct response, that could have been the end for me. I was very lucky to come out ahead and get to the finals. I didn't really understand what was going on, though. I was sitting in the audience and every few minutes I would realize what had just happened. I had gotten four games- real games, Trebek and all, not just yelling at the TV, and a shot at the big money. And it was really big money- I kept getting asked what I planned on doing if I won it all, and I kept saying I had no idea, because I had no idea exactly how much money that was. I really wasn't thinking about it much. I had been waiting as long as I could remember for this opportunity.

- Danielle's made it to the Finals! Come back on May 16th to see who won and read her final blog entry!

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Posted May 16, 2008

The first match didn't seem to matter as much. I couldn't help but get a little saucy at the end. How many chances does one get to tell the world, yeah, I know I'm awesome? I certainly haven't had that many. The second round was definitely tenser for me because I knew that it was the end of the tournament. I did want to win, and I can't help but kick myself for not risking more in Final Jeopardy!, but I hadn't felt that I had had a very good round, and I was worried that I would second-guess myself in the end. I had gotten the chance to review everyone's scores from the first match, and saw that even if I bet everything, I still couldn't beat Joey's combined score if he bet everything (I don't know why I always assume everyone is betting it all. Probably because that's what I think I would do.) but that I wouldn't have to wager very much to secure second place.

The clue was revealed, I had never heard of the particular item in question but I had a few ideas, and I fought with a couple before deciding which one was more likely. I picked the right one, and that's when Andrew decided that I had won.

Except that we hadn't looked at Joey's response yet, and it turned out it was him. Whoops. You'll never tell from watching it, but I don't think I'll ever forget it. It was just one more thing that made that weekend legendary.

My mom told me later that she was so proud of me for how well I handled the little whoops. I wasn't really trying to “handle” anything. I had just had the time of my life, and I couldn't have been anything but positive. I had made a bunch of new friends, been treated like a rockstar for the weekend, and I had finally gotten my shot at Jeopardy!

Danielle appeared in the following 4 archived games:
#5465, aired 2008-05-16 Joey Beachum vs. Andrew Chung vs. Danielle Zsenak 2008 College Championship final game 2. From the Kohl Center...
#5464, aired 2008-05-15 Joey Beachum vs. Andrew Chung vs. Danielle Zsenak 2008 College Championship final game 1. From the Kohl Center...
#5461, aired 2008-05-12 Danielle Zsenak vs. Tara Franey vs. Gabrielle McMahan 2008 College Championship semifinal game 1. From the Kohl Center...
#5457, aired 2008-05-06 James Grant vs. Vera Swain vs. Danielle Zsenak 2008 College Championship quarterfinal game 2. From the Kohl Center...

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